Hug a Hedgehog
That’s the message Erin Harris of Okie Pokey Hogs in Edmond wants to share about hedgehogs, which are quickly becoming one of the most popular “pocket pets” in America. As a USDA-approved breeder, Harris is one of a handful of hedgehog breeders in the state, and what started as a single pet has turned into a full-time job of raising the little shrew-like critters and educating potential pet owners on how to care for them.
“We have 60 adults right now and 30 babies,” Harris said. “Normally, we sell out of the babies pretty quick, but we had a lot of moms have big litters this year.”
Wild hedgehogs are common in Africa, but only in recent years have Americans been keeping them as pets. Most North American pet hedgehogs, typically called African pygmy hedgehogs, were bred from African species specifically to be domesticated pets.
“About four years ago, I got three little girl hedgehogs,” said Harris. “I had always wanted one. But I didn’t know jack about hedgehogs. I was the kind of owner we try to educate now.”
Through trial and error, plus reaching out to hedgehog groups on Facebook, Harris said she learned the proper way to care for her spiny little creatures. For one, she said, they must be handled often. They also need a specific exercise wheel since they will run nearly five miles a night.
Harris’ hedgehog family didn’t end with the three females. She and her husband Gerrit got a male hedgehog, and one night, the male accidentally ended up in the wrong cage.
“About five weeks later, I was looking into the cage and said, ‘What is that pink little squishy blob?’ One of my girls had four babies,” Harris said. “I freaked out. I turned to my Facebook groups for help, and they told me everything I needed to do. After I raised them, I found them good homes. I thought it was fun raising them.”
After becoming a licensed breeder for hedgehogs in 2015, Harris now not only sells hedgehogs as pets, but has made it her mission to educate new pet owners on how to care for them. Although affectionate and friendly, hedgehogs are delicate animals.
While these round little prickly animals can make terrific companions when housed and fed appropriately, they may not be a pet for everyone. Before considering bringing a hedgehog into your home, Harris said there are several things to be aware of.
“They are very temperature sensitive,” she said. “If they are in temperatures below 72 degrees, they go into hibernation mode and they can’t get out of that which means they will die. If it’s over 90 degrees, then they can die from heat stroke. We keep our hedgehogs in a room that’s 80 degrees.”
Harris also said high quality cat food is a perfect diet for the pets.
“If you go to a store and see food that has a hedgehog on it, don’t buy it. They are full of fillers,” said Harris. “Also, if you get a hedgehog, you need to be able to dedicate at least an hour a day to handle it. They need to be handled or they become frightened of people eventually.”
Hedgehogs live four to six years on average, and each has its own little personality. Some are friendly and easy going while others have a nervous side, so Harris said she likes to meet potential owners so she can pair up personalities that match.
“My ideal pet owner would be someone who wants to know and listen to the best options,” Harris said. “We look for people who are open to learning and who are willing to take advice.”
Harris also carries bucket wheels, which are specifically made for hedgehogs. They are much bigger than pet store wheels, so the hedgehogs can run comfortably on them and not hurt their spines.
“They are also nearly blind, as they are ground-dwelling animals,” she said. “You don’t want to have different levels in the cage, because they could just simply walk off the edge and fall.”
Like other pets, hedgehogs have their own unique little quirks. As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs roll their bodies into tight little balls when threatened, causing their spines to point outward so that predators can’t see their faces. These animals must be handled gently and often, or you will spend a lot of time looking at a cute, prickly little ball. Hedgehogs also “anoint.”
“It’s a little weird, but when they find a smell they like, they’ll sniff and chew it,” Harris said. “They make this frothy ball of spit and spread it all over themselves. They almost go into a trance. It’s normal, though.”
Hedgehogs can be adorable, loving pets if they are handled often and made less fearful of people. So if you’ve always wanted to own a hedgehog, be prepared for the fact that these cute little prickly pets need time, attention and tender loving care to thrive and be interactive.
For more information, visit www.okiepokeyhogs.com. The website also features a video that explains everything about owning a hedgehog.