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Wild hedgehogs have been living in Africa
forever but only in recent years have they been kept as pets. Most North
American pet hedgehogs, typically called African pygmy hedgehogs, were bred from African species and are considered
domesticated. These little
animals can make terrific companions when housed and fed appropriately, and
their popularity appears to be increasing. But hedgehogs are not meant for
Before you consider bringing a hedgehog into your home, there are several
things to be aware of.
Like porcupines, the skin over hedgehogs’
backs is covered with sharp spines that protect them from
predators. Thankfully, unlike our native porcupines, hedgehogs cannot shoot
their quills out in defense. When caught in the mouth of a predator, however, hedgehogs
will twitch and jump so that their quills poke into the skin and lips of the aggressor, making
things generally unpleasant until they are released. Handling a nervous
hedgehog can be tricky for an owner, and you may need to hold your friend in a small
towel until he relaxes.
As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs roll their bodies into tight little balls when threatened, causing their
spines to point outward so that predators are unable to see their faces or
limbs. They have very strong muscles over their backs, and it is nearly impossible to unfurl a hedgehog once he’s curled up. Pet
hedgehogs must be handled gently and often to get them to relax and uncurl.
Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time staring at a cute but prickly little
ball in your lap.
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When a hedgehog encounters an object with a
new scent, he will lick and bite the object and then form a frothy “spit ball”
in his mouth containing the new scent. He will throw his head back and spit
this frothy saliva over his spines with his tongue, possibly to camouflage himself
with the new scent and make himself less obvious to predators. If you see your pet hedgehog engaging in this
“self-anointing” behavior, don’t worry: It’s gross but completely normal.
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