Hedgehogs: Do they make good pets?

Hedgehogs, like Glen Head reader Julia Damiano's African

Hedgehogs, like Glen Head reader Julia Damiano's African pygmy hedgehog, Mia, are interesting -- and safe -- pets. (Credit: Handout)

Q: My son saw a hedgehog on YouTube, and now he wants one as a pet. They seem spiny, like porcupines, and I was wondering if they are dangerous. People we have contacted on the Internet tell us that the spines really do not hurt, but I also found out that hedgehogs are not legal to be kept as pets in some states. If they are not harmful, then why would they not be legal everywhere?

--Cindy Young, Medford

A: Hedgehogs may look like porcupines, but they are not related. Porcupines are rodents. Hedgehogs are insectivores. They are related to moles and shrews. The quills from porcupines have a barbed tip and are meant as a weapon. The porcupine can lash its tail at an enemy and embed the quills into its skin where they can do much damage. Hedgehogs have hair that has been modified into a spine with a sharp, smooth tip, and they cannot be pulled out of the animal's skin. When a hedgehog is sleeping or upset, it will raise up its spines at right angles to its body, and then they can hurt if you try to pick the animal up. However, when the animal wakes up and relaxes, the spines are laid flat against the body and they do not hurt at all. You then can pick up the hedgehog and hold it as you would a guinea pig or a hamster. The hedgehogs we keep as pets are the domesticated version of the African pygmy hedgehog, and they are truly domesticated. They no longer look or act as their relatives in Africa do because of many generations of selective breeding that hedgehog enthusiasts have performed.

A: Not all regulatory agencies follow the scientific definition of what a domesticated animal is. Some places ban hedgehogs because they are not considered to be domesticated, not because they are dangerous. Hedgehogs are legal in New York.

Q: Whenever I am walking my German shepherd and he is finished urinating, he will scratch the ground with his back legs. It actually does a bit of damage to the grass we are walking on. He was neutered at 6 months old. He lifts his leg when he goes. My male beagle who also was neutered at 6 months old just squats when he goes. Can you tell me why the shepherd acts this way?

--David Jones, Hempstead

A: Dogs are the most domesticated mammal on the planet -- but they still have instincts left over from their wolf ancestors. The testosterone in a male wolf will cause it to urinate against an object so that its scent is at nose level to other wolves. The scratching of the ground right there provides further evidence of its territorial claim. In addition to the visual indication, the glands between the animal's toes may leave a further scent. Even though your dog is neutered and has no testosterone in his body, he must have gotten a flush of it into his system right before he was neutered, and that is why he started this behavior. Now, it has become a learned habit. For whatever reason, the beagle never really developed any testosterone before he was neutered, and that is most likely why he squats like a female dog when he urinates.

Q: I've noticed two little frogs have started living in the fish pond I just made in my backyard. I really like them, and I want to know if there is any food that I can offer them to persuade them to stay?

--Glen Jacobs, Manorville

A: In most cases, there is enough natural food to keep the frogs alive and well. The best way to make them happy is to give them some shallow water to hang out in where they will feel safe. Put a planter in the pond that comes up to about 2 inches below the surface. Plant some shallow water bog plants in it. This will give the frogs an area of shallow water with natural cover that they need to feel safe and secure.