On hedgehog cysts and finding an exotic vet

Ginger finally found a vet clinic that really gets hedgehogs.

When we walked into Cedar Pet Clinic in Lake Elmo, just outside St. Paul, Minnesota, I immediately noticed hedgehogs were included in picture frames on the walls.

It put me at ease a little bit considering I’d already been to two vet clinics that said they treat hedgehogs but, in reality, the vets didn’t know much about them. The first couldn’t even explain what hedgehogs should eat. The second was kind enough to refer me to Cedar Pet Clinic for the future.

Ginger had a small, blackish lump on her tummy. When we went into the exam room to wait for the vet, I saw the staff had set out a hedgehog fleece for her on the exam table. Hedgehogs love warm fleece material. She scurried around on the exam table while we waited for the vet.

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Ginger makes herself at home on the exam table at Cedar Pet Clinic in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.

When Dr. Charles Cosimini walked in, he was wearing a hedgehog tie! I told him all about Ginger’s lump and he gave me a cost for testing the lump before she went to the lab.

Thankfully, it was just a cyst, which completely drained away. However, Dr. Chuck saw a few round cells under the microscope, which is unusual for a cyst. They could be normal white blood cells that happened to be in the sample or an indication of a possible pre-malignant condition. We’ll have to keep an eye on the area.

It’s normal for cysts to regrow and they are not a problem unless they become infected or so large they interfere with activity. If Ginger’s cyst grows back, I will have it retested to confirm it is still noncancerous and has not turned into a tumor, considering her test results.

Unfortunately, cancer is common in hedgehogs. But I’m going for six years with Ginger, which is about 90 human years. Ginger is 2, or 30 in human years, right now. Most pet hedgehogs live for four to six years.

As Ginger came out from under her anesthesia, Dr. Chuck mentioned he had written a children’s book about his work with exotic pets: “A Hedgehog with a Sneeze.” He was excited to hear that Ginger is the star of my children’s book “The Spike Cream Woods.”

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Ginger comes out from under anesthesia after her lump was examined by her new vet Dr. Chuck, wearing a hedgehog tie with illustrations from his book “A Hedgehog with a Sneeze.”

I bought a copy of “A Hedgehog with a Sneeze” at the front desk. It tells silly stories of several exotic animals going to the vet. I found it clever that the hedgehog’s story addressed a real health issue that hedgehogs face — homes that are too chilly.

You can keep your hedgehog’s immune system in tip-top shape by ensuring your hedgehog’s room is kept at least at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If a hedgehog’s environment gets too chilly, they will attempt to hibernate.

Their body temperature begins to drop and they stay tightly rolled in a ball. African pygmy hedgehogs are not supposed to hibernate and they can die if not warmed up.
If your hedgehog attempts to hibernate, warm them up slowly by microwaving their favorite blanket and holding them close to your body in it. While hedgehogs can come out of hibernation attempts, it weakens their immune system.

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Ginger reads “A Hedgehog with a Sneeze” by Dr. Chuck.

Ginger attempted to hibernate this winter during Minnesota’s extreme temperatures when our heat turned up to max wasn’t enough. My husband Andrew and I invested in a new space heater to keep Ginger extra warm.

The best thing you can do for your hedgehog’s health and longevity is to keep them toasty warm.

Sara Marie Moore is author and photographer of “The Spike Cream Woods,” a photo-illustrated children’s book featuring her pet hedgehog Ginger in a fanciful ice cream forest. 

Birthday blessing: Miraculous appearing of a pet hedgehog

On my prayer list for August 2016 is listed a petition for a miraculous appearing of a pet hedgehog. It may have been a bit facetious, but God was listening.

About a month later, I was praying about something else and randomly opened my Bible. My eyes landed on Isaiah 14:23: “I will make it a possession of the hedgehog….” declares the Lord of hosts.” (ESV)

God was responding to my prayer for a pet hedgehog! Never mind that the context of the passage was about God bringing justice to those who had been mistreated by making their attacker’s land desolate and filled with hedgehogs, a desert creature. He was bringing His Word to life in response to my childlike prayer.

I started saving and researching hedgehog breeders. The only thing was, I really wanted a blonde girl hedgehog. I’d had a traditional salt-and-pepper (white with black bands) boy hedgehog as a child and wanted to mix it up. Blonde hedgehogs are not albinos; their quills are white with cinnamon and ginger colored banding due to a recessive gene, just like blonde-haired people.

I decided to sign up with a breeder that would put me on a waiting list for the next blonde girl born. I inquired with Otsego Hedgehogs in Minnesota a few days before my birthday in January 2017. I got on the waiting list a few days after my birthday. I knew it could be months since they couldn’t guarantee when another blonde girl would be born. Also, quill color and sex are not determined until the baby hedgehogs are a few weeks old.

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Ginger’s litter, February 2017.

But a couple weeks later the breeder sent me a text saying that it appears there were two blonde hedgehogs born in a litter of four January 29.

That was my birthday!

A week later, she let me know they were girls. I picked up my Ginger a few weeks later, a tiny prickly ball of a miracle.

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Ginger on her first day home, March 2017.

The playful way that God answered my childlike prayer for a miraculous appearing of a pet hedgehog is something that reminds me that He is listening when I am waiting for answers to more difficult things.

He might not always answer our prayers in the way or the timing that we would like, but we can be sure He is listening and cares about us in a way that we can’t fully comprehend.

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Ginger, a tiny miracle.

Sara Marie Moore is author and photographer of “The Spike Cream Woods,” a photo-illustrated children’s book featuring her pet hedgehog Ginger in a fanciful ice cream forest. 

Things to bring for your hedgehog’s road trip

Yes, you can take your hedgehog to the family cabin, camping or even pet-friendly hotels.

 

Ginger went on her first weekend road trip before she was even fully grown. After the trip, I noticed she was more used to me and huffed and puffed less. Taking your hedgehog on a road trip can help your hedgehog bond with you.

 

Here’s what you’ll need to make the adventure as stress-free as possible:

 

Travel bag: Bring your hedgehog in the car in a portable travel bag. I use a small bag with a ventilation hole that I buckle into the back seat. Remember, put your ball of quills in the back seat, not up front where an air bag could damage their little body. Hedgehogs are content to burrow in these bags for hours without making a peep. I also put her favorite snuggle sack in the bag to make it even comfier.

 

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Buckle your ball of quills in the back seat, not the front seat. Air bags can hurt your hedgehog’s fragile body just like a baby.

 

Baby wipes: You will want these along to clean up your hedgehog after they take a pit stop. Yes, when you get out of the car to stretch and go to the bathroom you should also let your hedgehog run around on the grass. They will likely go to the bathroom, too. If it is during the day time, make sure to let them out every few hours as hedgehogs often get up during the day at some point to go to the bathroom and have a snack in their cage. Be patient as they may need to get used to the surroundings before going to the bathroom or eating.

 

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Your hedgehog can take a rest area break just like you.

 

Food, snacks, water: Bring along a sufficient supply of food and water for the trip and keep a small amount accessible in the car to offer to your hedgehog along the way.

 

Portable cage: You’ll want to have a cage that is not too small and not too big; at least about 18 inches wide and long for weekend road trips and larger for week-long trips. You will also want it to be tall enough to fit your hedgehog’s wheel if you are going for more than one night. Collapsible kennels for dogs or cats work well. Make sure you can completely secure the opening or sew on snaps like I did to this cat tent. Have your hedgehog test out the kennel or tent for at least one day a few days before your trip so they can get used to it and so you know there are no issues with the cage.

 

Wheel: When Ginger went on her first road trip, she was not fully grown so she could still use her smaller baby wheel on the trip. Once your hedgehog is fully grown, you should bring their wheel along if at all possible to help them keep their energy up. Hedgehogs will not die without a wheel for a week, however. I had a hedgehog in the ‘90s when no one knew about wheels for hedgehogs. Hokey Pokey lived a full hedgehog life although I am sure he would have been more fit and happy with a wheel.

 

Sleeping hut: Don’t forget to bring their favorite sleeping hut or pouch to put in their cage at night so they can burrow in it and feel like they are at home.

 

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Ginger’s first camping set up included a small tent, her strawberry sleeping hut, small wheel, small litter tray and food and water bowls. 

 

Food and water bowls: If you only use a water bottle, you will have to find a portable cage it can be attached to. But now might be a good time to train your hedgehog to also drink from a water dish. I personally use both in her cage at home in case she spills her dish or the water bottle leaks. Side note: If you do use a water bottle, make sure the ball and spout are large enough so that your hedgehog can get enough water out and also not get its tongue stuck in the spout. Hedgehogs love water. Try one with a 16mm diameter. 

 

Small litter tray: I abandoned the litter tray after the first night on our road trip because her weekend cage was just too small for her not to create a litter trail to her food and water bowls. I think she enjoyed just going on her wheel. 🙂

 

Thermometer, emergency blanket, hand warmers: Bring along the thermometer you use to monitor your hedgehog’s room temperature at home. If you don’t have one, get one that tells you the high and low temperature over 24 hours. If the temperature drops below 72 degrees and your hedgehog’s face or tummy feels chilled, you will need to cuddle them or wrap them in a blanket surrounded by an emergency blanket or hand warmers until they are again fully warm to the touch. When a hedgehog’s tummy turns cold, they could be attempting to hibernate, which is dangerous for their health. Before you travel, check the weather to determine whether it is wise to bring your hedgehog along if you are not able to control the temperature of your lodging.

When I brought Ginger camping at my parent’s farm for one day she slept in her little tent during the day (her night) when it was warm but I put it in the cabin overnight (her day) because the temperature was going to drop too low.

 

Camera: You’ll want to capture lots of memories with your ball of quills on your road trip! Take shots at scenic areas and don’t be afraid to pull over just for a photo shoot break.

 

One more thing: Enjoy the journey!

 

 

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Going on a road trip with your hedgehog can bring you to new places in your relationship with your ball of quills.

 

 

Sara Marie Moore is a journalist and happy hedgehog owner. She had her first hedgehog in fourth grade long before the current hedgehog craze. 

 

 

Answers to FAQs about hedgehogs

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. 

http://www.presspubs.com/vadnais/opinion/article_078c3a8e-602d-11e7-9306-4f52812ed588.html

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