We get a lot of emails from people who have decided that they want a hedgehog for a pet, but they aren't quite sure where to get one, or how to go about it. There are a lot of things to be considered when choosing a hedgehog, and we thought we'd share some of the things that we think are important to consider!
WHERE DO I GET A HEDGEHOG???Basically, you can choose between a breeder and a pet store. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. At a pet store, you often won't get to know who the hedgie's parents are, where it comes from, what conditions it lived in before arriving at the store, or even what age it is. On the other hand, it may be easier to find a pet store with a hedgehog in your area than it is to find a breeder in your area. If this is the case, and you don't want to ship, then the pet store may be your best bet. Advantages of buying from a breeder are that the breeder is likely to know about the background of the hedgie you are purchasing, like the color and temperament of the parents, the breeder should know about the hedgie's temperament and preferences, you will be able to find out about what kind of habitat, food, and handling your hedgie is used to, and so on. Still, not all hedgehog breeders maintain the same quality of animals or of care for the animals, so you can't assume that a hedgehog from a breeder will be any better than one from a pet store, even if the breeder can give you more information than the pet store. You also can't assume that just because a breeder advertises in a major magazine or says that they take good care of their animals, that they are automatically more reputable. There are some great large scale breeders out there, but there are also folks who keep one pair of pets that they breed occasionally who have awesome hedgies, too! So... what other things should be considered?
IS THE HEDGEHOG HEALTHY??Since you want a companion who is healthy and happy, this is very important. Veterinary care isn't cheap, and it can be very frustrating to bring home a new friend only to have problem after problem. Some basic things to check for are:
* clear eyes: They should not be crusty, sunken, or swollen. The hedgie should appear alert and aware.
* clean fur and quills: The hedgie may have annointed here or there, that isn't a problem, but there's a difference between a little annointing and being generally filthy all over. If there is fecal matter matted around the anal area,this is often a sign that the animal has diarreah or some other problem that may indicate severe health problems.
* scabs or injuries: If there are any, they should be healing well, and the seller should be able to tell you how they happened and what treatment has been given. Sometimes babies do get injured, like being bitten by a cagemate, or being blinded by a quill when young, or even losing a limb due to being chewed on by mama as a baby, and these hedgies can grow up to be perfectly happy and healthy. But as a prospective owner, you will want to consider the possible impact that injuries may have on your new pet and your ability to care for him or her, so that you can decide if it is something you're prepared to care for.
* healthy skin: Crustiness around the quills can mean dry skin, or it can indicate mites. If the hedgie has unusually dry skin, you probably should be prepared to treat for the possibility of mites, unless the hedgie has already been checked by a veterinarian (if someone says they took it to the vet, don't be afraid to ask for proof). You'll also want to check for other external parasites, such as fleas. Two products that have been successfully used to treat fleas (and mites) in hedgehogs are Adams Flea Spray (water based only,available over the counter) and Revolution (available by veterinarian's prescription).
* alertness: The hedgehog should be aware of his or her surroundings and should not be lethargic and nonresponsive.
* weight: The hedgehog should not be too fat (can't roll into a ball, has excess "bags" at the "armpit" areas) or too thin (hollow sides, caved looking tummy). Either can indicate poor health.
* feet: The hedgehog's toenails should be trimmed enough that they are not curled under and causing problems. If nails need clipping, ask the seller to show you how.
WHAT ABOUT TEMPERAMENT?Remember that what you see is probably what you'll get. Shy hedgehogs can be won over with patience and caring, but there's no guarantees. Most hedgehogs will be initially shy when new people pick them up. If the hedgehog balls up nitially but comes out within a few minutes and is able to relax and explore, it will probably be just fine. If it comes out but is shy and easily startled, it's likely it will always be a little easily startled and shy... but these hedgies can be really charming, too. There isn't any particular hedgie temperament that I would say doesn't make a good pet, but if you have a certain type in mind, then best to find a hedgie who is already like what you are wanting.
Oh, and while we're at it... With hedgehogs, gender doesn't really have anything to do with temperament. Many people believe that female animals will be friendlier or less aggressive, but with hedgies you get angelic and cranky ones of both genders, just as likely. The only difference is that females accept same-gender cagemates much better than males do, so if you plan to house two together, then you will want two females.
WHAT AGE OF HEDGEHOG SHOULD I GET?If the hedgehog is happy and healthy, age really shouldn't matter all that much. Young or old, they can still bond to new people. With an older hedgehog, you'll know what the color is and have a stronger idea of temperament. But, remember that hedgehogs typically live 3 to 6 years, so an older hedgehog may not be with you as long. With a younger hedgehog, you'll get to see the growing up and the developmental milestones, which is kind of fun! Younger hedgies tend to be more prone to pooping on people, and the babies may go through a "terrible twos" phase when their adult quills start coming in, which can be a bit disconcerting! Both older and younger hedgies can make great pets, it's up to you to decide which would be better for you.
WHAT KINDS OF QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK THE PERSON I GET THE HEDGEHOG FROM??What you ask should depend on what you are looking for, and what you expect. Here are some suggestions, based on things we look for when we get new hedgehogs, and that people have asked us. We're also putting some suggestions about what we think are satisfactory answers. Remember, these are just guidelines, and you may still be able to get a really nice hedgie even if the person you're getting it from doesn't know much or hasn't cared well for the animal. It's just good to know whether or not you'll be needing to rehabilitate the hedgie, or if you can pick up from the excellent standard of care it's used to.
How old is this hedgehog?They should be able to at least give you a ballpark idea, or an explanation of why they don't know. If it's obviously wrong (like a baby with no fur yet that one person was told was 6 weeks old... it could not have been more than 2 to 3 and should NOT have been sold yet), be concerned!
What have you been feeding this hedgehog?They should be able to tell you what the diet has been, and that can give you an idea of the hedgie's nutritional status. If the hedgie has been fed a poor diet, this can affect temperament and health. Overly fatty diets can lead to fatty liver disease and death, undernourishment can lead to grumpiness and various health disorders.
What kind of bedding has the hedgie been living on?If the person says cedar, be aware that there is documentation that cedar bedding can cause respiratory problems and has been associated with cancers in small animals. Uncured pine bedding can cause the same problem, but most pine beddings that are sold for small animals are baked and don't have this problem. With the cedar, there may also be sores on the hedgie if it has skin allergies, but these will clear right up when put on a more appropriate bedding.
What is the hedgehog's background?This is especially important if you plan to breed the hedgehog. Pet stores aren't likely to have a whole lot of information, since many buy their animals through wholesalers who may purchase from many different sources. Breeders should at least be able to tell you where they got the hedgie, even if they can't tell you much more. If they bred the hedgie, they should be able to tell you about (or even show you) the parents, or sometimes even further back. Many breeders charge extra for a pedigree.
Who is your veterinarian?If the person is a breeder, or even for pet stores, they should be able to suggest a veterinarian in the area who can treat hedgehogs, should yours get sick... or should you want a health check-up done to make sure the animal is healthy!
Are you USDA licensed?In the US, persons who sell hedgehogs are required to have a USDA license. If they are cutting corners and unlicensed, this may be a clue that they are cutting corners elsewhere. The law exists to ensure at least a basic level of care! If the breeder is USDA licensed, they should have some official paperwork for you to fill out, which includes giving you a copy with their license number on it.
What kind of health guarantees do you offer?This is a good "buyer beware" question. Even with the best of care and careful breeding practices, problems can occur. We have had very few instances of illnesses early on (one eight week old who had a stroke, and a four month old who had pancreatic failure), but we maintain a policy that if a hedgie develops a health problem in the first six months, all we require is a veterinarian's health report (or necropsy, if the animal died) letting us know that the illness was inherent in the animal, and we are willing to replace that hedgie with a new one at no added cost. This also alerts us to possible problems that we need to be aware of to make sure they aren't genetically transmitted, so we consider it a great help. Not everyone is willing or able to make guarantees, so it's a good thing to be aware of individual policies.
What if it doesn't work out between me and this hedgie?There are times when certain hedgehogs just don't bond with a certain person, or that your life circumstances don't work out to be able to keep the hedgie as permanently as you had planned. So, you'll want to know what the policies are. Pet stores typically have a refund policy stated. If not, ask. Individual breeders have their own policies. At Hedgehog Valley, we discourage impulse purchases, and therefore do not give refunds on hedgehogs. We feel this helps people to know that they are making a serious decision. However, we also understand that not every hedgehog takes to the person who picked it. In these cases, we try to work out an exchange for a different hedgehog that we hope will work out better. When someone calls and says they can't keep their hedgehog any more, we will offer to babysit if it's a temporary situation, or to help the owner find a new permanent home for the hedgie. This works for us, but each breeder has a different policy. Just ask, and that way you'll be able to weigh and measure these concerns in your decision.
How much has this hedgehog been handled?If a hedgehog is moderatly shy and hasn't been handled much, chances are it'll warm up more with handling. If it's really friendly and hasn't been handled much, it's probably going to be a really awesome hedgehog! If the person indicates that they only handle hedgehogs with gloves, we consider that something to be concerned about. A person with experience in handling hedgehogs should never need gloves to pick up a happy, healthy hedgehog, and should be able to demonstrate to you how to pick up even a balled up hedgehog with minimal pricking.
WHAT IF THERE ARE NO BREEDERS OR PET STORES WITH HEDGEHOGS IN MY AREA?First, check and see if it's legal to own and/or sell hedgehogs in your area. The only states I have been told hedgehogs are currently totally illegal are Alaska, California, Georgia, and Hawaii. Some states may require permits, you can call the state veterinarian to find out about that. I believe Maine and North Dakota ask hedgehog owners (or owners of any exotics) to maintain a permit, and others may, too. Some cities and counties have local ordinances about hedgehog ownership, like Baton Rouge, LA makes it illegal to sell hedgehogs in the city limits, but has no laws against owning one.
If it's the case that you can't find one in your area, but it's legal to own, then your best bet is to find a breeder who ships. And yes, we have a few tips on shipping, too!
How will the animal be shipped?If the person tells you they are shipping through the mail or some sort of postal overnight courier, be concerned. The US Post, Fed Ex, UPS, etc... are NOT licensed to ship hedgehogs, and are not prepared to ship hedgehogs, and in addition to the strong possibility of ending up with dead hedgehogs, there are fines for folks who ship animals illegaly. A proper courier is an airline who is licensed to ship animals, such as Delta, USAir, or Northwest (there are certainly others, but these are the ones we have successfully used, so we suggest them).
What is required for animals to be shipped?A current veterinary health certificate, a shipping kennel that has been certified safe for airline use are required. Also, in times of extreme temperatures, standard carrier service is suspended for heat or cold embargoes, although some airlines have services that ensure quicker delivery and can still ship at these times (but it costs a heck of a lot more!).
So, what is the cost for shipping?Standard service is around $95 to $125. PDQ/Dash services run around $180. A good kennel cab usually costs around $20, and vet certificates can vary from about $15 to $60.You can ship more than one hedgehog in the same kennel, though, so shipping several at a time can make the cost a lot more feasible.
Isn't it dangerous to ship hedgies?If done properly, no. I have yet to send or receive an animal shipped via air who appeared at all distressed or harmed by the trip. The compartment that the animals stay in is kept at the same temperature and pressure as the passenger compartment, to ensure their comfort. Food and water are offered as appropriate. The airlines we have worked with have bent over backwards to ensure the health and comfort of their prickly passengers, and we have been very impressed.
WHAT ELSE??I don't know, what other questions do you think are important (whether you have an idea of the answers or not)? Please email and let us know what other issues you think we should address on this page! Finally, below are links to some of the breeders we really like (there's more of them, they just don't all have web pages), so check them out! And if you would like to see if we can make a referral to someone in your area, feel free to write... we may not be able to find one, but we'll try! The IHR also has breeder listings, but there is no check and balance on the quality of the people who list themselves as breeders there. You can always ask for references, as well as asking lots of questions to decide if you want to deal with a specific one. Good luck, and happy hedgehoggery!
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