Perhaps you’ve been to a horse show, watched a dog show on television, or seen farm animals competing for ribbons at the county fair. Even if you don’t participate in animals shows yourself, chances are you’ve seen one in some form or another. But have you ever been to a hedgehog show? Or even heard of one? Some people keep hedgehogs as pets, and they like to show them off!
Hedgehog shows are a lot like dog shows on a smaller scale. They have judges, judging standards, and the hedgies—as they are fondly called—compete for prizes. But another mission of hedgehog shows is to further educate hedgehog owners and the general public alike about the hedgehog hobby, and to promote hedgehog rescue groups and adoption.
A Brief Hedgehog History
Hedgehogs have been around for 50 million years, and the modern hedgehog is 15 million years old. Hedgehogs are native to Africa, Asia, and Europe, but the pet hedgehog we find in North America is specifically the African Pygmy hedgehog. The modern hedgehog trade began in 1991, when the African Pygmy was becoming overpopulated in its native African countries, and the animals were rounded up to be sold on the wholesale pet market in America.
Imports of live hedgehogs into America were stopped by the USDA in 1994, but the hedgies are here to stay. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are now bread by private breeders who can register with the International Hedgehog Association to show that their practices are in accordance with strict ethical breeding standards.
In England and Ireland, hedgehogs are wild animals that cannot be trapped because they are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act. They are larger than their African cousins and hibernate through the cold winter months. European hedgehogs are nocturnal animals that are welcomed into people’s gardens at night, where they prey on slugs, insects, and other pests.
Hedgehogs are mammals, but they are not rodents, nor are they related to the porcupine. While the spines on their backs are sometimes called quills and can be quite sharp when in defense mode, they do not release their quills. Despite their size and short legs, hedgehogs are fast runners who travel an average of five miles each night. Running away or rolling up into a ball are their only defense mechanisms, and they are hunted by foxes, coyotes, weasels, owls, and other birds of prey.
Hedgehogs as Pets
Hedgehogs make very nice pets because they have a good temperament and are relatively easy to care for. They like human affection and can even be considered cuddly when their quills are down, which is usually the case if they feel safe. Hedgehogs live in cages or aquariums, but some can be allowed to run freely in the house under supervision, because they are easily litter trained.
To say the least, hedgehogs are adorable, and they can be quite entertaining. They are wonderful swimmers and will swim in a shallow bathtub or pool. They like to hide inside “hedgiebags,” and they particularly enjoy hiding their heads inside toilet paper toobs. Hedgehogs tend to be on the chubby side (“over conditioned” in the hedgehog show arena), but will get plenty of exercise on their own when given free range or an exercise wheel.
Hedgehogs on Parade
The first hedgehog show was held in 1995, and the shows began as a way to promote hedgehogs and benefit both the hedgies and their human caretakers. The shows are a public forum where hedgehog experts share their knowledge, and educating owners about how to better care for hedgehogs as pets is the primary focus.
Hedgehog shows also support both breeders and rescue groups. Breeders learn to breed healthier animals in accordance with the show’s judging standards. Many hedgies that are sick, diseased, or poorly bread end up abandoned. Sometimes these unwanted hedgies can be nursed back to health and placed in a new home through a rescue program, so the shows provide a venue for hedgehog rescue public outreach.
Hedgehog Show Judging Standards
Judging standards are part of any animal show and are intended to improve breeding standards. Hedgehogs come in thirty-eight different colors, but in the shows they compete in one of seven color classes. They are awarded points in several areas, including face, eyes, ears, legs and feet, color and pattern, and quills. But the majority of points are awarded for body shape (up to 25 points) and temperament (up to 33 points). So the most important standard for a hedgehog is it’s personality. Luckily, most hedgies are not lacking in this category.
More on Hedgehog Rescue
Sadly, hedgehog neglect and abuse both happen, but some of the more fortunate unwanted hedgies end up in one of eight North American hedgehog rescue programs that have been registered by the International Hedgehog Association. These no-kill shelters provide permanent homes and medical care to hedgies that are too old, sick, or abused to be adopted, as well as finding many homes for adoptable hedgies.