Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ October 2018

A Hobbit in Our House:  Tales of a Pet Hedgehog

By Marisa James-Le

After telling somebody that, “Yes, I really do have a hedgehog,” I usually get a shocked face or a “You’re joking, right?”  But I’m not joking.  Occasionally, somebody will say, “Aww, they’re so cute” (which they are) or, more commonly, “Aren’t they sharp?”  which they also are.

Hedgehogs are actually a fairly common pet, they are very cute, sometimes cuddly, sometimes shy, and, of course, sharp.  I was told when we first got our hedgehog that porcupines were the sharp ones that shoot needles, not hedgehogs.  Hedgehogs supposedly felt like a hairbrush, nothing more.  In my experience, that’s not really been the case.

I gawk at our new hedgehog, ‘Hobbit Boo,’ as my sister Josie holds her in a washcloth, dry and safe after a stressful bath.

Most people wonder, “Why of all pets would you choose a hedgehog?”  My sister Josie was actually the one who proposed getting a hedgehog.  She originally wanted a second dog in addition to our black lab, but our family wasn’t ready for another.  She researched to find a pet that was less expensive to raise, easier to care for, and a little more obscure than a guinea pig.  She talked about getting a hedgehog with my parents and me, and we all thought she was joking.  She’d bring it up in casual conversations, saying something like, “Yeah, but after we get a hedgehog....”  Eventually, we started to realize she wasn’t joking.  She asked for a hedgehog as her main Christmas gift, and, surprisingly, our parents agreed!

Josie found a hedgehog breeder (who knew they existed?) in Maryland about 45 minutes away.  On 29 December 2017, my mom, my sister, and I drove to the breeder, and picked up the “sweet/social” hedgehog we had requested.  The top three names we decided on were Boo, Kiwi, and Hobbit.  The only name we had completely ruled out was Sonic (the Pokemon hedgehog) because it seemed that every hedgehog we saw on the Internet was named Sonic.  We decided we’d have to see our little hedgehog before we could decide on her final name.

We arrived at the breeder’s house, and picked up the hedgehog in an Amazon box filled with wood shavings.  For most of the car ride, she stayed as deep into the shavings as possible to avoid our curious stares.  Since we each liked different names, we decided to give it a double name.  We named our little hedgehog “Hobbit Boo.”

Hobbit Boo spits brown gunk onto herself the way we put on perfume.  This process is called anointing, and I question just how attractive Hobbit Boo seems to think it is.

We set Hobbit Boo up in my sister’s room in a big, clear plastic storage container with mesh wiring stretched across a large opening cut in the lid for ventilation.  Josie cut up little pieces of cloth to replace her wood shavings, bought a small plastic igloo as a little house for Hobbit Boo, filled food and water containers, and added a purple hamster wheel for her to run on and get exercise.  Hobbit Boo’s home was complete!

Care and Feeding of a Hedgehog

The food she eats is cat food, which is nice because it’s very accessible and we can buy it in large quantities.  It took Hobbit Boo a while to get comfortable with the wheel, but, eventually, she started using it.  However, the only time she used it was at night, when we couldn’t see her! Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so she’s usually a lot more active at night.  She’s also shy and doesn’t like us watching her “perform.”

She sleeps most of the day; if we wake her up during the day to interact with her, she’s grumpy for a couple of minutes.  Other things she’ll do when we get her up include walking around a hamster playpen.  I’m not sure if all hedgehogs are like this, but Hobbit Boo is a pretty grumpy and tense hedgehog.  I’ve only held her a couple times, and only once with my bare hands; other times I’ve held her in a washcloth.  Josie is the only one in our family who is really comfortable picking her up.

Hobbit Boo attempts to sit like Sosuke, our black lab.

How sharp a hedgehog’s quills are can depend on their mood and personality.  Hobbit Boo is very shy and easily scared, so, when we touch her, her quills shoot into an upright position.  She also lowers something called a “visor,” which is a piece of skin over her eyes with quills on it that she wraps over her face so she can protect herself from predators.  When she does this, she looks exactly like a shaking ball of spikes, which is probably not something you want to touch!  She also hisses a lot, probably a part of her defensive instincts.  In videos, hedgehog owners say that, over time, they will get more used to being held and will relax their quills.

The one time I held Hobbit Boo with my bare hands she was very relaxed.  We had just given her a bath, and the whole time she was trying to climb out of the sink.  For once, I think she felt like we were her saviors, and she happily snuggled into our washcloth and let us stroke her surprisingly soft and relaxed quills.

We like to get her in a position on her back when we hold her, so that we can pet her tummy.  I’ve only touched Hobbit Boo’s stomach a couple times, but it’s one of the softest things I’ve ever felt.  If you ever get the chance to touch a hedgehog’s belly, do!

We also own a black lab named Sosuke, who we’ve had for about six years.  We mostly try to keep them separate, but we were interested to see how they would interact under supervision.  We also wanted to teach Sosuke a lesson — not to mess with the little sharp hedgehog! He ended up cautiously sniffing until his nose made contact with one of Hobbit’s quivering, upright spikes, and lurched away with his ears up and his head cocked in confusion.  He hasn’t really messed with Hobbit Boo since.

Hobbit Boo curls up in a washcloth after her first bath.

Hobbit Boo is an extremely stinky creature because she poops a lot.  Josie actually had to get air freshener just for her room because Hobbit Boo smelled so bad! We tried to potty train her, but she never learned.  I have heard about and watched videos of hedgehogs that were potty trained, so I’m not saying it’s impossible, but our particular hedgehog refused to.

One way we keep her smelling clean (for as long as a couple of hours) is to give her baths in our sink, about once a month.  We fill the sink up, and then plop Hobbit Boo inside.  We wash her with baby shampoo because it’s supposed to be milder than most.  She usually walks around a little above her ankles.  The first time we gave Hobbit Boo a bath, she did not enjoy it and she still doesn’t!

Hedgehogs are adorable little animals to have, but they are a lot of work and how well they bond with their people depends on their personality.  They should only be bathed once a month because of their sensitive skin and, therefore, stay very stinky.  They are, however, very photogenic if their faces are in the picture.

[Marisa is in seventh grade at Eastern Middle School.  Photos by Josie and Marisa James-Le and their mom, Cait James.  They live on Lockridge Drive.]    ■

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