Why I'll Never Open a Hedgehog Cafe

A few months ago, I became aware of a pet hedgehog living in less-than-ideal circumstances who needed a new home. Despite the fact that I have never owned a hedgehog, nor have I ever felt a burning desire to own a hedgehog in particular, I did want a pet that my landlord would be cool with, and I didn't want this little guy to keep on being neglected. One thing led to another, and I now share my apartment with a tiny ball of spikes named Harley. Owning Harley has taught me a lot of things; mostly, what it's like to share my life with a living hairbrush that hates me.

This is Harley.


As a 20-something living in a developed nation in the year 2016, my self-esteem is largely dictated by how many strangers click buttons for me on the internet, and pet hedgehogs are social media methamphetamine cut with Scarface-grade cocaine. Within moments of getting the little bastard home, cleaning him up, and naming him 'Harley' - his previous owners were that special kind of neglectful who never bothered to name him - I had his image plastered all across my social media accounts. Even now, after saturating all my feeds with pictures of Harley for months, a photo of him is still pretty much a guaranteed shower of unwarranted internet attention.




Because, again, he looks like this.

At this point, every single person I know, and several hundred people I don't know, are well aware that I'm the caretaker of a tiny, quivering ball of spines. And as a result, people are quick to send me all kinds of hedgehog-related videos, articles and news story. Lately, that means I've been sent plenty of links to information about Tokyo's first hedgehog cafe, usually accompanied by a joke about how I should open my own.

Well, I've got bad news for you. I will never, ever open a hedgehog cafe. And I've got some very, very good reasons.

But first, a video of Harley stranded on top of my laptop. Just because.


So if you're thinking of cashing in on the sweet, sweet "handling small, spiky creatures for money" market, you should know that: 


Hedgehogs are assholes.

Harley hates everything. He hates baths. He hates being dried off. He hates vegetables. He hates fruit. He hates chicken. He hates turkey. He hates his food dish. He hates being held. He hates being ignored. He hates the coffee table. He hates the living room. He hates pretty much everything, because hedgehogs are assholes.

He especially hates printer cables, and having his photo taken.

Or rather, to be fair, some hedgehogs are assholes. And the problem is, there's no real way to tell if the hedgehog in front of you is an asshole until you've picked it up.

This is Harley's mood, 100% of the time.

Most pet hedgehogs, including Harley, are African Pygmy hedgehogs, because European hedgehogs are enormous and like to sleep through the winter, thank you very much. At the moment, the African Pygmy hedgehog exists in that awkward domestication gap where nearly all of the hedgehogs currently living as pets were born in captivity and can't fend for themselves anymore, but they haven't been living alongside humans long enough to feel confident that we won't eat them. Yeah, turns out hedgehogs didn't grow all those thousands of spines for funsies - they're a prey species that spends every moment of their existence fearing for their lives. And that means their personalities are pretty much a toss-up.

Harley, cleverly trying to escape death and dismemberment by stuffing himself into my printer.

They average hedgehog will respond to a stranger's presence by curling up in a ball, and when hedgehogs curl up into a ball, they're not trying to make themselves more compact for easy portability - they're making sure you don't have an opening to devour their meaty insides. If you're the sort of person who's obsessed with hedgehogs, you might also have noticed that they seem to 'sneeze' periodically while they're curled up in a ball. That's no sneeze; they're trying to jerk their quills around to make sure they can stab them into you that much harder. Because, again, hedgehogs are assholes.

Harley, demonstrating just how much he loves human contact.

"But wait," you cry indignantly, your fist clenched tightly to your favourite hedgehog t-shirt, "all the videos I see on Youtube show happy, affectionate hedgehogs, cuddling with their owners and farting rainbows everywhere they go!" And you're right. Hedgehogs can be affectionate - with people they're extremely familiar with. As a nocturnal species (and I'll get back to that in a moment), hedgehogs don't have a hell of a lot of use for their eyeballs. They can't see your face. They can't see in the dark. In fact, they can't see much of anything - hedgehogs are nearly blind, and lack all but a basic sense of depth perception. So when it comes to making sense of the world around them, hedgehogs rely almost entirely on scent and hearing. And as any hedgehog owner can tell you, it can take months of handling before a hedgehog gets truly familiar with your scent. Harley pretty much stayed perma-balled for the first three weeks, until he gradually figured out that 'Hey, this big dumb thing that smells like drugstore perfume isn't trying to eat me. It just wants to touch my belly, for some reason. Huh'. We're buddies now, but he still has cranky days where he just wants nothing to do with me. And he'll generally let me know that by biting the shit out of me. Because, and I cannot stress this enough, hedgehogs are goddamn assholes.

Surprise! These little bastards have fangs.


To top it all off, most people assume that hedgehogs are members of the rodent family, with cute little rodent buck teeth. Most people would be wrong. The seventeen existing species of hedgehog are their own little family, most closely related to shrews. Technically, they're omnivores, but most of them aren't particularly interested in subsisting on lettuce. In the wild, they prefer to sustain themselves on insects and mealworms, and in captivity, meat-based kitten kibble or special meaty hedgehog kibble is their diet of choice. You may not know this, but you happen to be mostly made of meat. And if hedgehogs aren't trying to bite you to tell you to fuck off, they'll bite you because you smell like food to them. Of because they're curious. Or because they're bored. Even the friendliest, most well-socialized hedgehog will occasionally chomp down on you for no reason, and you can bet your throbbing finger that these guys are capable of breaking the skin. Which is probably not a trait you want in an animal that you're going to hand to your paying customers.

Because, I remind you, their teeth look like this.

But the biggest problem with hedgehogs is that their personalities really are unpredictable. Some of them are lovable Instagram stars right off the bat. Some of them, like Harley, take a long time to warm up and have no interest in strangers. Some of them are just tiny balls of asshole forever, no matter how much love and affection you give them. And that's a pretty big problem when you're ordering animals in bulk for your glorified petting zoo. What happens when you buy up 30 animals and realize that 21 of them are dicks? At that point, you're stuck selling them, rehoming them, or trying to convince people that hedgehogs naturally show affection with bleeding puncture wounds.

At least when my own hedgehog decides to be an asshole, it's okay. Because I love him anyways.

Hedgehogs don't want to hang out with you at noon.

As I already mentioned, hedgehogs are a nocturnal species. As in, they sleep during the day. As in, they have exactly zero interest in being molested by gawking strangers in the middle of the goddamn afternoon.

This is what hedgehogs want to be doing in the middle of the goddamn afternoon.


The one thing hedgehogs know for sure, deep down in the swamps of their little hedgie brains is that absolutely fucking everything in this world wants to eat them for dinner, And since they haven't yet figured out the finer points of whiskey and hedgehog strippers, their main strategy for coping with the fact that they're food is to hide and sleep all day, when their predators are awake. There is nothing you can do to change a hedgehog's sleep schedule. Nothing. Even if you keep them up all day, they'll still stay up and sprint on their exercise wheel all night. And I don't blame them. If you told me that I had to go to bed every day at 6 AM or an owl would rip all my skin off, I'd be in my pajamas by 5:45 at the latest.

A hedgehog, trying his very best to not be dinner.


People who visit hedgehog cafes, on the other hand, require bright afternoon sunlight for their Instagram photos, and have to be in bed by 8pm at the latest if they're going to be on time for their morning shift making latte foam art. Having your hedgehog cafe open in the wee hours of the morning isn't financially feasible, which means you have a choice to either stress the absolute shit out of your hedgehogs by never letting them get any sleep, or forcing your guests to be satisfied with a balled-up hedgehog that looks like a dried out cactus.

Either way, you're probably better off with an animal that actually wants to be awake during the day. Like puppies. Or llamas. Or ring-tailed lemurs. 

The only thing hedgehogs hate more than you is each other.

Harley is a boy hedgehog, which means if I ever want to get a second boy hedgehog, I'm going to have to get a second cage, because two male hedgehogs housed together will fight. To the death.

Pictured: two male hedgehogs as roommates.


And just in case you thought you'd get away with putting little Sarah and Jessica together as roommates, two female hedgehogs might temporarily get along, but there's also a decent chance that they'll viciously fight each other for no reason. Want an adorable cohabiting hedgehog couple? That'll be beautiful, right up until the moment they make a litter of baby hedgehogs and then eat their own young in front of you.

I'm not kidding. Hedgehogs. Are. Assholes.

In your house, it's pretty easy to avoid trauma-by-hedgehog-infanticide: just keep a single hedgehog at a time, in an enclosure that gives him plenty of space to run around, and lots of things to hide under. Bam. Easy. Or you could appeal to the squealing public by cramming a half-dozen hedgehogs into a glass tank with nowhere to hide in broad daylight. I've heard that's an option too. 

Observe: the worst possible way to house hedgehogs.

Y'know, on second thought, I'm going to stick with just the one.

Hedgehogs can make you sick. 

Let's just get this right out in the open: hedgehog droppings, like the butt-nuggets of all mammals, can contain salmonella. The bacteria doesn't affect them, for whatever reason - it's just kind of there, happily living in their digestive tract. They step in their poop, they step on your hand, you use that hand to shovel food into your face like the disgusting animal that you are, and the next thing you know, you're gripping the edge of your toilet seat while your diarrhea tries to launch you into the stratosphere.

This is your bowels on Salmonella.

As if the constant possibility of contracting a disease that will make all your liquid insides rocket out of your butthole isn't awesome enough, you should know that hedgehogs don't particularly give a shit about stomping around in their own poop. Hedgehogs are champion runners, and they're capable of clocking up to 12 miles per night on their exercise wheels. That kind of exercise doesn't leave a whole lot of time for bathroom breaks, so hedgehogs tend to just let it go on the fly. While they're running. On their wheels. Turning the whole contraption into a hedgehog-and-poop rock tumbler that runs for hours. 

If you think this is gross, you should see their feet after three days on these things. 

Even the most diligent hedgehog owner can't do a full scrub-down of wheel, cage and hedgie feet every single day - surprise, surprise, too much exposure to soap and cleaning products will give hedgehogs dandruff and respiratory problems - so the lingering threat of salmonella is pretty much a constant. Which means if you run a business filled with dozens of them, you're perpetually at risk of turning into your city's Typhoid Mary, because no matter how often you remind them, people won't wash their hands properly.

I think it's trying to communicate!

There's also the fact that a lot of people - myself included - are allergic to hedgehogs. Hedgehogs don't give off the same pet dander that dogs and cats do, but you can still be allergic to their saliva. And they aren't real fond of keeping their saliva in their mouths. When hdegehogs encounter something they aren't familiar with, like a new blanket or countertop or your big, dumb finger, they'll lick it and bite it until they build up a big ol' spitball. Then they'll fling their heads back and spray that saliva all over themselves, in a process called "self-anointing". When you first pick them up, you'll notice that their quills sting a little, and then after that, you'll notice that your palms are covered in raised, itchy red bumps that you'd swear to God were an STD if they appeared on your genitals. Owning a hedgehog cafe would just be dealing with angry, STD-handed people all day.

Hey, maybe hedgehogs cafes are a good idea after all.

Everything makes hedgehogs sick.

Dogs can eat a nearly unlimited amount of poop and never get sick. They lick their own buttholes, roll around on top of rotting dead things, and dig half-decomposed tennis balls out from under the front porch without coming to harm. Likewise, cats can live outside on a steady diet of sick birds and vermin, and come out no worse for wear. They can fall off rooftops, run into glass doors and endure the horror that is cat reproduction without permanent damage.

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, have been known to lose an eyeball for, like, no reason.

Thankfully, this is not Harley.

For an animal small enough to fit inside a coffee mug, hedgehogs are notoriously tough to take care of. For one thing, you need to carefully monitor the temperature. Too hot, and you're going to find yourself with a listless, overheated pile of quills. Too cold, and hedgehogs will revert to an age-old hibernation instinct they share with their European cousins. The only problem is, modern African hedgehogs aren't actually capable of hibernation - they can't slow down their metabolism enough to achieve true hibernation, and they literally just starve to death, usually in around 72 hours. You don't even have to stick them in the fridge, either - when you own a hedgehog, you're always pretty much one opened window away from having to draft a hedgehog eulogy. 

But on the bright side, here's Harley in a coffee mug.

But even if you're totally cool with keeping the thermostat cranked up to "tropical" at all times, there's exercise to worry about. Hedgehogs have been known to eat literally anything they think is edible, and they're capable of gaining weight at an alarming pace. Depending on their size, these little dudes need no more than 30-70 calories per day, or they'll start to pack on the ounces until they're literally too obese to roll up into a ball. In hedgehogs, obesity generally leads to a brief period of indescribable cuteness, followed by death by organ failure. If you're lucky, the fat little bastard will be happy to run it off on an exercise wheel, provided of course, that you purchased the correct wheel to avoid broken legs and torn toenails. If your hedgehog refuses to do a few laps on the wheel, prepare to spend untold hours of your time laying out food obstacle courses and letting the roly-poly little critter swim laps of your sink.

For instance, this celebrity Japanese hedgehog, while adorable, is morbidly fucking obese.

Even if you're the world's #1 most dedicated hedgehog master, devoting untold hours of your time to monitoring diet, weight, fitness, eyes, quills, toenails, and the various other fuckery that comes with keeping a barely-domesticated African prey animal in your living room, there's about a 1 in 10 chance that you'll check on your hedgehog one day and notice that he's having an awfully hard time standing still. Pet African pygmy hedgehogs are plagued by a genetic condition called Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome that has steadily become more common since the 1990s, probably due to some less-than responsible breeding. Despite its adorable name, Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is more or less the worst thing that can happen to your pet, and there is absolutely nothing that you can do to stop or prevent it; paralysis and muscle weakness starts in the animal's hind legs and gives it the characteristic 'wobble' it gets while standing still. As the disease progresses, the paralysis spreads more and more, until you've got a living, breathing hedgehog doorstop that requires round-the-clock monitoring and care. The only thing an owner can do in the end is euthanize it before it starves to death.

But on the upside, they look positively adorable in wheelchairs.

On top of the horrors of a degenerative disease that's poorly understood by modern veterinary science, there's still all the regular pet bullshit to contend with - dental health, overgrown toenails, ingrown quills, dehydration, mites, allergies, gastric problems with various levels of horror and misery. But unlike with regular pets, you can't just roll up to any random vet's office and demand they take a look at your precious Mr. Pokey. Hedgehogs are considered exotic pets, and only a handful of veterinarians will deal with them. The vet that comes by twice a year to vaccine your parents' cows isn't necessarily going to know how to clip a hedgehog's toenails.

Turns out this isn't a standard part of vet school training.

With all that said, if you can handle the care, cleaning, cost, maintenance and personality roulette of a hedgehog, they can make charming and indescribably cute pets. I love Harley and wouldn't trade him for anything, no matter how much of his own poop he smears all over his wheel.

I just wouldn't want twenty-six more of him in a public cafe .

Want to be constantly bombarded with pictures and images of Harley? Follow me on Twitter. It's basically 40% hedgehog content at this point. 

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