Hedgehogs gaining popularity as pets, but they’re not a fit for all

hedgehogsHedgehogs are growing more popular as pets, but some states include the prickly animals on their list of illegal exotic pets. Proponents of hedgehogs as pets say the animals are a good choice for people with allergies, and they can be handled as long as they’ve been socialized from a young age. However, opponents say owning a hedgehog does a disservice to the animals, which are nocturnal and may be forced to interact with owners when they should be sleeping. ABC News (2/25)

They’re cute, quiet and surprisingly controversial. One of the most popular pets trending across the United States is actually illegal in some cities and states.

They’re hedgehogs.

With their pointy noses and porcupine-like quills, the Lilliputian pets have seen a spike in popularity in recent years due in part to the prevalence of websites such as Cute Emergency and Instagram accounts like @biddythehedgehog that affectionately refer to them as “hedgies.”

But some say the exotic animals have no place being domesticated.

“There always are ethical and moral issues with keeping exotics,” Dave Salmoni of Animal Planet told ABC News. “In the case of hedgehogs, one of the big cons is that it is a nocturnal animal. So the pet owner either lets it sleep all day or takes it out of its enclosure to interact with it at a time in the day that the animal should be resting. Exotic animals as a general rule do not make great pets.”

New York City health code, for one, considers hedgehogs wild animals and therefore unsuitable to keep in the home. For similar reasons, some states, such as California and Maine, have also designated them illegal. Still, a permit can sometimes be obtained for educational purposes.

“Every state is different in how their laws are set up,” said Salmoni. “The laws and regulations also change often, so getting in touch with your local Fish and Game official may be a great place to start.

Another issue that can make hedgehogs tricky to domesticate is socializing them at an early age so that they are receptive to being held by humans.

“A socialized hedgehog will not mind being picked up and will lay its quills flat as a gesture of trust,” longtime Massachusetts-based hedgehog breeder Jill Warnick writes on her website. “If it does not unroll after a few seconds and begin exploring, this animal has probably not been socialized at a young enough age, and will probably not make a good pet.”

Those with sensitivities to dander from other animals may find that allergen-free hedgehogs can offer a cuddly pet alternative with relatively low maintenance. Just don’t expect to go on walks together.

“For people who want something that they can play with, a hedgehog is not for them because they don’t do much,” Amanda Munz told the New York Post, referring to her 3 1/2-year-old pet. “Gizmo cuddles and sleeps and that’s it.”

Salmoni put it more bluntly.

“If you can’t have a hedgehog, you can always bury a pin cushion in some wood chips,” he said. “Due to the hedgehog’s nocturnal behavior, you will get the same level of interaction. Otherwise, maybe a hamster might suit you.”

Pets help chase the blues away

Opie Ferguson PicturePets can help people deal with depression by providing companionship, initiating physical activity and serving as a source of routine and responsibility, both of which are therapeutic, according to this article. “Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression,” says psychiatrist Ian Cook, director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Huffington Post/The Blog
You’ve seen the TV commercials, the person in black and white and sad while they watch their friends and family in color happy as can be? Then the sad individual gets help, sees the world in color and has a dog run into frame to play with them, or they are suddenly on the couch petting their beloved cat. Well, there’s a reason for that, pets can help individuals with depression/illnesses/anxiety.”Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression,” says Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA.Depression affects millions of individuals in the USA alone. A lot of people reading this suffer from some form or know someone who does. A pet might not be right for everyone, so don’t just show up with a pet one day for someone you know with depression.The first thought that enters many heads is “I can barely take care of myself, a pet would be a mistake.” Well, with great pets, comes great responsibility. Depression studies have shown responsibility promotes mental health. “Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance,” says Cook. It will remind you that you are capable — that you can do more than you might think.” You still may be arguing that you can’t even get out of bed or off the couch, well that won’t fly (unless you get a bird, in which case let it fly around). Pets add routine to your life, you want be able to stay in bed till 2 pm or lay on the couch till 11:30, pets have a schedule and they will help you schedule your life again. You’ll have to get up to feed them, let them out, play with them, walk them, feed them again. Pets get you off your butt and moving again.Depression has a strongest weapon, and that weapon is isolation. It will pull you back from your friends and family, you’ll dodge calls/texts/snapchats/IM all of it. Leaving you to question all your thoughts alone, that is when depression strikes hardest. Pets offer the opposite of isolation, they bring companionship. A dog will never leave you alone, in a good way. My dogs run up to me all day throwing toys at me, laying on me, whine until I pick them up. I’m never alone, and I love my pets for that. I have woken up at 3 am to one of my dogs throwing a football at my head, meaning its play time now. Having a pet means you’re never alone, even when you shut the door to go to the bathroom in peace, your pet will barge in “You watch me go, why can’t I watch you go?”Pets give us routine, keeping us active, dogs have the added benefit of being brought on walks, or to dog parks. This exercise of taking your pet out promotes physical activity which in turn promotes mental and physical health. Walks help you lose weight, get you out of your depressing house which you’ve been cooped up in for far too long and also lets your pet relieve themselves with no shame. Say you’re walking your dog or bring them to the dog park, well there’s a good chance someone’s going to come up to you to ask to pet your dog or ask what kind of breed they are, your dog will encourage you to interact socially. You may be shy or anxious or still feel alone, but guaranteed your dog will get attention and thus bring the interaction to you. So long isolation, hello social butterfly wonder dog. You may hate talking about yourself or not care what others say but pet owners love talking about their pets like children, and it’s safe to say if you have a pet you like pets in general, so you’ll go ahead and converse about them. Let your pet shine.If I’m not petting one dog I’m petting the other, if I’m not scratching a friends cat behind the ears them I’m scratching another. Studies show that people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Petting a cat and listening to them purr soothes you, rubbing your dogs belly and watching their leg kick also relaxes you. You’re no longer sitting in the house just lying there, you have someone to touch, to talk to, to interact with.
Finally, there’s laughter, endless laughter. Depressions got you down well your pet with 100% certainty will make you laugh. I’ve had my dogs fart on me when I’ve gone to pick them up and the sound scares them so they run away, one of them fell off my bed in the middle of the night while dreaming and got right back up with his tail wagging like it was the best dream ever. Depression makes you think about everything that has gone wrong and everything that can go wrong over and over again until you can take it no more. These little moments with pets that make you laugh make a world of difference. You may laugh as your cat chases a laser pointer around your house trying to catch the blasted red dot, or as they randomly fall asleep anywhere they like, like upside down on top of a loaf of a bread, the point being that though they are pets they have more empathy than we could ever dream.The hardest step is getting up and seeking help and once you do that, take your pet for a walk or pet them, anything to get your mind on track a little more. Pets may not cure depression, but they certainly can help calm you.- Chris Stallone

Another exotic species invading Fla.

Tegus, lizards that can reach 4 feet in length and weigh 30 pounds, are native to South America but are known to be breeding in at least three areas in Florida, a state plagued by exotic species such as Burmese pythons. In addition to fruits and seeds, tegus eat small mammals, reptiles and birds, and they pose a threat to ecosystem balance, experts say. The animals are likely descendants of exotic pets that were released or escaped. Orlando Sentinel (Fla.) (tiered subscription model)/McClatchy-Tribune News Service (2/25)


As if there weren’t enough exotic species crawling around Florida, as if there wasn’t enough attention being paid to muscled Burmese pythons, gape-mouthed anacondas and football-sized Bofu marinas toads, add to the list of escaped exotic pets the tegu, a little known, leg-sized lizard that is making it big here.

The beast originates in South America but has established a beachhead in Florida, and in particular, Hillsborough County, where confirmed sightings of more than 100 tegus southeast of Riverview make this one of three breeding populations in the state.

Tegus in the wild have been plentiful around Miami-Dade County, and wildlife officers last year corralled about 30 in Panama City, where a lizard breeder abandoned his stock, leaving them to breed in his yard and beyond.

The cold-blooded creature seems comfortable all over the state especially, it seems, in Hillsborough County, according to officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is logging sightings of the lizard.

“Certainly we have a lot to learn,” said Steven Johnson, with the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. “But there is potential for impacts to native species by direct predation from tegus.

“They have a broad diet and consume fruits, seeds, insects, snails, as well as small vertebrates, including reptile and bird eggs,” he said. “They are a particular threat to imperiled species such as gopher tortoises and scrub jays (tegus are capable of climbing small shrubs to get at scrub jay nests).”

Tegus, which can grow to be more than 4 feet long and tip the scales at 30 pounds, are known in scientific circles as Tupinambis merianae. The lizard is native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina and can be prolific if all the conditions are right. Females can lay up to 35 eggs a year.

“Although direct predation on native vertebrates — small birds, rodents, reptiles and amphibians – is likely the greatest threat,” Johnson said, “tegus could compete with native species for food and space if their populations became dense enough.” He confirmed that most of the tegus in the wild are one-time pets.

“People need to be responsible pet owners and do their research and make the right choice when getting an exotic animal as a pet,” Johnson said. “And they should never release unwanted pets into the wild.”

They are black and white and with a banded tail and spend most of their time on land, though they can swim and submerge themselves for long periods of time, wildlife officials say.

They are active during the day and will burrow at night to hide. Right now, most are underground for the winter and will emerge around April to the warming sun.

If you’re strolling through the woods and spot one, wildlife experts suggest you not try to catch it or kill it.

Though tegus are not innately aggressive, they will defend themselves if bothered or threatened. They have sharp teeth, strong jaws and claws they use for defense.

Rather, the state suggests you take a photo, log the location and report the sighting to the exotic species reporting hot line at 1-888-483-4681 or online at IveGot1.org.

If you see a tegu on your property and want it removed, you can contact a local wildlife trapper to remove the animal.

A list of trappers can be found at MyFWC.com.

On that list is Jerry Richardson, a licensed wildlife trapper in Tampa, who said he’s gotten tegu calls from different areas of southern Hillsborough County.

“I don’t get called out too often for them,” he said. “I’ve seen them in pet stores, sold as exotic pets, but I never knew that they had become a nuisance animal. It’s getting out of hand now. They started down south and are moving their way north. In Ruskin and Lithia, they’re real popular in those areas.”

He said people often will report a small alligator on their property when they actually are looking at a tegu.

“A lot of people,” he said, “don’t know what they are.”

Carli Segelson, with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s habitat and species conservation division, said the numbers in Hillsborough County indicate there is a breeding population here, one of three in the state. The other two are in Polk County and Miami-Dade County. She said the local tegus most likely descended from released or escaped pets.

The state said most of the sightings in Hillsborough County are southeast of Riverview, in an area bordered by Rhodine Road to the north, Boyette Balm Road to the east and Balm Riverview Road to the west. Within that triangle, 63 sightings of tegus have been reported. Twelve have been reported in or near the Alafia River State Park, about 12 miles east of the tegu epicenter.

Residents in those areas are asked not to leave pet food outside and to cover outdoor openings and clear the yard of debris to minimize hiding and burrowing places.

The state is closely watching the tegu populations, Segelson said, with an eye toward identifying the areas where they flourish and where they may expand next.

“It’s very difficult to determine population estimates,” she said. “We’re not studying populations as much as we are trying to assess where they are located and the extent of their range.”

She urged people who have tegus as pets, not to release them to the wild.

“We hope we are doing a good job of raising awareness to not release them or any other exotic species into the wild,” she said. “It’s not only bad for that particular animal, to be taken from a situation where it was cared for and fed and releasing it to fend for itself, but releasing something not native to environment is detrimental to the environment.

“We are concerned with this species,” she said. “They compete and prey on our native wildlife and we are taking tegus very seriously.”

AHF helps Samson with severe skin problems

When the Dillon family’s lab, Samsom, visited Dr. Tuz at the Aliso Niguel Animal Hospital, they could not afford the ongoing treatment to treat Samson’s atopy, dermatitis and hematomas due to family medical expenses.  Dr. Tuz reached out to the AHF Angel Fund to help with Samson’s treatment.

Hades gets help from Angel Fund

The Bill’s family american bulldog, 3 year old Hades, needed TPLO surgery and Dr. Horvath at the Los Alamitos Animal Hospital contacted the AHF’s  Angel Fund for help.  Hades is now recovering nicely from his surgery!Hades

February is Responsible Dog Owners Month-Whole Dog Journal Tips and Rescouces

Being a responsible pet owner is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time and effort to make sure your furry family members are well taken care of and happy. We’d like to share some of our favorite tips for keeping your dog save and healthy:
• ID at All Times – The one certain thing in life is unpredictability. Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, power outages, sudden illness, car crashes – any number of things can separate you from your beloved pal. Make sure he’s always wearing ID (with current contact numbers) and is microchipped. And regularly check the ring or rivets fastening the tag to his collar. For more on collars and leashes, purchase Whole Dog Journal’s ebook Guide to Collars and Leashes.
• Train Every Day (If Only For a Minute) – Dogs are hardwired to live in an orderly and cooperative “pack” environment. You can easily and peacefully underline your role – and your dog’s role – in the household by asking him to perform a few simple behaviors (sit, come, down), and rewarding him when he complies. This daily exercise reminds him that you are the leader. For more on training your dog in a positive way, purchase Whole Dog Journal’s ebook Positive Training Basics.
• Keep Them Slim, Keep Them Moving – There’s no doubt about it: Fat dogs are more prone to injury, illness, and mobility issues than their slimmer compatriots. Studies have shown that, on average, dogs who are slightly underweight live longer than overweight dogs. More food is not more love, no matter what your dog says. If you really love him, you will keep him slender. For more on weight control and fitness, purchase Whole Dog Journal’s ebook Weight and Fitness Handbook.

Human Body Language and Dogs by Nicole Wilde via Whole Dog Journal

Work That Body! Seven Ways to Whittle Away Fear
Information excerpted from Nicole Wilde’s book Help For Your Fearful Dog.

The following tips on human’s body language are applicable when interacting with any dog, but are especially important when dealing with a fearful dog. Adopt mannerisms and teach others who interact with your dog to do so as well.
1. Let the dog come to you. If your dog is frightened, she must be allowed to decide whether or not to approach. Don’t restrain your dog and force her to accept contact from others. Remember the “fight or flight” response; if you take away the opportunity for flight, your dog’s choices are limited.
2. Turn to the side. Facing a dog directly is more confrontational than keeping your body turned partially or completely to the side; even turning your head to the side will make a frightened dog feel less anxious.

3. No staring, please! A direct stare is a threat in the animal kingdom (and on New York Subways!). It is perfectly fine to look at your dog; just soften your expression and don’t hard stare directly into her eyes. Do not allow children to put their faces near your dog’s face or to stare into her eyes.

4. Don’t hover. Leaning over a dog can cause the dog to become afraid and possibly defensive. The one time I was bitten while working in a Los Angeles city animal shelter happened when I went to return an adorable, fluffy white dog to her pen. While placing her on the ground, I inadvertently reached over an equally adorable little pen mate – who jumped up and bit me in the face.

5. Pet appropriately. Approaching dogs by patting them on the head is ill-advised. Envision the interaction from the dog’s point of view; a palm approaching from above can be alarming. I do a demonstration with kids to teach them how to pet dogs properly. The child plays the role of the dog; I tell the child that I will pet him in two different ways, and he is to tell me which is nicer. First, I reach my hand slowly towards the child’s cheek and stroke it, smiling and softly saying, “Good dog!” Next, I bring my hand brusquely palm-down over the child’s head and repeatedly, while loudly saying, “good dog, good dog!” Kids almost invariably like the first method better. If dogs could answer for themselves, nine out of ten dogs would vote for the first method as well! It’s not that dogs should never be petted on top of the head, but that head-patting (or petting over the dog’s shoulders, back, or rump) should not be used as an initial approach. It is wiser to make a fist, hold it under the dog’s nose to allow her to sniff, then pet the dog on the chest, moving gradually to the sides of the face and other body parts, assuming the dog is comfortable. Likewise, a hand moving in quickly to grab for a dog’s collar is more potentially fear-inducing than a hand moving slowly to a dog’s chest, scratching it, then moving up to take hold of the collar.

6. Stoop, don’t swoop. Small dogs in particular are often swooped down upon when people want to pick them up. Fast, direct, overhead movements are much more frightening than slow, indirect ones. To lift a small dog, crouch down, pet the dog for a moment, then gently slip your hands under her belly and chest, and lift.

7. Watch your smile. While humans interpret a smile as friendly, a dog might not be as fond of seeing your pearly whites. A show of teeth is, after all, a threat in the animal kingdom. A friend of mine once accompanied me to visit the wolves at a rescue center. She patiently sat on the ground, motionless. Finally, a large, black wolf approached to investigate. Unable to contain herself, she broke out in a huge, toothy grin. The wolf darted away as though she had raised a hand to hit him. The lesson? Save the dazzling toothpaste grin for charming your dates and accepting rewards. Smile at canines with a closed mouth.

For more on owning and training a fearful dog, purchase Help For Your Fearful Dog:  A Step By Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fear by Nicole Wilde, CPDT.

Meet Cutie Hogie – Debbie Pfeiffer’s Pet Partner!

Hogie Pfeiffer

Welcome to AHF Caring Creatures Pet Partners Debbie and Hogie!

Breed:                  Lhasa Apso/Shih Tzu mix                                Birthday:              December 2006

Hogie is a very quiet and gentle little dog who loves everyone he meets.  My family adopted him from the shelter in 2008 at the age of two and because of his easygoing nature, it was easy to see what a perfect therapy dog he would be.  He became a certified therapy dog in 2011 and quickly wins over everyone’s hearts with his sweet personality and big brown eyes.

When he is not assisting people with pet therapy, he is a delightful family pet who loves going for rides in the car, seeing new people and places, and generally being included in everything that our family is doing whenever possible.