USDA licensure really isnít so scary as it sounds. The intent of the law is to ensure a basic level of care for the animals. Based on my reading of the Animal Welfare Act (available in print by request to the USDA, at the addresses given later, or online; click here) and my experiences with the two inspectors that I have worked with, some of the things that they will be looking for include:
Cages big enough for normal movement: Hedgie needs to be able to sit down, stand up, stretch, walk back and forth a little, and so on. They would probably accept anything over about 2 square feet of floor space for a single hedgie, though most hedgie owners have cages that definitely exceed that!
Cleanliness: There should be no excessive accumulation of feces in the cage or on the wheels. Cleaning once a week is usually sufficient on the cage, wheels might need more often if hedgie is messy. They will look to see that food is in an airtight container and that bedding is closed up, so that it canít be contaminated by bugs, mold, pests, and so on. If you use wet foods at all, they should be removed as soon as they start to go bad. A solution of 9 parts water and 1 part bleach is good for cleaning cages, dishes, and water bottles, as it is cheap, dries nontoxic, and kills pretty much all nasty bacteria! You will want to make sure to vacuum often if you use bedding that gets on the floor at all. The room should be free of clutter. Some inspectors give a little leeway, others insist that the room the hedgies are in be used for nothing but the hedgies.
Record keeping: You will need to keep records that include where each of your animals came from, who you have bred it to, how many babies resulted, and the disposition of all animals. They have forms that you can use, or you can create your own if they include all of the necessary information.
Veterinary Care: Before your USDA inspection, you will need to have your veterinarian complete a facility/home visit and complete a form called a Plan of Veterinary Care (PVC). Your veterinarian must visit at least once a year, at the veterinarianís discretion.
Knowledge: Some inspectors will ask a few questions, some will ask a lot. Be sure you have a basic knowledge of the animals you are planning to breed, so that your inspector can feel confident that you know what you are doing when issuing you a license. Both inspectors who have visited me have asked extensively about my market. Apparently, when hedgies first hit the market and were selling for $1000+ a pair, they were inspecting would-be hedgie breeders all over the country. Most went away fairly quickly, and didnít take the greatest care of their animals, so they are a bit leery of people seeking their fortune through hedgehog sales. A hint from me: the money you obtain from sales will never exceed the amount of time you spend.. Raising quality hedgies is truly a labor of love, and if undertaken for any other reason you will be sorely disappointed.
Now that you know roughly what they are looking for, if you are still interested, youíll be wanting to know how to apply. If you have internet access, you can obtain a copy of the animal welfare act and the application form for a class A (breederís) license here. You can also write to the USDA headquarters for more information. That address is: USDA Headquarters, 4700 River Road, Unit 84, Riverdale, MD 20737-1232. They will send you a copy of the animal welfare act and all necessary forms, as well as directing you toward the appropriate regional office.
You should also check your state local agencies for any animal regulations. Some states, such as Kansas, require state licensure under certain conditions. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, require you to meet certain requirements before you even obtain any animals. Itís much better to be prepared and have the proper permits or licenses than to run afoul of the law!
Last revised 6/10/01.