Keeping hedgehogs as pets are gaining popularity across the United States as parents are picking up the exotic mammal to bring home to their kids at increasing rates. Why has this adorable, prickly critter suddenly become the exotic pet of choice?
There is an abundance of positive information on hedgehogs; however, there are also some warnings about issues that can arise with your pet.
So, Why Do Hedgehogs Make Great Pets for Kids?
Not only are hedgehogs incredibly cute, but they make great companions for children. After considering all the good qualities the hedgehog possesses, I settled on the 7 most frequently mentioned positive attributes of hedgehogs.
#1: Hedgehogs Are Easy to Care For
The fact that hedgehogs are considered exotic pets can mislead you into thinking that they are high-maintenance. On the contrary, they are rather easy to take care of. Kids can play an active role in caring for their hedgehog pet, giving them confidence and building up their self-esteem.
Hedgehogs live in cages. It is important to note that hedgehogs need a steady, warm temperature – preferably between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If your hedgehog is exposed to extremely cold or hot temperatures, it can negatively impact its behavior and health.
Hedgehogs are clean animals who do not emit odors. You may have to bathe them if they get something stuck in their quills or end up excessively dirty. As long as you clean their cage every other day and make sure they have clean water and food bowls, hedgehogs will remain happy and healthy.
#2: Hedgehogs Will Become Affectionate After Being Tamed
You’ve already begun bonding with your hedgehog by enabling him to live clean and safe, and this relationship only strengthens as you spend more time with your pet.
Do not be discouraged if your hedgehog does not seem interested in you during the initial formation of your friendship. Hedgehogs exhibit varying levels of being sociable and loving when they first meet their owners. Some may be enthusiastic and ready to love you while others will take weeks to start to trust you.
This “taming” of a hedgehog is a learning experience for kids. They work toward building trust with their pet and continue to care for its needs while learning about each other. This process is markedly similar to making friends with other children.
#3: Hedgehogs Form Strong Bonds with Their Owners
Since hedgehogs take the time to get to know and learn to trust their owners, they end up building a relationship with a solid foundation that results in a strong bond between a pet and its little human.
The formation of this bond builds self-esteem within a child. He or she worked at earning his or her hedgehog’s trust and, subsequently, found his or her own self worthy of love and meaningful relationships.
#4: Hedgehogs are Hypoallergenic
The fact that hedgehogs are hypoallergenic makes them an even more appealing pet for children. Allergies are extremely common in children and buying an animal for your child only to find out he or she is allergic to the animal is a heartbreaking ordeal.
Finding a hypoallergenic pet that your child is enthusiastic about owning is like hitting a goldmine. It takes the pressure and stress of waiting to see if your child will react to the pet away, and you and your child can focus on bonding with your hedgehog.
#5: Hedgehogs are Not Aggressive Animals
The quills that cover the backs of hedgehogs can be intimidating. The exotic mammal, though small and adorable, seems a bit unnerving. Don’t worry, thought. Hedgehogs are very peaceful animals and only use their quills for self-defense or when triggered by perceived threats and stress.
For instance, hedgehogs are known to make hissing or huffing sounds while curling their body to reveal their quills. This action is not one performed with aggression, though. These responses are most often a direct result of the hedgehog feeling afraid or anxious.
Hedgehogs have this particular set of defenses built into their genes. It is how they defend themselves against predators.
#6: Hedgehogs Are Nocturnal
Nocturnal animals sleep during the day and spend their nights awake. Hedgehogs fall into this category. You may think that this trait doesn’t really fit in with a child’s lifestyle, but it does.
For the majority of each year, children attend school regularly and take part in afterschool activities on some days. This leaves the entire day for the hedgehog to rest up and get ready to cuddle up to his favorite companion after dinner.
#7: Hedgehogs Teach Responsibility
Most pets of children teach them responsibility. Hedgehogs are no different.
It can even be said that hedgehogs are more challenging to their human companions because of the shy temperament they exhibit during their initial meeting with their child. Hedgehogs do not immediately give their child any respect or affection; they make him earn it.
The process during which the hedgehog and child form their special bond requires the child to show initiative and follow careful directions. The child earns his or her pet’s trust by selflessly caring for his or her pet and taking note of the hedgehog’s behaviors too assess his or her well-being.
Are There Any Reasons That I Should Decide Against Purchasing a Hedgehog?
Since having hedgehogs as pets are just recently gaining in popularity, there has been a learning curve when it comes to whether or not hedgehogs are suitable animals for becoming pets, especially in households with children.
Because of the relative newness of the hedgehog pet trend, there are many conflicting thoughts on whether or not hedgehogs should be pets.
Owning Hedgehogs is Currently Illegal in Some States
Having a hedgehog as a pet is illegal in Georgia, California, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and the five boroughs of New York City. The website Mother Nature Network reported that experts claimed that hedgehogs would have a negative impact on local ecosystems, becoming an invasive species and adding competition for food and habitats.
Remember that hedgehogs are considered exotic pets. Because of this, the hedgehog, and other animals labeled as exotic pets, are encouraged to return the animals to amnesty programs that allow the surrender of exotic pets without penalty.
The term exotic pet is hard to define because it encompasses a number of different types of animals for a variety of “exotic” reasons.
Some accepted “definitions” of exotic pets are:
- Any animal that is not a cat or dog: This definition is based on the fact that most veterinarians will only see cats and dogs. For any other animal, the owner normally has to search for a veterinarian that sees that animal.
- Domestication: This definition defines an exotic pet as any species of animal that has not been fully domesticated. Contrary to popular belief, domestication is not just the taming of an animal. Domestication is the selective breeding of a species in order to create a genetically different species.
- Unusual, rare, or interesting: This definition is one that is vague and subject to different opinions on what animals are unusual, rare, or interesting.
- Illegal pet trade: This definition refers to animals that have been bought and sold illegally. It is hard to nail down specifics because this happens in different locations with their own sets of rules.
It can be argued that outlawing the ownership of exotic pets is unfair because there is no single, specified definition of the term. Because the labeling of exotic pets is primarily opinion and conjecture, there is no way to truly write a law against owning them.
Hedgehogs Can Spread Zoonotic Diseases
As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, zoonotic diseases are diseases spread between animals and people. They can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.
Common zoonotic diseases carried by hedgehogs are:
- Salmonellosis is the primary zoonotic disease carried by hedgehogs. Symptoms in hedgehogs include anorexia, diarrhea, weight loss, and, in some cases, hedgehogs display no symptoms. Symptoms in humans include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, chills, and fever.
Normally, this sickness will go away on its own; take note that there is the potential for more serious diseases to develop from this bacterium, like typhoid fever and gastroenteritis.
- Yersinia pseudotuberculosis is a sickness that causes tuberculosis-like symptoms in hedgehogs with other symptoms including localized tissue necrosis and the appearance of granulomas in the spleen, liver, and lymph nodes. In humans, symptoms of this infection can mimic appendicitis.
Additionally, infected humans can develop skin issues, joint stiffness and pain, and the spread of bacteria to the blood. This zoonotic disease normally runs its course and leave; however, immunocompromised people that are diagnosed with this sickness will need treatment with antibiotics.
- Mycobacterium marinum is a free-living bacterium that can infect both hedgehogs and humans. This bacterium can cause masses and lesions on and within a hedgehog.
Humans that are infected develop skin lesions that manifest as clusters of nodules and papules on the elbows, knees, feet, hands and fingers. The level of pain involved varies, and, sometimes, the lesions are painfree. Most cases of this illness are treated with a long course of antibiotics.
- Dermatophytosis, commonly referred to as ringworm, is a mycotic sickness that causes dry and scaly skin with bald patches and spine loss in hedgehogs. For humans, ringworm appears as red, scaly, itchy, or raised patches that resemble rings. These rings can ooze and even develop blisters. If the scalp is infected, bald patches can develop. This illness is treated with antifungal medicines.
- Tickborne encephalitis virus and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever are both zoonotic diseases transmitted by ticks are commonly found on hedgehogs. While hedgehogs are not the direct method of infection, it is important to recognize the impact of a host when considering diseases spread by parasites.
When infected by tickborne encephalitis virus, most humans experience the milder symptoms like fever, anorexia, muscle aches, headache, nausea, and vomited. More serious conditions occur if those infected reach the second phase of this disease.
The second phase is a recognized clinical illness of the central nervous symptom, showing symptoms of meningitis, encephalitis, or meningoencephalitis. In extreme cases there is permanent neurological damage. Death is not common.
Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever can be deadly. Humans will first experience flu-like symptoms. If the disease persists past the first week, those infected can begin bleeding into their skin and experiencing mood instability, agitation, and mental confusion. Following this, nosebleeds, vomiting, and black stools occur.
In a persisting form of the disease, the liver and kidneys can fail, and the sick person can be thrown into acute respiratory distress syndrome. About 30% of people infected with this disease will die by the end of the second week.
This list is alarming; however, it is important to understand that proper hygiene and habitual, thorough handwashing after handling your hedgehog can help prevent these diseases from spreading.
Hedgehogs are Actually Not Suitable for Younger Children and Toddlers
Don’t be alarmed – hedgehogs are perfectly suitable pets for kids – older kids. Kids aged 10-12 years and up that can understand rules, know the importance of handling the hedgehog properly, and can dedicate themselves to protecting the well-being of their pet.
Young children, toddlers, and especially babies should not be exposed to hedgehogs.
Here are a few of the reasons why.
Hedgehogs do not enjoy lots of noise.
Hedgehogs are, unfortunately, very anxious animals. Loud or constant noise can trigger their stress response, which involves the hedgehog curling into itself and sticking out its quills.
Hedgehog quills can actually hurt.
While hedgehog quills will probably not cause serious injury to older children and adults, they can actually hurt a young child.
You can’t only worry about the young child stressing out the hedgehog to the point of throwing him into a defensive mode that results in a hurt child. You must also be sure that your young child never pets the hedgehog against the quills’ growing direction. That can result in a world of pain for your little one.
Hedgehogs are small and can be injured easily.
Because of a hedgehog’s quills, there is a specific way to pick it up that allows the handler to miss the quills. Most young children have small, clumsy hands that can easily slip onto the quills.
Additionally, if a hedgehog is dropped, it could result in life-threatening injuries (that then require you to search far and wide for a veterinarian that treats hedgehogs).
Hedgehogs have a long list of illnesses that can be extremely dangerous if transmitted to young children.
The variety of illnesses discussed in the last section apply here. Young children, especially toddlers and babies, have not had all of their vaccinations nor have they been exposed to bacteria that strengthens their immune system over time. A young child catching one of a hedgehog’s zoonotic illnesses can be fatal.
Hedgehogs are not social creatures until they are “tamed.”
It is hard to explain to a young child why he or she cannot handle their new pet. It takes quite some time for a hedgehog to warm up to its owner, and even that process needs to be started by a human capable enough to care for the hedgehog.
Because your younger child doesn’t understand the taming process, he or she could attempt to snuggle with their new pet, triggering a defense response that could harm the child.
Raising a pet hedgehog can be a very rewarding and educational experience for children that are old enough to have the emotional maturity to handle the consistent work that must be put in to help a hedgehog acclimate to life in a family and become social.
However, it would be negligent to not mention the dangers of having hedgehogs as pets, especially when some of those dangers threaten the health of young children.
Nevertheless, do not look over the negative aspects of owning a hedgehog and immediately decide to discount any thought of purchasing one. Instead, go back and read through the positives of having a hedgehog as a pet again.
Now, when you reach the part that lists the risks of owning hedgehogs, think of a way that you can reduce that risk in order to be able to safely raise a pet hedgehog. Most of the threats to safety that hedgehogs present can be either lessened or completely erased.
All it takes is a little creativity and determination to make most goals happen.
All families are different, and all hedgehogs are different. When it comes to choosing suitable pets for their children, I believe that parents can make an informed decision based on research into the animal and the knowledge of their child’s maturity level.
Make sure to review all the facts! Remember that a regular veterinarian will not treat hedgehogs. You will have to find a veterinarian that sees hedgehogs. Be mindful that it will cost more than the usual veterinarian bill for a cat of dog.
Don’t forget to check to make sure it is legal to have hedgehogs at pets in your state, as well!