By Laura Doering
In terms of pet companionship, a hedgehog, with his bristly keratin hairs and hoglike snout, certainly stands out from the crowd. Here are some points to consider when deciding if this spikey pet companion is a good fit for a family with children.
A Need For Gentleness And Patience
Hedgehogs are prey animals, so rolling up into a tight ball — quills pointing out —is a hedgehog’s natural line of defense. The fact that hedgehogs are covered in quills leads many enthusiasts to recommend them for families with older children.
“Hedgehogs are not especially kid-friendly,” said Kristen Zorbini Bongard. “They are covered with sharp quills that can be painful to small hands.”
Bongard is PR co-chair of the Connecticut-based Hedgehog Welfare Society (HWS), a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charity dedicated to the health and well-being of hedgehogs through rescue, education and research.
Bongard also cautioned that hedgehogs can also resort to another defensive behavior — biting. She points out that hedgehogs have not been pets for as long as cats and dogs, and the affection you can expect from hedgehogs is vastly different.
“They look very cute and friendly on social media, but the reality is that most hedgehogs are a bit on the grumpy side and require sometimes months of patient socialization to become tolerant of human interaction.”
The adults in a household, therefore, need to teach and preach gentle handling and not to force interactions.
Can You Handle The Quills?
Handling a critter with quills can be intimidating, especially for children. One scenario to avoid is a child attempting to pick up a hedgehog, getting poked in the process and then dropping or throwing the hedgehog down. An adult should become well practiced at safely and securely picking up a hedgehog so he or she can assist a child who wants to hold one.
Many hedgehog enthusiasts recommend gently scooping up the hedgehog under the belly with one hand, and using the other hand to support the hedgehog’s back. The hedgehog might roll up at first, which is a defensive pose, but he will start to unroll as he relaxes and starts to sniff (the hedgehog’s way of exploring). A safe method for both child and pet is to place the hedgehog on the child’s lap and then demonstrate gentle touching.
Tips For Better Bonding
Hedgehogs don’t have good vision, but they make up for it with their great sense of smell. One way to bond with a hedgehog is to allow him to become accustomed to your scent. Some suggest that the owner leave a worn shirt or cloth with his or her scent on it in the hedgehog’s cage to allow the hedgehog to become used to their person’s smell. Of course, this way of bonding will only work if the person has positive interactions with his or her hedgehog.
Children should also be made aware of a hedgehog’s sleep habits. Hedgehogs are naturally nocturnal, so they tend to be sleepy during the day and active in the evening hours. A hedgehog’s downtime hours should be respected by all family members, which can mean saving play until after dinnertime or first thing in the morning.
A Family Decision
For families with children, a hedgehog should be considered the family’s pet and not solely a child’s pet. Even with older children, the adults in the household must be willing and able to ensure that the hedgehog’s daily needs are met, especially when it comes to feeding and cage maintenance. With adult supervision, however, sharing the home with a hedgehog companion can be a good way to teach responsibility.
“I would say they’re good pets in the same way that other caged pets are good pets: kids can learn about the responsibilities of pet ownership and how we need to be careful when interacting with smaller, more fragile creatures,” Bongard said. “They can learn about animal husbandry, good hygiene and the importance of treating other creatures with kindness and respect.”
Bongard offered these rules for households with children and hedgehogs:
- Be gentle and careful with small animals because they can get hurt very easily.
- Practice good hygiene, wash your hands after touching an animal, bedding or droppings.
- Respect what the animal is telling you about how he/she feels. Don’t continue poking an animal that appears angry or fearful.
- If you are responsible for feeding, watering or cleaning the cage of an animal, don’t make excuses for not doing so. Pets rely on us completely to provide these things for them.
Some States Don’t Allow Hedgehog Pets
Before you bring home a hedgehog companion, make sure that hedgehogs are legal in your locale. If you live in Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, the five boroughs of New York City, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., you’ll have to look for another small mammal companion, as hedgehogs are illegal to own in these states. Laws change and cities could also have rules, so check with local animal control to find out if you can add a hedgehog to your family.