When Mary saw the baby African Pygmy Hedgehogs in the pet shop in Dun Laoghaire, she knew that she wanted one. Hedgehogs have been domesticated for the past thirty years, and they are now bred in captivity. They live for around six years, similar to other small pets like guinea pigs and rabbits. Mary saved up her money, and bought Fuzzypeg, along with her large plastic cage, a small “igloo” house, a food bowl, water bottle and litter tray.
Fuzzypeg is litter trained, like a cat, and she can be let out of her cage to run around the house. She moves more quickly that you’d imagine, running so rapidly, like a ferret, that it’s difficult to catch her. She likes to wriggle into small holes to hide. Mary has learned that she has to block up all small openings, such as gaps in the skirting boards, because otherwise Fuzzypeg will get herself wedged into inaccessible places. She also likes to climb up and down objects, so when she’s out she needs to be watched carefully, or she might be found later, wedged down the back of the sofa or inside a cupboard if a door had been left ajar.
She’s fun to play with – she even has a small football that she likes chasing around – but she obviously isn’t cuddly. If nervous, she tenses up, sticking out her spines, and after a minor “prickle” injury, Mary has taken to wearing garden gloves when handling her.
Fuzzypeg has some unusual behaviours: when she comes across something strange (such as a new toy), she licks it and nibbles it, then she goes through a process called “anointing”. She produces saliva, getting foam all over her face, and then goes into a type of trance, rolling on her side, with the foam spreading all over her head. It’s supposed to be a hedgehog’s way of acquiring the same scent as environmental objects, so that they are camouflaged from predators in the area.
Fuzzypeg doesn’t bark or miaow, but she clatters around the place in an ungraceful and noisy way. She becomes especially active late at night, and one time, Mary’s father heard a loud banging downstairs at 2am. He came down, grabbing a poker on the way, expecting to find a burglar. He felt foolish when he found Fuzzypeg playing in her cage, bashing a new plastic toy against the side of the cage. She does vocalize if she feels stressed, curling up into a tight ball, letting out a loud sound like “white noise”, and twitching. It’s an effective way of seeing off predators: a prickly ball, hopping up and down and going “whoagh, whoagh, whoagh” is something that most animals don’t want to get close to.
Mary usually gets aspen bedding for her cage from the pet shop – this is a special type of wood shaving that’s soft and safe. When she was unable to get to the pet shop, she bought some pine wood shavings, and it was soon after that she found some tiny mites moving around the floor of Fuzzypeg’s cage. There were even a few mites on the hedgehog’s face.
Hedgehogs can suffer from specific mites that cause itchy skin, but Fuzzypeg wasn’t itching at all. The problem was a simple one to solve: the mites had come with the pine shavings, so all that Mary had to do was to thoroughly clean out Fuzzypeg’s cage, along with all of her toys and possessions. From now on, she’s only going to use the special aspen bedding that’s designed for the job.
- African Pygmy Hedgehogs are “upcoming” pets
- They’re not cuddly, and they’re independent-minded creatures
- It’s important to get good advice on their husbandry to avoid problems