Everywhere I go with my little ball of quills people want to know who she is . . . so I tell them.
Yes, she’s a hedgehog. Her name is Ginger. She’s blonde — not albino — a recessive gene that makes her quills cinnamon and ginger-colored. Hedgehogs are born in many shades — salt and pepper or chocolate brown are the most common.
No, she doesn’t release her quills like a porcupine. Actually, they are technically spines, not quills. They feel bristly like a hairbrush or beard, but you might get poked if she curls into a ball.
Yes, she might be nervous or shy about meeting you, which is why she starts to curl into a ball. Or she might be tired. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and she probably ran a few miles on her exercise wheel last night. When she gets up in the late afternoon, it is early morning for her and she sticks out her two-inch long tongue and yawns. If she makes a huffing noise, then she is really nervous.
No, it’s not too hard to take care of her. She eats cat food, mealworms, eggs and fruit. She lives in a rabbit hutch inside, which needs to be cleaned often. She uses a litter box, but not 100 percent. She often has an urge while exercising on her wheel. To give her a bath, I brush her with a toothbrush in warm water with oatmeal soap and coconut oil.
Yes, she was expensive. I got her for $250 from a breeder. I took her home at six weeks old. She is full size at six months. She went through the “terrible twos” when she shed her baby quills and grew in adult quills. It is uncomfortable, like a baby teething. She was grumpy and curled into a ball and made huffing noises more often.
No, she is not a wild animal native to the U.S. She is an African pygmy hedgehog, which was bred for domestication from two types of wild hedgehogs about 30 years ago. She looks and acts differently than wild hedgehogs in Africa, Asia and Europe. She still has some wild nature in her; the more time I spend with her, the tamer she becomes. She loves to snuggle in a blanket.
Yes, she is a great pet — but not for everyone. She needs a lot of unconditional love, understanding and fortitude. She is near-sighted so she can’t see well what is going on around her, which is why she can be timid. I spend lots of time with her so she gets to know my voice and smell. I pet her from her nose to her back so she knows it is me. But she still huffs and puffs into a spiky ball sometimes.
No, she won’t live long. The lifespan of domesticated hedgehogs is four years. They are susceptible to cancer and a neurological condition called wobbly hedgehog syndrome. They can also get mites or infections. There are vets who treat hedgehogs.
Yes, she is adorable. She slowly pokes out her snout out from her ball of quills as she sniffs the world and uncurls. She explores her surroundings and then finds a cozy place to burrow. If she comes across an interesting smell, she will lick and chew the object, salivate and spread the new smell on her quills, a normal behavior called “anointing.” She is camouflaging herself with the smell, or perhaps wants to perfume herself. No one really knows why.
Yes, ask me more questions. I love talking about her. She is fascinating — both cuddly and prickly, a pet for those who are intrigued by paradoxes and enjoy an adventurous challenge.
Sara Marie Moore is a journalist and happy hedgehog owner. She had her first hedgehog in fourth grade long before the current hedgehog craze.
This article was originally published as a column in the White Bear Lake Press, where she is an editor.