Finding the right hedgehog for you! Part 2

What should I look for to make sure the hedgehog I like is healthy and will be a good pet?

     Once you have taken the time to make sure you are comfortable with your choice of seller, it is time to take a closer look at the hedgehog you are considering. While one of the most important things in buying a hedgehog is to make sure it is healthy, probably the first thing you will notice is temperament. Through careful breeding we have come a long way from the original imports, many of whom were handled with heavy leather gloves and sometimes spatulas. A good pet hedgehog will uncurl fairly quickly and be curious about its surroundings. While a hedgehog is unlikely to ever come when called, they can learn to recognize your voice and scent, and to enjoy time spent together. However, an animal that has not been bred with good personality as a top goal, and socialized while still with its mother is much less likely to have the temperament needed to make a good pet. Very few hedgehogs who completely refuse to unball, even after some time quietly held, are ever going to make friendly and social pets. Shy hedgehogs may come around in time, and it can be very rewarding when they do, but if you are wanting an outgoing, friendly pet, you should make sure that the animal you purchase unrolls fairly quickly and is eager to explore. You also need to realize that a hedgehog that is so shy that you are unable to give it a thorough health check will not only most likely be a less friendly animal that will require more work to be a good pet, but an animal who you can’t easily give a once over exam is more likely to be able to develop serious health problems without your notice. If you are unfamiliar with hedgehogs and the range of temperaments you may find in them, you may want to look at our temperament testing section and even consider printing out and taking the test with you when you check out an animal you are interested in. While we can’t guarantee the test perfect, it should give you a better idea of what sort of behaviors to expect in an animal that will be a good pet.

     Please also keep in mind that while in areas where hedgehogs are uncommon you can’t expect to be able to buy an animal that is EXACTLY what you want, buying an animal that very definitely isn’t what you want, or that you are uncomfortable handling or afraid of, isn’t doing either of you a favor in the long run. Because of this, you need to have thought about any definite “wants” or “don’t wants” you have before going shopping. Hedgehogs come in a wide variety of colors, but unless something about a certain color bothers you (we occasionally hear from people who dislike the red or ruby eyes of albinos and very light colors) it should be the least important preference on your list. Unlike some types of animals, there is virtually no difference in temperament between males and females as a whole, so a preference for one sex over the other should also be secondary to getting a healthy pet with a good temperament. Age should only be a concern in that a baby taken from its mother too young is more likely to have both health and temperament problems, and a considerably older hedgehog is one you are most likely going to have less time with, and that will be prone to age related health issues sooner.

     Assuming you have found a hedgehog that has a good enough temperament for you to be able to examine and to still want to consider buying you should check it over thoroughly. Many breeders and some pet stores offer a period of time in which you may bring the animal back if health or temperament is a concern, but it is always better to check the animal over thoroughly BEFORE buying rather than to count on being able to take care of a problem after the fact. Any seller proud of their animals and with nothing to hide should completely understand you wanting to do this.

     The first thing you will want to look at is the general impression you get of the animal and their well being. Is the hedgehog alert and curious? Is it easy to wake up? Do you get an overall impression of an animal that feels good? If the animal is lethargic, disinterested, or extremely hard to wake up you may very well be dealing with a major health issue. Another part of your general impression should be how the hedgehog moves. Hedgehogs are remarkably quick on their feet when they want to be, frequently moving far faster than their owners think their short legs should carry them. While a hedgehog in a small cage cannot work up to a good run, it should move smoothly, without any noticable jerkyness or wobbliness to it’s gait. Problems in how a hedgehog moves can indicate anything from such simply fixed problems as a toenail that has been allowed to grow around and poke into a foot to Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) a neurological syndrome found in hedgehogs that is most comparable to Multiple Sclerosis in humans and always proves fatal. Any time you see something seriously wrong with the movement in a hedgehog you are considering, you should not purchase the animal unless you are able to pinpoint the cause or are in a position to consider the animal a rescue of sorts, and pay any needed vet bills. This should also be how you look at any injuries noticed on the animal. Occasional bumps or scrapes happen, as do occasional nips from cagemates. A small scab that is obviously healing is something to be asked about, but not necessarily a reason to rule it out as a healthy animal. Several scars, open wounds, abscesses, or any other apparent injuries should be carefully questioned, and it would not be unreasonable to inquire as to the cause, the treatment and whether the animal was taken to the vet or the vet consulted. While these kinds of things can happen, even to healthy animals, an animal with these sorts of problems that is being sold should lead to further questions.

     As you continue to look at the whole animal you should get an impression of the animal’s body type, its weight, the quill coat, and the skin. Hedgehogs come in many shapes and sizes. We have owned hedgehogs that were barely 200g when full grown, and have known of those that were over 1000g. The ideal shape for a hedgehog is that of a teardrop when seen from above, with the nose forming the point and the rump forming the rounded bottom. However, there are numerous animals who have more of what is called a “runner” shape, in that they are long and lean. Even runner shaped hedgehogs should have nicely rounded sides without noticable indentation. A less serious problem is the overweight hedgehog, which can be determined by seeing if when fully balled up the hedgehog can completely tuck in its nose and feet. If it cannot, you are dealing with an animal that could stand to take off a few ounces or grams. While being overweight is less likely to be the result of a health problem, it can lead to them in time, and if you do not know how the animals have been kept, it may possibly be an indication of pregnancy in a female who has been kept with a male.

     Different animals have different thicknesses of coat, and this can also vary from color to color, but in any healthy animal there shouldn’t be noticable extreme thinness or any bare patches. The skin beneath the quills should be healthy, and while hedgehogs are prone to slightly dry skin on occasion, it should not be extremely dry and flaky or have any signs of parasites. Unless the hedgehog is three months or younger there should be minimal, if any, quill loss. In adult animals quills are lost one or two at a time and grow back the same way. Any greater loss is almost certainly the sign of a problem. In juvenile animals (those three months or less) quilling (the growing in of a more mature set of quills while losing the previous set) may be taking place, leading to much greater quill loss than you would ever find in a healthy adult. The animals feet should be relatively clean, free of injuries or lumps, and have toenails that are a reasonable length. Some hedgehogs nails grow extremely quickly, so don’t judge too harshly for nails that are a little long. Nails that are extremely long or have been allowed to curl back and injure the foot should definitely lead to concerns about the quality of care.

     Next you should take a closer look at the hedgehog’s face. One of the most enchanting thing about hedgehogs is their beautiful, bright eyes. While they are not always black (in some animals they are a dark red, often refered to as ruby, or the bright red-pink eyes of an albino) they should always be bright and clear. Eyes that appear sunken or dull, are noticably swollen, or have a discharge or crusty deposits are signs of problems. The hedgehog’s nose should be clean and free of discharge or bubbles which could indicate a respiratory infection, as could repeated sneezing or a rasping or wheezing when the hedgehog breathes. You should also look at the animals face fur for any sign of matting, as this can be a result of a chronic nasal discharge. The general face should be amply covered in soft fur back to the quills, and the ears should be soft and without scabbing or flaking, which could indicate a skin condition, an infection, or mites, but can occasionally just be the result of very dry skin in the winter months. As with any other concerns pointed out in this article, if you see something to worry about, ask questions, listen to the answers, and take a good look at whether everything makes sense.

     A final thing that can help you to better understand the condition of the animal you are considering is the droppings it leaves. A healthy hedgehog leaves firm, brown stools that resemble those of a very tiny dog. Droppings that are runny, strangely colored, full of mucous, or any thing else considerably out of the ordinary should be cause for concern. Don’t forget that an animal under considerable stress, such as just being removed from mom or transported considerable distance, may have loose stools as a result of stress. If everything else checks out beautifully, and you feel you can trust the seller, you may want to purchase the animal anyway. However, if you are already having second thoughts about the animal’s health, and are not in a position to “rescue” an animal potentially needing extensive vet care, this can be the final sign that this is not a good choice of animal. On to the final section...

Part 1  |  Part 3

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