Pet Connection: Hedgehog as a pet? Don’t bristle at these do’s before you buy one

Hedgehogs are crazy cute. That’s probably the main reason people get them as pets. And they are unique.

It’s not everyone who can say that his roommate is an African pygmy hedgehog.

“They’re just cool,” says veterinarian Scott Weldy of Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital in Lake Forest, who keeps two hedgehogs.

Not surprisingly, though, these bristly little critters have some special needs. Read on to see if a hedgehog is a good match for you.

•  Hedgehogs are not always legal pets. In California, for instance, only people with permits can keep them. Other states and some cities have similar laws. Check before you buy. That said, even if you own one illegally, don’t hesitate to take him to the veterinarian for care. In all likelihood, your veterinarian is not required to turn you in or to confiscate your pet.

•  Hedgehogs are insectivores. Weldy recommends feeding a commercial insectivore diet rather than trying to come up with a homemade diet of mealworms.

•  Hedgehogs like warmth. It’s important not to let them get cold, so keep your hedgehog indoors.

• Hedgehogs need socialization. Handle your hedgehog frequently so you don’t find yourself caring for a living pincushion. A hedgehog doesn’t have good eyesight, so let him sniff you before you pick him up so he knows who you are. Another reason for handling a hedgehog on a regular basis is to make it easy for your veterinarian to examine him. If he curls up in a ball every time he’s touched, your veterinarian will have to administer gas anesthesia to get him to relax enough for an exam, which increases the cost of the exam.

•  Hedgehogs are nocturnal. That makes them good pets for people who work during the day or school-age kids. They are usually less cranky than hamsters if awakened during the day, however. “If you gently wake them up and give them a few minutes, they’ll start moving around,” Weldy says. “They’re very food-oriented, so if you show them food, kids coming home from school can play with them until they go to bed.”

•  Hedgehogs are notorious for developing tumors. “When people come in with a sick hedgehog, that’s the first thing on the list,” Weldy says, “and usually the people are bringing them in on the downhill side of the disease. The spines make them look big all the time, so if you don’t touch them, weigh them or get them to relax so you can palpate them, you would never know. You have to be really vigilant.” The best way to monitor your hedgehog’s condition is to weigh him weekly on a kitchen scale and mark his weight on the calendar.

•  Hedgehogs may also have dental problems. You can’t really brush their teeth, but your veterinarian can perform dental cleanings just as she would on a dog, cat or ferret, as well as remove rotten teeth.

•  When buying a hedgehog, pick him up and hold him to make sure he’s friendly. Go to see the hedgehog in the evening when he’ll be active to get the best idea of his personality.