Still considered an exotic animal, the hedgehog isn't as common of a pocket pet as hamsters or guinea pigs. With their prickly spines, they can be a bit intimidating to handle. Learning what to expect from a hedgehog can calm your fears and help you better understand how to handle and care for this exotic pet.
The hedgehog is a carnivorous animal that originates from Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of the roughly 15 species have also been introduced into New Zealand. Hedgehogs have excellent hearing and sense of smell, but weak eyesight. The animal uses his sense of smell to hunt for insects, often in hedges. As the hedgehog forages for food, he makes a grunting noise that is similar to that of a hog, thus the name "hedgehog." Other than insects, the hedgehog enjoys snails, worms, mice, frogs and even snakes.
Depending on the species of hedgehog, the animal can measure 5 to 12 inches in length and weigh between 14 to 39 ounces. The upper part of the animal's body is covered in sharp spines, which are used as a form of protection against predators. The underside of the animal is covered in a soft fur. The animal has a thin snout and beady black eyes, which gives him a cute appearance. The mother hedgehog can give birth to one to 11 babies at a time, but the babies must be under close watch from predators, including male hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means that they can be a bit grumpy when you try to handle them during the day. If the animal is feeling anti-social, he will roll into a ball, stick out his spines and make a clicking noise with his tongue. Hedgehogs are solitary animals and should never be housed together.
Though covered in spines, the spines of a hedgehog can cause very little damage to humans. While some people choose to handle hedgehogs with gloves, this can make the animal nervous because he can't smell your scent. An introduction phase is necessary to allow the animal to adjust to your scent before attempting to handle the animal. This involves placing your hand in the cage for several days until the animal becomes comfortable around you. Once the animal is comfortable, scoop your hands under him quickly and gently pick him up. Make sure you have a firm grasp on the animal's hind legs to give him a sense of security. Bring the animal up to your chest or flip him upside down in your hands so that he can curl into a ball.
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Amy Brantley has been a writer since 2006, contributing to numerous online publications. She specializes in business, finance, food, decorating and pets.