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The most common species of domesticated hedgehog is the white-bellied or four-toed hedgehog, also called African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris). The Algerian hedgehog (Atelerix algirus) is a separate species of hedgehog.
The domesticated hedgehog kept as a pet is typically the African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris). Other species kept as pets include the Egyptian long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus auritus) and the Indian long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus collaris).
Roman domesticated hedgehog
The Romans domesticated a relative of the Algerian hedgehog in the 4th century BC to use for meat and quills as well as pets. The Romans also used hedgehog skins to clean their shawls, making them important to commerce and causing the Roman senate to regulate the trading of hedgehog skins. The quills were used in the training of other animals, such as keeping a calf from suckling after it had been weaned.
Hedgehog quills were used for card paper and dissection pins long after the Romans actively bred and raised hedgehogs.
Hedgehog domestication became popular in the early 1980s although some states ban the creatures or require a license to own one.
Since domestication began, several new colors of hedgehogs have been created or become common, including albino and pinto hedgehogs. Pinto is a color pattern, rather than a color: a total lack of color on the quills and skin beneath in distinct patches. Domesticated species prefer a warm climate (above 22 °C, 72 °F) and do not naturally hibernate. Attempts to hibernate due to lowered body temperatures can be fatal, but are easily reversed if caught within a few days.
Because a hedgehog is commonly kept in a cage or similar enclosure, it is allowed in some residences where cats and dogs are not allowed.
It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in some US states and some Canadian municipalities, and a license is needed to legally breed them. These restrictions may have been enacted due to the ability of some hedgehog species to carry foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious disease of cloven-hooved animals. No such restrictions exist in most European countries (although Italy is an exception).
The following is a list of locations where it is illegal to own a hedgehog. By African Pygmy hedgehog, this list is referring to the domesticated hedgehog commonly bred and sold as pets, not a specific breed of hedgehog from Africa. The first four locations are in the United States.
Other legal issues:
- Australia: All hedgehogs are classified as exotic pets that are illegal to import.
- In Quebec, European hedgehogs are illegal. African Pygmy hedgehogs are legal.
- In Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, owning a hedgehog is prohibited by by-law.
- Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. African Pygmy hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- United States:
- In Idaho and Oregon, European hedgehogs are illegal. African Pygmy hedgehogs are legal.
- In New Jersey and Wyoming, a permit is required.
- In Wisconsin, an import permit from the state department of agriculture is required to bring a hedgehog into the state.
- In Fairfax County, Virginia, all hedgehogs are illegal.
- In Pennsylvania, hedgehogs may not be imported into the state, but hedgehogs in the state as of 1992 and their descendants are at least theoretically allowed. In practice, enforcement of this law has been rumored to be arbitrary and ill-informed.
- Singapore: Hedgehogs of all kinds are illegal, along with other exotic pets such as iguanas, tarantulas, scorpions, and snakes.
- Turkey: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. African Pygmy hedgehogs may not legally be kept as pets.
In the wild, a hedgehog will cover many miles each night. Keeping this in mind, a hedgehog requires as much room as possible. Without room, a hedgehog will show signs of depression, such as excessive sleeping, refusal to eat, repetitious behaviour, and self-mutilation. Due to their small size obesity is a very dangerous problem and hedgehogs require a fair amount of exercise to avoid liver problems due to excess weight.
A wheel is necessary to provide hedgehogs with exercise. Some hedgehogs refuse to run in a wheel, so other forms of exercise must be substituted. When choosing a wheel, it must have a solid floor. If an open-wire wheel is used, the hedgehog will continually fall between the bars and possibly break a leg. Wheels with crossbars can also cause facial injuries as hedgehogs have been known to look sideways out of the wheel while running. For this reason "bucket" type wheels are preferred by many hedgehog owners, and they are available from many breeders. DIY articles are also readily available for those wishing to attempt making one themselves.
Pet cages with a floor area measuring 5 square feet (0.46 m2) or more are suitable for pet hedgehogs. Cages with wired floors are dangerous for hedgehogs because they can easily slip and get a limb caught in the wire. Multi-level ferret or rabbit cages can allow a hedgehog more room to explore without taking up extra floor space, but when using multiple levels, keep in mind that a hedgehog has poor eyesight, can climb easily, but has difficulty descending and often does not seem to understand heights, so it is highly recommended that ramps and levels be completely enclosed to prevent a fall. Some people use large glass aquariums but these can be heavy and awkward to clean and offer little ventilation. Very large plastic totes are a common DIY cage and are inexpensive, easy to clean, and versatile, but they must be of a considerable size and must be ventilated properly. Another popular do it yourself cage is a "C & C" cage made out of cubes and coroplast, also called corrugated plastic. C & C cages can be made larger than store-bought cages and can be built one on top of the other to house multiple hedgehogs vertically without the need for shelving.
Vellux blanket material is preferred for bedding by many because it does not fray and is easy to clean up. This is a plush velour-like material often used for hotel blankets. Strings from frayed edges on blankets have been known to wrap around hedgehog's legs, causing amputation, so any frayed fabric that is to be near the hedgehog must be checked thoroughly to avoid problems. Fleece blankets can also be used, but the edges should be sewn so that there are no stray threads in which a hedgehog could catch itself. Aspen shavings are also a popular choice, due to the convenience of being able to change them instead of washing. However, pine and cedar are not recommended as they contain oils that are harmful to the lungs and skin of a hedgehog. Some beddings can be dangerous due to dust content or propensity to clump up on the hedgehog, others may even get stuck in the hedgehog's genitals. Careful research is necessary before using any unusual bedding materials.
The enclosure should be kept above 70 °F (21 °C) or the hedgehog will attempt to hibernate.
In the wild, a hedgehog is opportunistic and will eat many things, but the majority of the diet comprises insects.
As insectivores, hedgehogs need a diet that is high in protein and low in fat. They also require chitin, which comes from the exoskeleton of insects; fiber in the diet may be a substitute for the chitin component. There are prepared foods specifically for pet hedgehogs and insectivores, including foods made from insect components. Also available are alimentary powders to sprinkle on other food which provide chitin and other nutrients. Hedgehog caretakers should read labels on packaged food to ensure a basis of protein, rather than a basis of carbohydrate.
Most hedgehog owners feed their hedgehogs cat food. A dry cat-food mix can serve as a daily base food. Most caretakers mix several high-quality (mostly meat and little meat byproduct), low-fat cat foods to ensure nutrition and aim for a protein content of higher than 30% and a fat content of no greater than 12%. Approximately 10 to 12% fiber is also suggested. Normal cat food is high in fat and iron, so indoor or light formulations are generally more appropriate. Most breeders also suggest foods derived primarily from chicken. There are hedgehog foods available at many pet shops, but most do not seem to be good quality formulations and will not provide the quality and level of nutritional contents necessary for a healthy hedgehog. One should always check the ingredients list for good quality ingredients and nutritional information for high protein and low-fat content.
Pet hedgehogs may eat such table foods as cooked, lean chicken, turkey, beef or pork (in moderation due to fat content). Hedgehogs will often eat small amounts of vegetables and can be given small amounts of fruit as treats. Baby food is a common way to feed treats. Hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant and will have stomach problems after consuming most dairy products, though occasional plain low-fat yogurt (yogurt contains bacteria that naturally process lactose) or cottage cheese seem to be well tolerated. Sugar intake should be restricted to fruits, and treats with added sugar should be avoided.
Fresh, canned, or freeze-dried mealworms, waxworms, and crickets are appropriate as limited treats though in moderation, as many feed insects are high in fat. Many pet stores carry these feed insects. Hedgehog caretakers should avoid bait-shop or wild caught insects, which may be contaminated with insecticides.
Hedgehogs can easily become obese. If a pet hedgehog appears to be gaining too much weight, it is important that the hedgehog’s caretaker cut back on high-fat foods and increase exercise. Hedgehogs vary in size so there is no "goal weight" for a hedgehog, but if they can no longer roll completely into a ball it is a clear sign of obesity. Many people[who?] believe that there is a relation between a high-fat diet and fatty-liver disease in hedgehogs.
Due to their mouth shape hedgehogs should not be fed any nuts; as they prove to be a choking hazard. Nut butters are acceptable but are very high in fat so they should probably be avoided. Hedgehogs should never be fed avocados[dubious ], onions, grapes or raisins, chocolate, any raw meat or egg yolks, or any canned or processed food.
Hedgehogs often stop eating under situations of stress such as when adjusting to a new home. New owners will see that their hedgehogs will be eating very small portions if at all, during the first couple of days. If the lack of appetite persists, a good way to encourage your hedgehog to begin eating is to mix their cat food with foods that would be considered treats. This is also a good tactic if you're transitioning your hedgehog from one type of food to another.
Hedgehogs produce very little dander. It is possible to be allergic to items surrounding the hedgehog, such as the hedgehog's food or bedding, but it is rare that a person would be allergic to the hedgehog itself.
After handling hedgehogs, some have claimed that pink dots on their hands is an allergic reaction. This is more likely caused by small pricks from the hedgehog's spines. If a hedgehog is not clean, the pricks can become infected. The infection is from contaminants on the hedgehog or on the surface of the hands, not from an allergic reaction to the hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are commonly allergic to wood oils. Wood bedding should be avoided, specifically cedar. The oil found in cedar can cause severe upper respiratory problems. Aspen however is widely accepted as a safe substitute.
Hedgehogs are prone to many diseases, including cancer, which spreads quickly in hedgehogs, and wobbly hedgehog syndrome, a neurological syndrome. Some symptoms of wobbly hedgehog syndrome resemble those of multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans, therefore the condition the animal experiences can be compared with what MS patients experience. A possible cause of WHS is a genetic flaw allowing a virus to attack the hedgehog's nervous system. The nose can display a variety of symptoms of a troubled hedgehog, especially respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. In many cases, the form of pneumonia that affects hedgehogs is bacterial in nature. If acted upon quickly, antibiotics can have a very positive effect. Signs to watch for include bubbles, excessive dripping, or constant sneezing.
Aside from their sensitivity to temperature, hedgehogs are relatively simple animals to take care of.
Hedgehogs should be bathed once a month with baby shampoo, a toothbrush, and warm water. You can bathe your hedgehog in your sink by simply brushing its spines with the toothbrush and some baby shampoo. If you don't have baby shampoo, another shampoo can be used, but baby shampoo is recommended because it doesn't dry out the spines. When brushing the bottom of the hedgehog, it is important to be gentle as this is the hedgehog's exposed skin and its most sensitive area. 
In addition, a hedgehog's nails should be trimmed frequently. If their nails are too large they could hurt themselves. There have been several reported cases of hedgehogs who have scratched their eyes and caused significant damage. When cutting a hedgehog's nails, keep in mind that they are much like dog's nails in that their nails contain a bit of skin. Therefore, this should be done carefully and it is best if done after a shower, since the hedgehog's nails will be softer. Hedgehog nails can be trimmed with a cuticle cutter or baby scissors.
Cages should be cleaned every two weeks and bedding should be changed just as often. If your hedgehog has a wheel in his cage, then the wheel should be cleaned every other day or so since hedgehogs tend to do their necessities while on the wheel.
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