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Hedgehogs as Pets

The most common pet species of hedgehog are hybrids of the White-bellied Hedgehog or Four-toed Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) and the North African Hedgehog (A. algirus). It is smaller than the West European Hedgehog, and thus is sometimes called the African Pygmy Hedgehog. Other species kept as pets are the Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus) and the Indian Long-eared Hedgehog (H. collaris).

Hedgehog

All three species prefer a warm climate (above 72°F/22°C) and do not hibernate. They eat an insectivore diet. Commonly, this is replaced with cat food and ferret food and is supplemented by insects and other small animals. Dog and cat food is bad for hedgehogs and often causes liver damage among other things.

Today, many pet stores sell hedgehog mixes that are specifically formulated for hedgehogs. Crickets, mealworms, and pinkies (baby mice) are also favored treats. It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in some U.S. states and some Canadian municipalities, and breeding licenses are required. No such restrictions exist in most European countries.

The purchase of domesticated hedgehogs has seen a considerable increase in the last few years due to their apparently innocent and playful looks. Hedgehogs are difficult to maintain as pets due to their low resistance to climate and temperature changes, and their inability to adapt to enclosed

Hedgehogs are a powerful form of pest control. A single hedgehog can keep an average garden free of pests by eating up to 200 grams of insects each night. Therefore, it is common throughout United Kingdom to see people attempting to lure hedgehogs into their gardens with treats and hedgehog-sized holes in their fences.

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One problem with using hedgehogs for garden pest control is the use of chemical insecticide. While the hedgehog is immune to most poisons, it is not immune to them when ingesting insects full of the poison. This causes many hedgehog deaths where pet hedgehogs eat contaminated bugs within the house.

In areas where hedgehogs have been introduced, such as New Zealand and the islands of Scotland, the hedgehog itself has become a pest. In New Zealand it causes immense damage to native species including insects, snails and ground-nesting birds, particularly shore birds. As with many introduced animals, it lacks natural predators. With overpopulation, it kills off more insects than initially intended and expands its diet to include things such as snails, worms, and the eggs of wading birds. Attempts to eliminate hedgehogs from bird colonies on the Scottish islands of North Uist and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides have met with considerable opposition.

Hedgehog diseases

There are many diseases common to hedgehogs, mostly fatal. These include cancer, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and wobbly hedgehog syndrome.

Cancer is very common in hedgehogs. The most common is squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell spreads quickly from the bone to the organs in hedgehogs, unlike in humans. Surgery to remove the tumors is rare because it would result in removing too much bone structure.

Fatty liver disease is believed by many to be caused by bad diet. Hedgehogs will eagerly eat foods that are high in fat and sugar. Having a metabolism designed for low-fat, protein-rich insects, this leads to common problems of obesity. Fatty liver disease is one sign, heart disease is another.

Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is very similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. The hedgehog slowly loses muscle control. Initially, it wobbles when attempting to stand still. Given time, the hedgehog loses all muscle control, including control of the lungs and heart. Vitamin E has been shown to delay the deterioration, but it is very temporary as a higher and higher dose is required.

Human influence

As with most small mammals living around humans, cars pose a great threat to hedgehogs. Many are run over as they attempt to cross roadways.

Another common human-related fatality is pesticides. Hedgehogs that eat insects filled with pesticides will often form digestive problems and eventually die.

In 2006, McDonald's changed the design of their McFlurry containers to be more hedgehog-friendly. Previously, hedgehogs would get their head stuck in the container as they tried to lick the remaining food from inside the cup. Then, being unable to get out, they would starve to death. Domesticated hedgehogs display this behavior by getting their head stuck in tubes (commonly, toilet paper tubes) and walking around with the tube on their head. Hedgehog owners often refer to this as "tubing" and promote the behavior by supplying clean tubes.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedgehogs


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