Good grief: Face your hedgehog’s death with tears

I came home from a camping trip in middle school in the ‘90s to my mother in tears – Hokey Pokey died while I was away.

 

My mother was rather beside herself having watched him slowly die while not knowing what to do for him. It was the ‘90s and we were just getting the internet. We didn’t know of blogs and websites about hedgehog care. There was nothing to Google. Exotic vets that see hedgehogs were few and far between.

I, being the strong, independent, grown up middle schooler I was, hardly shed a tear. But for almost 20 years I have kept a few of his quills tucked away in my desk. A photo of him in a hedgehog frame has been solidified, like a painting that cannot be erased.

I also somehow felt I was to blame for Hokey Pokey’s death and that kept me from properly grieving. As I became a middle schooler, I remembered I had been spending less time with my pokey friend as my attention shifted to teenage girl things. Hokey Pokey was my childhood dream and I was growing into new interests. I felt I must not have been taking good enough care of him and that is why he got sick.

It was only years later I realized that Hokey Pokey was about four years old when he died and that is the expected life span of domesticated hedgehogs.

The short life span of hedgehogs, plus the fact that they are susceptible to difficult diseases such as cancer and wobbly hedgehog syndrome, can cause much grief to the hedgehog community.

As I peruse across Instagram adoring cute hedgehogs, I invariably come across a RIP account or a current friend who recently lost a beloved spiky pal.

In these moments, I think about my new, dear hedgehog Ginger and how quickly she may pass.

Ginger brought healing to my heart after nearly 20 years of silently blaming myself for Hokey Pokey’s death. It was through becoming part of the ‘2010s hedgehog community that I realized a hedgehog owner cannot prevent their hedgehog from dying when it is their time to go, but they have the privilege to give them a loving life for three to four years.

In death and in life, the power of love is what reminds us there is still hope. If you loved a hedgehog, cry. If you love a hedgehog, cry. For, we cannot prevent their deaths and make them live for more years than they have been given. We can prolong their days, but we cannot prolong their lives. How I wish hedgehogs lived longer than four years.

 

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I have kept some of Hokey Pokey’s quills for nearly 20 years.

 

Crying is a gift God has given us to face the grief that is part of this broken world. Someday, there will be no more crying or pain, and no more dying hedgehogs. Just cute, healthy ones scurrying about forever beneath the fruit trees next to the river of life that flows from God’s throne in the new heaven and new earth.

Grieving your hedgehog’s death is healthy. Grief is good in that it helps you face the reality of your love and loss. Others may not understand how you could be so distraught over a small creature, but please, cry. It will bring healing to your soul.

If your hedgehog has died, consider taking another one into your life when you are ready. Ginger certainly was a gift from God to me to remind me how new life can comfort and heal what has been lost, even years later.

Not long after I got married, I began longing for a hedgehog. I started buying all sorts of hedgehog decorations: salt and pepper shakers, mugs, linens, Christmas ornaments, etc. etc.

I was remembering with happiness my childhood hedgehog days but unsure whether the investment of time and money was worth having another hedgehog. But I was finally ready to face my lost longing with new life. I started praying for a blonde girl. I contacted a breeder.

Ginger was born on my birthday.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should you feed your spiky friend hedgehog food or cat food?

“What is the difference between hedgehog food and cat food?” I asked the vet.

“Cat food is made for cats and hedgehog food is made for hedgehogs,” he answered in a demeaning, negative tone. Wow, I thought. Super duh, sir. I’m paying you for this appointment? I was asking about the nutrition values and ingredients, not the obvious label on the front of the bag.

I pressed him because I am a journalist by trade. Is it the proteins, I asked? He mumbled something about vitamins and what hedgehogs eat in the wild. I let him move on.

But I didn’t move on. In Ginger’s appointment notes, the vet wrote that I should try supplementing Ginger’s cat food with some hedgehog food. But I still didn’t know why. I’ve heard multiple times from breeders and hedgehog owners that they recommend cat food over hedgehog food. If this exotic pet vet thinks he knows so much, I needed to know why.

So, I did some research on the nutritional analyses of several hedgehog foods compared with the kitten food recommended by my breeder.

 

Blue Wilderness Kitten food:

40 percent crude protein

20 percent crude fat

3.5 percent fiber

10 percent moisture

Vitamins: A, B, C, D, E, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus.

Notable ingredients include poultry, peas, dried egg, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsley, kelp, cranberries, blueberries, apples, spinach, blackberries, pomegranate, pumpkin, barley and chicory root.

Yum, that sounds good! Hedgehogs love eggs, berries and fruit and I imagine they would love digging for root vegetables in the wild.

 

Mazuri Hedgehog Diet food:

28 percent crude protein

12 percent crude fat

13 percent crude fiber

12 percent moisture

Vitamins: A, B, C, D, E, K, calcium

Notable ingredients include poultry, soybean hulls, wheat, beet pulp, brown rice, dried egg, animal fat, apple and fish meal.

Soy, wheat, rice and fish. Huh. Weird. Do hedgehogs really eat that in the wild?

 

Ultra-Blend Select Nutrient Rich Hedgehog Diet food:

30 percent crude protein

8 percent crude fat

5 percent crude fiber

10 percent moisture

Vitamins: A, B, D, E, calcium, phosphorus

Notable ingredients include poultry, corn and wheat.

Sounds like whoever made this spent lots of time on a farm, out in the corn and wheat fields with their chickens …. and hedgehog.

 

Sunseed Vita Prima hedgehog food:

38 percent crude protein

8 percent crude fat

9 percent crude fiber

14 percent moisture

Vitamins: A, B, C, D, E, calcium, phosphorus

Notable ingredients include poultry, wheat, soy, fish, beet pulp, mealworms, flax seed and kelp.

Oooo, throw in some mealworms, then it is definitely what hedgehogs eat in the wild.

 

Exotic Nutrition Hedgehog Complete food:

35 percent crude protein

14 percent crude fat

17.5 percent crude fiber

Vitamins: A, B, D, E, calcium, phosphorus, selenium

Notable ingredients include bloodmeal, soy, corn, molasses, beet pulp and mealworms.

What is bloodmeal? It is the first ingredient. Oh, Wikipedia said it is a dry powder made from blood, used in animal feed. It is often made from the leftover blood when cattle and pigs are slaughtered. Excuse me? Not to mention molasses.

 

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Ginger the hedgehog recommends Blue Wilderness kitten food. It is made without corn, soy or wheat and contains foods hedgehogs may eat in the wild, such as berries and root vegetables.

 

So, I think the Blue Wilderness kitten food is the best choice for my hedgeghog. Berries, fruits, eggs, pumpkin and sweet potatoes sound much more natural for hedgehogs than soy, corn, wheat, rice and bloodmeal.

However, it does appear that most “hedgehog” foods include higher fiber and lower fat content than kitten food. Hmmm, I have noticed a few rather large hedgehogs on Instagram. It would make sense that hedgehogs eat a rather low-fat, high-fiber diet in the wild. They eat lots of crunchy fiber from insects and fruits.

My goal will be to increase my hedgehog’s fiber intake without taking away her apparently natural and nutritious kitten food. I plan to supplement her diet with more fruits. She also loves dried mealworms. And dried mealworms have three times more fiber than live ones, according to mealwormcare.org.

This hedgehog trail mix also sounds delicious for when we go on adventures:

Sunseed Vita Prima Wigglers and Berries:

Ingredients: mealworms, corn, celery, millet, bell pepper, strawberries, egg, wheat, oats and oil.

Happy eating, hedgies!

 

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

Hedgehog bath time basics, plus ducky

Just don’t forget the rubber ducky. Seriously.

For many hedgehogs, bath time can prove to be unenjoyable. They feel out in the open; hedgehogs are burrowing creatures and being in any open area can produce the need to hide.

It helps to have an object the hedgehog can push around and attempt to hide behind in the tub. Hence rubber ducky. Duckies can also provide a valuable distraction for your hedgie while getting washed.

It is necessary to fully bathe your hedgehog at least once a month. I have heard of some hedgehog owners who bathe their hedgehog weekly and some who bathe monthly.

Those who bathe monthly usually suggest doing so because hedgehogs can get dry skin and water can dry it out more. However, if your hedgehog is like most hedgehogs, it runs in the poop it leaves on its wheel. Sometimes it even apparently rolls around in the poop in its litter box and can get it in its quills. Leaving dried poop on your hedgehog for weeks is a bad idea.

I personally would recommend a bi-weekly bath with the right ingredients to keep your hedgehog’s skin supple.

For a full bath, you will need a toothbrush, all-natural soap and coconut oil, melted. Also, have a towel on hand just for your hedgie.

 

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You can brush your hedgehog with a toothbrush to clean its quills.

 

Here’s how you can bathe your hedgehog:

  1. Fill a sink about two inches with warm water. Your hedgehog will have a much more enjoyable bath if the water is warm, but not hot.

 

  1. Put a bar of soap or liquid soap in the water. I personally use an all-natural, organic oatmeal soap I bought at a natural foods store for $2. The brand is Sappo Hill Soapworks. Oatmeal apparently can help keep a hedgehog’s skin dry. Swish the toothbrush around in the soapy water and gently brush your hedgehog’s quills.

 

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All-natural oatmeal soap is a good cleanser for hedgehogs.

 

  1. I have found that oatmeal soap is not enough to keep my hedgehog’s skin from becoming dry, even if it is not bathed often. After washing, rinse your hedgehog off with a bit of warm water from the tap. Then refill the sink and add about a tablespoon of coconut oil to the bath. Swish the toothbrush around in the oily water and brush your hedgehog’s quills again. Another advantage to using coconut oil on a hedgehog’s skin is that it is antifungal and can be a natural prevention tool against ringworm.

 

  1. Rinse your hedgehog off with the toothbrush and warm water.

 

  1. Wrap your hedgie up in a towel and snuggle with it for at least an hour while it dries. Letting the oil soak into the hedgie’s skin while it rests in the towel will ensure its skin stays supple until it’s time for its next bath.

 

Intermittent “poopy boots” wading baths will also likely be needed before your hedgehog’s next full bath.

To clean just its feet, I usually put my hedgehog in about half an inch of water in the bathroom sink when it has collected quite a bit of poop on its feet. I let her run around in the water for a minute or two. Her scrambling and the water softens the poop and then I wipe each “poopy boot” with a paper towel.

There are many ways to bathe a hedgehog. This is what I have found works for mine. Comment below on how you bathe your hedgehog!

 

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

Huff, huff away: Socializing your hedgehog

When a hedgehog huffs and puffs even at the sight of their owner, it might seem logical to continue to shelter the hedgehog from the outside world — but the better option is to get that little hedgie out and about.

Hedgehogs have only been commonly bred as pets in the U.S. for several decades, which means they still have some of their wild nature in them.

Part of the exciting journey of having a pet hedgehog is that you actually get to participate in taming your hedgehog. The more hedgehogs are around people, the more they will be calm and comfortable around people.

Hedgehogs are nearsighted, so they analyze their surroundings through sound and smell. Since hedgehogs don’t see well, they can become anxious when they are unsure of their surroundings.

If hedgehogs get used to hearing people and realize they are not human prey, they will learn to relax when they hear and smell humans.

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You can pet your hedgehog at the same time a stranger does to help them feel more comfortable.

Here are five tips to socializing your hedgehog:

1. Start by socializing yourself with your hedgehog. Sing to your hedgehog when you wake them up. Let them know it’s you. Say, “It’s just me.” Softly call out your hedgehog’s name. I always sing a good morning song to my hedgehog.

2. Spend quality time with your hedgehog on your lap. Hedgehogs need to get used to your voice, smell and feel. Movie time!

3. Carry your hedgehog out and about in a snuggle sack inside a bag or backpack but don’t take them out of it the first few times. Let your hedgehog hear the world before bringing them out into it.

4. Bring your hedgehog to a small gathering of friends or family where they will be held and touched by other people. Explain to your friends or family not to be alarmed if the hedgehog huffs or puffs. Let the hedgehog react however it does without being alarmed and speak in a calming voice to the hedgehog as it meets new people.

5. Take your hedgehog out on the town! Carry them in a snuggle sack and let them get used to the sounds of the environment. Take them out proudly and snap a photo. Let strangers approach your hedgehog and show them how to hold or pet it if they are interested.

 

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Take your hedgehog out in a cuddle sack to get used to the sounds of the outside world.

 

Sometimes your hedgehog may actually appear to be friendlier around strangers than yourself. When you take them home they might start to huff and puff after they were so well behaved out and about. This is normal — children do this too, don’t they?

Your hedgehog may be nervous or excited about the new place and people. You become their familiar comfort when they are out and about. At home, their wheel, sleeping hut and cage might be their more familiar comfort. They likely realize they are home when they smell the familiar smell of your house. They might be asking to go back into their cage.

Let them, or if you had home hedgie plans, take a treat and singing break.

The more you take your hedgehog out and about, the more used to you they will become. They will also learn you are their protector in a big world of strangers.

When your hedgehog doesn’t even give a little huff when you take them out of the cage one day, you will know all the socializing has been worthwhile.

 

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

 

No fear: Bonding with your hedgehog

To bond with your hedgehog, first put away all fear that your hedgehog will not open up to you.

Hedgehogs seem to be naturally nervous creatures. It’s why they sometimes begin to furrow, make huffing noises and puff out their spines.

Hedgehogs are near-sighted so they cannot clearly see what is in front of them until it is very close. They mostly discern their world through smell, sound and touch.

Hedgehogs can sense fear and anxiety in a person’s voice or manner of touch. When a hedgehog senses fear in a person as they touch them (perhaps because they are afraid of being poked), it is more likely to react with nervousness — huffing and puffing.

It is best to approach a hedgehog with no anxiety about hedgehogs yourself. This boils down to two basic anxieties to be addressed.

First, make sure you have resolved in yourself that being a caretaker of a hedgehog is about the hedgehog and not about you. While having a pet can certainly be fulfilling, it is also full of downsides and sacrifices. Having a pet hedgehog can be especially trying for those who buy a pet just because they want the affection of an animal.

Hedgehogs need a lot of unconditional love to open up to you. If you are overly anxious for your pet to respond to you in a friendly, fulfilling way, your hedgehog may sense your anxiety when you are around it. Relax and decide to tame your hedgehog for its own benefit — because having a human friend is fun.

Second, you should take charge of your hedgehog’s anxiety. This means that when your hedgehog reacts to you with huffing and puffing you should not become anxious yourself. This can lead to a cycle of anxious hedgehog, anxious owner, anxious hedgehog….

Instead, speak to your hedgehog in a calming manner. Don’t react to its huffing and puffing with reprimands or by being overly sympathetic. Just let your hedgehog know there is nothing to fear. Don’t let your hedgehog’s feelings of nervousness control your feelings. You are a happy hedgehog owner.

It is best to try to pet your hedgehog in a way that calms its natural tendency to anxiety. Try this:

Place your hedgehog on your hand stomach side down and let it uncurl. Don’t pet your hedgehog unexpectedly on its back. Instead, let it smell your fingers and then begin to rub its nose, up to its forehead quills and then to its back. Don’t be timid when you pet your hedgehog, but do be gentle.

It is also important to spend a lot of time cuddling your hedgehog in a snuggle sack or carrying it around in your pocket so it gets to know your smell and voice.

 

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To give your hedgehog a quill kiss, start nose to nose with your hedgehog.

Someday, you may even be able to give your hedgehog a nosey quill kiss. Put your nose next to theirs and rub it up their face the same way you would if you were petting them with a finger, but end with a kiss on their forehead quills.

Animals can sense your demeanor and your confidence. Be confident about holding and petting your hedgehog and you will help to put them at ease and open up.

 

 

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

 

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