Avoiding Being Gotten By An Animal Scammer

     Very sadly, animal scammers have been popping up all over the Internet, trying to pose as legitimate businesses, ripping people off for ridiculous amounts of money. As a person who has been raising animals for decades, it has been really frustrating to see my pictures ripped off and used as bait for scams on Instagram, Facebook, and goodness knows where else. The social media companies are very unresponsive to requests to take down these scammers, so I wanted to offer some tips to help increase the chance that you are giving your business to legitimate businesses and not getting fleeced by scammers. So, here we go:

1) If the pictures being used to advertise the animals for sale lack continuity. They feature clearly different people, different backgrounds, different styles. This isn't a sure sign, but a flag to do more checking. Most breeders have some kind of similarity in the kind of pictures they use to show off their hedgies for sale. They may use the same background, or a limited range of backgrounds, that you will see used repeatedly over time. For example, I use a particular place in my garden, my photo box, or a blanket background, depending on the time of year, The way that I label my hedgehogs (birthdate and gender on the top left corner, baby name in the top right corner, and parents' names underneath) is always the same format, If pictures don't seem to match, you can reverse search images to see if they show up on other people's pages. If you find something like a Facebook page offering hedgehogs for sale from 20 different Instagram accounts, it's clearly a scam.

2) If they insist on payment sight unseen using a platform that has no buyer protection. Paypal business (not friends and family) or using your credit/debit card with a square invoice allows you to challenge the charge and get your money back if you can show you have been scammed. Paypal friends and family, zelle, cashapp, and a variety of other services offer no recourse if you are scammed. It's worth paying a surcharge to cover the user fees if the business charges that for using something like Paypal business instead of friends and family, in order to ensure you have buyer protection. Do your due diligence and shop with business that want you to feel comfortable and be protected. Legitimate businesses do ask for payment up front. If they are putting an animal on hold or scheduling transportation, they don't want to be scammed on their efforts, either. 

3) Other people in the same animal community confirm you're dealing with a legitimate business, on a platform that is who it says it is. Don't be afraid to ask. Sometimes scammers will make accounts that sounds similar to the real one (example: "XYZ Animals Transport" instead of "XYZ Animal Transport") and will steal the logo to trick people into thinking they are the real thing. If you smell a scam, ask a question you think will expose them and see if it does. If they claim to be an animal transporter, send a picture of a pride of lions and ask if they can transport them next week. If they say sure thing, send me your $ and I'm on it, run! If they claim to raise a variety of exotic animals, ask how much for a pangolin and if they tell you anything other than that isn't possible, run! If nobody has ever heard of them, don't send money until you've seen the goods.

4) The page is extremely new. This is an especially good way to identify a scam, if they are spoofing an established, legitimate business, but the date the account was created was only 3 weeks ago, then it clearly isn't the real one. If the business is super new, you'll want to see what you are getting or make sure you have buyer protection on any funds you send. 

5) They have no reviews, or their reviews are all 5 star and posted in a very short period of time. Most customers don't leave reviews, so it's very normal for reviews to trickle in over time and very unusual to have a whole bunch of people are glowingly happy and leaving reviews in a tiny time period. This is especially true if the page is fairly new.

6) Communication is stilted, doesn't flow, or doesn't make sense. Many scammers operate from overseas so if they are communicating as though it isn't their first language or they don't seem to know much about what they are selling, these are flags to do more checking. If they are telling you a bunch of weird excuses that don't add up at all, be suspicious. They may have other jobs or family obligations that interfere with things going perfectly smoothly, but it should at least make sense and be concerned about making sure that your needs are being taken care of.

7) The deal sounds too good to be true and/or requires you to act urgently. You need time to be able to think through your decision and if it sounds too good to be true, it might be.

I'm sure there are other things to watch out for but checking these seven things should help you avoid a lot of the scammers out there. Please use the comments to add your suggestions!

Long Eared Hedgehogs

In recent years, the adorably bat eared "long eared hedgehog" (LEH) has begun to appear in the North American pet trade. This species is often referred to as the "Egyptian Hedgehog" but they range considerably beyond that and can be found as far east as Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, and Russia. They tend to live in arid areas, such as deserts and steppes. They are generally active between dusk and dawn, and during the day can be found burrowed under rocks or bushes. They have strong, wide front feet and can dig their own burrows, though they often take advantage of burrows left by other animals.

The scientific name for LEH is hemiechinus auritus. It can be confusing because you may see them advertised as Egyptian or Russian. These are the same species, but breeders have noticed regional differences between those lines that were originally sourced from Egypt and lines originally sourced from Russia. The ones from Egyptian lines tend to have a pointier nose and the ones from Russian lines tend to have fluffier, softer fur. 

Care of LEH is similar but not the same as care for the more common African Pygmy Hedgehog (APH). Some of the care considerations for LEH are as follows:

Feeding: LEH require good quality protein: insects, raw meat, small whole prey (chicks, pinky mice), or cooked egg. They can eat a little bit of cooked vegetable or chopped fruit, up to about 1/2 tsp per day. We give ours high quality kibble that is always available, then their treats in the evening. They love those treats and are generally up and waiting for them!

Housing: LEH are very active and need as much space as possible. 10 to 12 square feet or more is preferred. We have been told that they can get stressed and ill tempered if they don't have plenty of room to roam. They need a cage with solid flooring (I like the Krolik XL rabbit cage or the Zen Habitats cages) and fully enclosed, as they can figure out how to climb out. It's fun to provide them with a sand pit or cypress mulch pile (bake in the oven for an hour or two at 325F to sterilize, then cool before using) to play in. 

Temperature: We keep our LEH at room temperature, which is 72 to 76 degrees and they seem to do well at those temperatures. Their range in the wild spans a wide range of temperatures, so it's best to ask the breeder you purchase from what temperature theirs are used to and replicate that with yours.

Enrichment: LEH are very curious and can be very interactive. Most will chase a cat toy on a string, and mine try to hunt my cats' tails. They enjoy tunnels, like ferret tubes and fabric tunnels. Most enjoy a wheel, though if your LEH is on the larger side, be sure that the wheel is big enough that they can run without having to bend their back. A 15" chinchilla wheel is generally sufficient. They enjoy play time outside of the cage and are very curious explorers.

LEH personalities are quite different than APH. Some, but not all, explore with their mouths, so may be seen as nippy. If they feel threatened, their first instinct is often not to ball up, but to head butt or bite. This kind of bite can draw blood. They are generally not aggressive, but you do need to be aware of where their mouth is when handling so as to avoid giving an opportunity to nip. I seldom get nipped and have not had a hard bite yet, but I am always aware and alert that it could happen. Because of this, they are not recommended for young children or nervous owners. Consistent handling does seem to help them develop trust and to be calmer when handled.

LEH are generally bigger than APH, though some smaller LEH may not be as large as bigger APH. My biggest LEH is double the size of the smallest. They do generally need attention to grooming their nails as they grow quickly. This is generally a two person job. LEH tend to live longer than APH, with an average captive lifespan of 7 years.  

LEH are currently more expensive than APH because they are only recently brought to the US, having been imported from breeders in Europe, which is a very monetarily consuming endeavor. They generally only have one litter per year, with February and March being the most typical times, and have 1 to 4 babies per litter.

LEH make wonderful pets if you are prepared for their needs and their special personality. 

Cold Weather Tips

With a polar vortex predicted to drop temperatures to extreme levels in the next week, it seemed timely to talk about how to keep  hedgies safe during periods of unusually cold weather.  Cage locations that may normally be fine can cause temperature drops if they are near a window or other draft, or set on the floor.

Insulation between the floor and cage (carpet, a blanket or towel, etc...) can help prevent the cold flooring surface from chilling the cage. Covering the window or the side of the cage nearest to the window with a blanket can help insulate, just make sure that hedgie has ventilation.

Ceramic heat elements and heat lamps can be a fire risk, so check that all equipment is in good working order and plugged in to a surge protector.

It is helpful to stock up on hand warmers that do not require electricity to activate (like hot hands) in case of power outages. Providing extra bedding such as snuggle sacks and paper towels can help hedgies hold in their body heat when they are hunkered down.

Be sure to check your hedgies extra carefully for signs of hibernation when winter weather is more extreme. If you notice that your hedgie seems chilled, your body heat is a great way quickly warm a hedgie.

Stay safe and warm, and keep snuggling those hedgies!

Where Can I Find Science-based Information About Hedgehogs?

 One absolute truth about the Internet is that it is full of information. The unfortunate truth is that not all of that information is of equal quality. When it comes to our little quilly friends, we want to make sure that the information we use to make decisions about what they need is based on good quality information.

If you read websites or join hedgehog interest groups, you are going to find a lot of information. Some of it seems to make a lot of sense, some of it seems kind of nonsense, and people will argue about what is true until you just want to put your quills up and go snooze in a nice, cozy tunnel.

My favorite source of science-based information is Google Scholar. Google Scholar is a google based search engine of scholarly journals/articles. This is where you can easily search for articles that are published in peer-reviewed journals. To be published in a peer-reviewed journal an article has to meet a higher standard than things that just anybody can publish on the Internet. 

Searching Google Scholar can be a bit daunting at first. If you put in the search term "hedgehog" you will get a whole bunch of articles about the hedgehog signaling pathway, which has to do with neurology, not hedgehoggery. I have found that using the scientific name of our quilly buddies, atelerix albiventris, gets a much better selection of articles. 

One important article I would like to point out is Fiber Digestion in the African White Bellied Hedgehog. If you click the .pdf icon on the article's abstract page, it will take you to the full article, which contains very important information about hedgehog's need for chitin/dietary fiber. Curious about the content of insects that hedgehogs eat? Try this article. 

For the most current research on Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, a search of "atelerix albiventris WHS 2020" brought up this very informative article. If your hedgehog is sick for any reason, this would be a good article to take to your vet as it includes normal blood values for hedgehogs. 

Happy researching!

What is quilling?

Hedgehog quills are modified hairs, much like the center part of a feather, minus the fluff. When a hedgehog baby is born, it has no quills. Within the first hour or so, soft, fine, white baby quills emerge. By two weeks old, babies have another set of soft quills, often with colored bands. When they get to about four to five weeks old, they begin to grow in a set of thicker, longer, tougher quills that can cause great discomfort when they start poking through. This is referred to as "quilling."

Quilling can be very uncomfortable. Imagine the pain human babies feel when they are teething, but all over your body! This really uncomfortable phase of quilling and crankiness generally lasts from when babies are about four weeks old until they are about eight weeks old, sometimes more or less. Some hedgies continue to gain and lose quills that can change their entire color pattern (from solid to snowflake or white) over the course of up to their first year!

The baby in the picture above is about a week old and very cranky about quilling! I used the yellow circle to highlight one of the large adult quills that is partially grown in. The red circle shows one of the small, fine, dark baby quills. Directly to the right of the red circle is one of the white baby quills- you can see how much fatter it is than the newly emerging quill circled in yellow!

The majority of hedgehog babies get cranky for at least a week or two while quilling, with most calming down by the time they are 8 to 12 weeks old. Adjustment to a new home generally seems to go smoother and bonding is easier if babies are past their quilling and already calmed down. Hedgehogs seem to be an exception to the generally tendency of animals to bond better when they are younger. They bond better when they feel better! For this reason, we generally wait to place babies in their new homes when they are 7 to 8 weeks old, even though they are typically weaned at 6 weeks. We want both you and your hedgehog to have a good experience together.

This does not mean that it is automatically going to be a disaster if you bring home a  weaned but quilling baby who is experiencing discomfort and crankiness. What it means is that you have no way of knowing whether baby is always going to be shy, or if it's only because of quilling. If you are patient and spend quiet lap time with your new companion, it will help baby to know that it is safe and will promote bonding with you.

My Hedgehog Has Mites- What Now?

Mites are a very pesky but treatable problem that sometimes happens with pet hedgehogs. I am not a veterinarian and this article is not a replacement for your veterinarian. You will want to consult with your vet before using any medical treatment for your hedgehog. This article is meant to give you some idea of what options have been evaluated for hedgehogs, as well as what things we have heard people say about their experiences. This will help you to work with your vet to make a decision about care that is based on as much available information as possible!

When I first started working with hedgehogs, in the mid 1990s, topical Ivermection was typically recommended as treatment for mites (reference: personal exeperience; https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4612-3626-9_19). Participating in the few hedgehog groups/mail lists that existed at that time, I heard people complain that Ivermectin made their hedgehog sick or that it wasn't very effective (reference: personal experience and https://www.jstor.org/stable/20094848?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents ).

When mites showed up in my herd in the early 2000s, I asked my vet if there were any other treatments available, since I didn't want to risk my hedgehogs getting sick or it not working very well. A study that compared injected Ivermectin to Amitraz as a dip showed that the Amitraz, used as in their study, was effective at eliminating the mites while the Ivernectin was not quite as effective (reference: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20094848?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents and https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/ectoparasitism ). I used the Amitraz with good results, but eventually, my vet stopped carrying it and we had to look for something else.

Veterinary articles reported success with permethrins to treat mites (reference: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/ectoparasitism and https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/ectoparasitism ) but word of mouth was that some people had hedgehogs with adverse reactions, so I did not want to try that.

The next reference we found that was promising was use of Selamectin (Revolution) as a topical treatment (reference: http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/hedgehog-wellness-proceedings?id=&sk=&date=&pageID=5 ).  This worked extremely well, clearing mites within about 24 hours and keeping them gone.

Recently I had a hedgehog turn up with a case of mites and the vet indicated that he hasn't carried Selamectin for over 5 years so we looked at other options. Oral dosage of Fluralaner (Bravecta) was found to be effective in one dose (reference: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318318852_Fluralaner_as_a_single_dose_oral_treatment_for_Caparinia_tripilis_in_a_pygmy_African_hedgehog). I have had someone tell me, "Don't use that, people had problems!" but they did not provide any references or explain what those problems might have been. We chose to use Fipronil (reference: http://wildpro.twycrosszoo.org/S/00Chem/ChComplex/fipronil.htm and http://vri.cz/docs/vetmed/60-1-57.pdf ivermectin, selamectin, fipronil ) as a topical and it did clear the mites with no adverse effect on the hedgehog.

As you can see, there are a lot of different treatment options and there are different kinds of mites. If your vet is not familiar with the treatment of mites in hedgehogs, the references in this article will be helpful for you and your vet to determine what treatment would be likely to be most effective, and if there are several options, to help you determine which one you would prefer.

Skin Reactions to Hedgehog Prickles

While it is not common, some people find that they get skin rashes or welts after handling their hedgehog. In general, hedgehogs are considered to be low dander and have been recommended as pets for people with allergies as they don't shed dander in a way that tends to trigger wheezing, sneezing, or watery eyes. Fairley, Suchniak, and Paller (1999) examined three case studies and reviewed literature, and came to a conclusion that there are several likely reasons for skin reactions to hedgehog handling:

1) When you get pricked by a hedgehog, dander can get under your skin. It has been found that people who have allergic reactions to cats are likely to have an allergic reaction to hedgehog dander. In this condition, there is generally no reaction to the hedgehog unless prickled. So, if you are allergic to cats, you will want a hedgehog that is calm and generally doesn't raise its prickles, and to be cautious if handling a hedgehog whose prickles are up.

2) Hedgehogs tend to self-anoint (lick on the smell, then spread it on themselves with their tongue) when they come across new smells in their environment. People have been allergic to things the hedgehog anointed with, but not to the hedgehog itself. A commonly reported reaction is to pine shavings. If you are allergic to pine, it's best to pick a different kind of bedding.

3) Some hedgehogs can carry fungal infections without showing any symptoms. In these cases, reactions are highly inflammatory, but resolve within 2 to 3 weeks of onset. I have never personally heard of anyone having this kind of reaction.

If you are having a reaction to handling your hedgehog, you will want to pay attention to what your hedgehog may have on its quills to see if you can make environmental changes. You may also need to use gloves or a hedgebag for handling. If reactions are severe or persistent, definitely talk with your doctor.

Avoiding Being Gotten By An Animal Scammer

      Very sadly, animal scammers have been popping up all over the Internet, trying to pose as legitimate businesses, ripping people off fo...