Zoey Schroeder walks into the room holding a small fleece bundle. The bundle is softly hissing and aggressively sniffing. It sounds a lot like when a radio station fuzzes out into static.
Schroeder’s noisy bundle appears to be a round, white cactus. But as she stills, the bundle begins to move, slowly. Bit by bit, a small nose appears. Then two beady eyes, some pink, lightly fuzzed skin. This is Oliver – Ollie, she calls him – Schroeder’s pet hedgehog, and he’s a prickly little dude, in every sense of the word. Ollie belonged to a family member for about a year and a half before Schroeder, 18, got him in April.
“I’ve always wanted a hedgehog,” she said. “My cousins lost interest in him, so I took him to make sure he got the attention he needed.”
That attention isn’t easy to give, either. Hedgehogs’ 5,000 to 7,000 quills are really sharp, particularly when they’re nervous and rolled into a tight ball. If you get stuck with one of them, it can hurt for a couple days, just like a deep pinprick might. However, the more the owner handles their hedgie, the more socialized the animal will become. Some get very attached to their owner and will only unfurl if they smell their owner’s scent or hear their voice.
As for Ollie, any little odd noise – even a car passing by on the road – will make him roll up and start hissing, but after a little handling, he will relax and come out to see what’s going on. A shallow bath in the kitchen sink seems to be very relaxing for him, and it makes his quills a little easier to handle as well.
“He wasn’t handled as a baby, so he’s not used to being touched,” said Schroeder, laughing as Ollie re-rolls and starts hissing again. “He’s like a pricklier version of a Madagascar hissing cockroach. I didn’t think he’d take this long to open up.”
Schroeder said she sometimes has a reaction when one of his quills sticks her, similar to a sting from a nettle plant. He doesn’t generally bite, however, she said it depends on how salty your skin is. Apparently, her grandfather is “salty,” because Ollie likes to chomp on him.
Hedgehogs are mainly insect eaters in the wild, while pets often eat cat food. Schroeder feeds Ollie cat food along with live mealworms and crickets as treats. She also gives him other tidbits, and was surprised to find that he enjoyed licking the Alfredo sauce off some chicken.
“He’s very picky,” she said. “He doesn’t like any fruits or vegetables.”
In the wild, hedgehogs live in garden hedges and come out at night. Domesticated hedgies tend to keep that nocturnal nature, and that’s often when they’ll decide to play in their wheel as well. That’s where Ollie decides to do his bathroom business as well, Schroeder said.
“He thinks that’s where he’s supposed to go,” she said.
For toys, he’s got cardboard tubes and other things that he can crawl into and hide.
For the most part, though, Schroeder said her hedgie is pretty low-maintenance, though his quills do require some attention.
“For the most part, they’re pretty self-sustainable,” she said. “But you have to brush them with a toothbrush to get the lint out of their quills.”
Schroeder’s mom, Amanda, added her two cents about quills that are lost in the blankets and towels used to hold Ollie finding their way into the washing machine, and later into her clothing. That, she said, is an unpleasant surprise.
Schroeder will also take Ollie outdoors and let him run around in the grass. For such a small animal, she said, he’s got surprisingly long legs when he opens up and stretches them, and he can be pretty fast when he wants to.
One fun fact about hedgehogs, Schroeder said, is that there are actual movements to preserve their lives on Bonfire Night, a British holiday also known as Guy Fawkes Night, annually held on Nov. 5. Many people light bonfires and set off fireworks on this night, and the #rememberhedgehogs movement encourages people to refrain from building their bonfire pile until the day of the event, because the wild hedgies will crawl into the wood piles to nap. In fact, the British Hedgehogs Preservation Society, www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk, has a lot of information about how to live side-by-side with the adorable wild creatures.
Here in the United States, a pet hedgehog can be difficult to find, and in some states they are considered to be wild animals, and are not allowed to be kept as pets. Ollie, Schroeder said, came from a pet store in Wisconsin.
Overall, Schroeder is pleased with her pokey pet, and she enjoys interacting with him.
“He’s such an interesting animal,” she said. “He’s just… prickly.”