Hedgehogs soar in popularity as pets

By: Courtesy WNCN
By: Courtesy WNCN

(WVLT) -- They're cute - but cuddly? Ask a hedgehog owner. Hedgehogs are steadily growing in popularity across the United States, despite laws in at least six states banning or restricting them as pets.

According to our sister station WNCN, breeders say the trend is partly fueled by the fact that hedgehogs require less maintenance than dogs and cats, and because they emit little odor. They are largely hypoallergenic and are solitary, making them ideal for those with a busy lifestyle.

"A hedgehog can hang out all day while you are at work, you can come home, hang out with it for a couple of hours or put it away," said Massachusetts-based hedgehog breeder Jennifer Crespo.

The attraction to the animals may have started with a video game - "Sonic" is a blue hedgehog who runs at supersonic speeds and curls into a ball to attack its enemies - but it has grown through people sharing pictures of their pets on social media and elsewhere online.

An Instagram account set up by the owners of a hedgehog named Biddy in Oregon has nearly 370,000 followers, while National Geographic Magazine put a hedgehog on the cover of its April edition to illustrate a trend of people owning exotic animals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which requires anyone breeding at least three hedgehogs to get a license, says it has no data on hedgehog ownership.

But Jill Warnick, a breeder in Brookline, Massachusetts, said demand for hedgehogs has grown so much over the years that potential pet owners have to fill out an application form and then wait for their turn to buy the weaned offspring.

"When I first started I might have a waiting list of five people," Warnick said, as hedgehogs slept in hiding spots installed in their cages. "Well, 19 years later, I have a waiting list of 500 people."

Breeders typically begin holding hedgehog offspring in their hands for a short time each day beginning a few days after their birth, in an effort to get them accustomed to humans. That helps make pet hedgehogs bond with their owners, said Warnick, who has sold about 350 hedgehogs.

The animals are banned in six states and Washington, D.C., for reasons ranging from being nonnative species to concerns that they could set up a wild population.

Hedgehogs can also shed the salmonella bacterium, which represents a health risk to young children and older people with weakened immune systems.

Pet owners can minimize that risk by washing their hands immediately after handling hedgehogs, cleaning their cages or feeding them, said Sarah McCormack, a veterinarian at Fresh Pond Animal Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.


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