Keeping hedgehogs as pets has become uber trendy again, reigniting a craze that began in the early ’90s when they were a passing fad; before people realized how difficult it can be to care for them. Thanks to their super-cute looks and Instagram-friendly chill, sales of African pygmy hedgehogs – the only breed suited to domestication – have been booming.
The latest incarnation of the trend has a focus on their butts, which are apparently adorable when they sleep. Inspired by a video of an understandably annoyed hedgehog getting a finger up the jacksie, people have been photographing and sharing their own pets’ asses.
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The unusual and cute sight got people joking about what they actually see
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But others started sharing pics of their own hedgehogs’ butts
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Cute as buttons they may well be, many experts urge caution before considering getting a hedgehog as a pet. For example, hedgehog ecologist Hugh Warwick worries about people getting bored of this high-maintenance animal.
“I really hope this trend doesn’t take off again, despite the very real cuteness of these animals, and the undoubted pleasure of being able to handle one,” he wrote in The Guardian. “Leaving aside the ethics of the exotic pet industry, there are some important reasons why we should not encourage the pet hedgehog craze.”
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“Firstly, there is a depressing inevitability that unscrupulous people will pick up wild hedgehogs and try to sell them on (there is evidence that they already have). British hedgehogs are wild animals and are not suitable pets. Most of the APHs for sale are captive-bred and some can tolerate handling, but there are also many who are vicious bombs of prickles, with sharp teeth that they are only too eager to sink into any available flesh.”
“Secondly, people get bored of their pet hedgehogs. They are nocturnal, like to move around a lot and need a wheel on which to run. They also tend to poop as they run and end up smearing the wheel and themselves in feces that will need to be cleaned up every day.”
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“Boredom with your pet will result in a desire to get rid of it. Even though APHs are a different species to the hedgehogs we have in the UK and unsuited to the British climate, people tend to release them into the wild, or hand them in to hedgehog carers. Already overstretched, these volunteers end up with another mouth to feed – and one that cannot be set free.”
But despite animal campaigners cautioning against keeping them as pets, hedgehog popularity continues to soar, encouraged by ‘adorable’ Instagram accounts like Mr. Pokee. So how best to look after them and give them a happy life in captivity?
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The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) says the animals need to stay in an enclosure with temperatures between 24C and 30C. Anything hotter and they can suffer heatstroke, while a temperature lower than 18C can induce torpor, a form of hibernation.
Emma Crossan, a dog trainer from Lancashire, England, currently has 11 African Pygmy Hedgehogs and has kept them for nearly a decade now. “They’re not easy to keep and you need to be dedicated,” she told the BBC. “You need to handle them every single day, even if the hedgehog is huffy.”
Emma has found new homes for 14 hedgehogs since setting up a re-homing service, where she helps people with unwanted hedgehogs.
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“I have a dedicated hedgehog room,” Emma says. She keeps each of hers in a vivarium, a container for exotic animals. It is important the hedgehogs get plenty of attention, are fed a diet rich in protein and low in fat, and have a wheel to run around in.
“They can run miles in the night, a wheel is very important,” she says.
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While the charity says hedgehogs are not suitable pets, it advises would-be owners to research the animal’s needs – and only consider keeping one if they can ensure they are fully able to provide for them.
What do you think? Would you like to keep a hedgehog as a pet? Do you think you could provide it with the care and conditions that it needs? Perhaps you have one already? Share your thoughts in the comments below!