- Associated Press - Sunday, December 5, 2010

LOS ANGELES | There may be countless pint-sized fans of Mrs. Tiggy-winkle, Mr. Pricklepants and Sonic, but that doesn’t mean there are many real hedgehogs in the home.

Fewer than 150,000 live hedgehogs are estimated to live in the United States, despite their well-known roles in the Beatrix Potter books, Disney-Pixar movies and Sega video games.

The animals weigh about a pound and are insectivores (not rodents). They prefer night to day — running four to seven miles a night — and have a strong sense of smell, with a life span of four to six years.

“They don’t bark, meow or screech. They make 20 different sounds. The only time they make a whole lot of racket is when the males are courting the females,” said Zug G. Standing Bear, treasurer of the Colorado-based International Hedgehog Association.

But that doesn’t mean the hedgehog is a good choice as a pet. The quilly little mammal isn’t native to the United States, so it considered exotic and is illegal in California, Hawaii, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maine and Vermont and several cities.

In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning saying children under age 5 should not have exotic pets like hedgehogs because of disease risks.

Hedgehogs have passed ringworm and salmonella on to humans, said Lila Miller, vice president of the veterinary outreach for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York, which does not think any animal taken from the wild should be kept as a pet.

But some experts say the concerns are minimal, and hegehog fans say the animals can be good companions.

Standing Bear, 70, who runs the largest rescue in North America — the Flash and Thelma Memorial Hedgehog Rescue in Divide, Colo. — said a happy, socialized hedgehog will snuggle, put its quills down and make a chortling sound, like a cat. They have a scrub brush feel and quills that are only a half inch long and firmly attached to the body.

Standing Bear estimates there are between 100,000 and 150,000 hedgehogs in the U.S., descendants of about 80,000 imported from Nigeria between 1991 and 1994, when imports from all African countries were banned.

Hedgehogs don’t have to constantly chew like rodents, and they are not smelly or needy for companionship, Standing Bear said. On the downside, they need warmth, have high rates of cancer and they can get a neurological disease called Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.

Melanie Marsden at the Pike’s Peak Veterinarian Clinic in Colorado Springs said she’s never seen anyone who has gotten sick from their hedgehog, but any mammal, reptile or bird can have salmonella so people need to wash their hands. Those caring for the very young and very old must be specially vigilant, she said.

“Do I worry if a hedgehog is a classroom pet? No, I don’t. These days, everyone is really good about washing their hands or using hand sanitizer,” she said.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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