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.

How Can I Keep My Hedgehog Warm?

     The hedgehogs that we keep as pets come from warm parts of Africa and need to be maintained at warm temperatures. You can tell that the temperature is good for them because they will eat, drink, stay active, and behave normally. A hedgehog that is too cold becomes sluggish and cranky, and it will ignore its food and water. Sometimes it will curl in a ball and not hardly respond to you at all, and it will seem cool to the touch.

     In general, a temperature 70 and up will keep your hedgehog happy and healthy. Hedgehogs are at risk during times of the year when we experience rapid temperature fluctuations, such as in the spring or fall, when we humans can adjust by throwing on an extra blanket or sweater, but hedgehogs are vulnerable. It can also be a problem for them if the overall temperature is warm, but their cage is in a draft or near a window or door where the cold seeps through. Hedgehogs who are very young, elderly, or ill are also more at risk because they can't thermoregulate as readily as healthy adult hedgehogs.

     If you find that your hedgehog needs an extra heat source, there are several options to choose from that have been shown to work well for hedgehogs. Here are some of your choices:
Image result for snuggle safe disk
Snuggle Safe Disk

1) Snuggle Safe Disk: This is a microwaveable disk that is best used if you are nervous about anything that plugs in, and are able to check the temperature of the disk every 4 to 6 hours to make sure it's staying warm enough. You will want to follow the manufacturers recommendations for how long to place the disk in the microwave so that it does not become overheated and melt. The disks come with a cover, which should be used to provide a cushion between the hedgehog and the hot disk. These disks are especially awesome when travelling!

2) Ceramic Heat Emitter: Ceramic Heat Emitters (also called "CHE") are currently very popular among hedgehog enthusiasts. The Ceramic Heat Emitters are a ceramic bulb that looks a lot like a light bulb, but it only emits heat and not light. There are certain lamp fixtures that are made to work with CHEs, so make sure that when you purchase your equipment, you are purchasing a fixture that is made to work with a CHE. 
     Ceramic Heat Emitters get very hot and are an electrical system, so you will want to purchase a thermostat and thermometer. Testing before you put your hedgehog in the cage will let you make sure that the cage temperature does not get too hot for your hedgehog and that it maintains a constant temperature. I recommend plugging your heat emitter and thermostat into a power bar for an added layer of protection.

3) Reptile Heat Pads: Some people love these, while others very strongly express that they think they should never be used. Unlike human heat pads, reptile heat pads are designed to be kept on, using a thermostat to regulate temperature. For best protection, also plug your system into a power bar. When using a reptile heat pad, it needs to be able to go under the cage, with a layer of bedding and the cage surface between the hedgehog and the heat pad. It should be small enough that it only covers a portion of the cage (1/4 or less) so that the hedgehog can move further or closer away as it gets warm enough. 
     The problem that has caused people to hate reptile heat pads is that people have apparently placed them directly into the cage with no thermostat to regulate temperature and are reported to have burned their hedgehogs :( Definitely be smart about it and don't place your hedgehog at risk if using a reptile heat pad! It is also a good idea to research the brand and read reviews/look at ratings to make sure you are getting the quality you need.

4) Reptile Heat Tape or Reptile Heat Cord: This is much like the heat pads and should be used with a thermostat and plugged into a power bar. The heat tape/cord is made to go around the outside of the cage at the base, so that the cage will be warmer near the tape and cooler toward the middle. I have never used reptile heat tape/cord so I don't know how well it raises the ambient temperature or how hot it gets. Using a thermostat does help with preventing overheating,  but you will want to research to make sure that the brand you choose isn't going to melt your cage if you are using a plastic cage. Never place something like this inside the cage where it can burn your hedgehog with direct contact. I do know that many reptile owners do successfully use reptile heat tape/cord with their reptiles.

Reptile Heat Cord

      I have been asked why I don't recommend reptile heat rocks or human heat pads for hedgehog heat sources. I don't recommend the heat rocks because I have not found that they raise the overall temperature in the cage and I have heard stories of animals being burned on them. They just don't make a reliable heat source so I would not use one. Human heat pads on low, underneath part of the cage and not in direct contact with your hedgehog, can be used as a short term warming solution. However, their manufacturer labeling tells you that they are not made for constant use and that it isn't safe to leave them on unattended.

     Hopefully this article will help you to come up with a heating solution that will work well for you and your hedgehog! Always be sure that any electrical system is checked regularly for problems and that you are using a thermostat and power bar fore safety. Also please be sure that if you are providing an extra heat source, that you provide your hedgehog with a temperature range. Allowing part of the cage being cooler than the rest lets your hedgehog decide where it feels most comfortable and prevents it from accidentally overheating!

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 spec...