How do i find the right breeder?
There are so many breeders trying to sell right now, so it can feel a little overwhelming when making a decision. How do you recognize who actually has healthy, well-cared for animals, and who is going to cost you more, financially and emotionally, in the long run? Here are a few pointers on how to make your decision!
-Breeders that claim to be "registered breeders" to bring legitimacy to their operation. There is one registry (the IHA) that is defunct, and they register individual animals from any lineage, known or not-- it is not a way to verify genetic health or quality. They do have "breeder members", but there is no regulation for quality, you simply pay a listing fee. There are currently no Utah IHA breeder members, despite advertising claiming otherwise.
-Breeders that have more than 4 females, but are not USDA licensed. If they claim to be licensed, you can ask for their license number and run it through the USDA APHIS search system to find a record of their past inspections, including how many animals they have. You can also search APHIS using their name, or even state of residence (there are 4 licensed hedgehog breeders in the state as of 9/30/15). Class A licenses are for breeders, class B licenses are for brokers/dealers, which should be avoided. If they won't show you how many they have, or don't have a page that shows the whole herd, BEWARE! If they claim to be "in the process of getting USDA licensed", but they are selling to you, they are breaking the law! The USDA prohibits sales during the application process, if they are honestly in the process. There are several illegal breeders in Utah, so please keep an eye out!
-Pet stores. Animals at pet stores come from mills, and are often inbred, unhealthy, and often even pregnant. Because pet stores don't focus on any one type of animal, they often have misinformation and do not properly meet the needs of every species they sell.
-Any breeder that does not have a screening process when finding homes for their animals. If they aren't properly screening homes, that means their priority is not the animals, but money.
-Breeders that do not track pedigrees. Many breeders will not give you copies of the pedigree to discourage breeding without permission (this is normal!), but when you visit the breeder's home they should be okay with showing you a physical copy. If they allow you to see the pedigree, they should be able to explain what each set of herd initials means, and the pedigree should be clear of names like BBH Mickey or PPH Insanity BBH (names attached to WHS lines). They should also not be full of blanks. NOT all bloodlines are quality bloodlines, please be aware of this-- most of the lines in Utah at this point have WHS carriers in them, there are only 2 other breeders besides myself that are Mickey and Insanity free!
-A BIRTH CERTIFICATE IS *NOT* A PEDIGREE, and does NOT certify health. If your breeder hasn't been around for long, make sure you get any health guarantees they make down on paper, so they don't disappear on you and leave you with vet bills because of poor breeding.
-Breeders that sell their animals to pet stores. Pet stores sell to anyone and like previously discussed, do not provide optimal care. Vending to pet stores shows a disregard for the safety of the babies.
-Breeders that are not willing to let you visit and meet their hedgehogs first. A quality breeder wants you to be certain you are making the right decision before taking a hedgie home. Some breeders will ask for a visitation fee, which usually can be applied to the full cost of the hedgehog if you decide to buy. This is normal!
-Breeders that do not have a good relationship with other reputable and well-established breeders. Quality breeders communicate and look for ways to improve the breed together. Shady breeders view all other local breeders as "competition for customers". A close association with other poor quality breeders is a big red flag.
-Anyone that does not offer education prior to and after purchase, including a proper care page and 24/7 "customer support". If they do not have a care page that they wrote themselves, this is a big red flag.
-Breeders that cannot tell you which local vets are experienced with hedgehogs. Quality breeders know the lay of the land.
-Breeders that cannot tell you the genders of the babies, or that do not separate males from females at 6 weeks old. Babies that are still housed together after 6 weeks are very likely to inbreed, which can kill females (females cannot be safely bred so young), and result in unhealthy babies (inbreeding is very dangerous).
-Breeders that don't properly care for their animals. IE, nails are overgrown, hedgehogs are over or underweight, proper wheels and quality food is not provided, eyes, ears, or sensitive areas may have discharge or gunk built up, ears are tattered, or other signs of neglect.
-If they are sharing photos of the babies, does the mom have an unsafe nest? Have they put dangerous materials in for nesting (anything other than aspen, Carefresh, Kaytee Clean and Cozy, tissue, and fleece strips are considered unsafe)? Nursing mothers should not have a litter box or wheel (for the babies' safety)-- does she have these things in her cage with her? For the non-nursing adults, does everyone have a full-sized safe wheel? Are they on a safe bedding? Analyze the care of all of their animals!
-Webpages with stolen content. Sharing links with proper credit is fine. Copy and pasting care information, policies, stealing photos without credit, etc. is a red flag-- it shows that either they do not know enough about those topics to write it themselves, or they cut corners, neither of which is something you want in a breeder. It is also illegal. You can right click on images and select "Google search this image" to see if the image is stolen, or copy and paste phrases into Google (remember to put the phrase inside quotation marks) and see if anyone else' website comes up.
-Beware anyone saying things like "hypo allergenic, easy pet, low-maintenance, perfect pet for anyone!" These things aren't true, they are just trying to sell a "product"!
-Breeders that offer "stud services" to the general public. A breeder that cares about the improvement of hedgehogs' health, temperament, and longevity is only interested in working with likeminded individuals with healthy lines. Offering a stud service to whoever happens to own a female hedgehog means that they don't care about the offspring or the impact they may have on the hedgehog population, they just want to make a quick buck.
-Breeders that make impossible claims - "Our babies are fully litter trained when they go home!" "Our babies have softer quills!" "We hold our babies from day one!" None of these are actually things that are possible, they're trying to get a sale, and you'll get home disappointed when your hedgehog is just like a hedgehog.
-No health guarantee, or an extremely limited one - a breeder should be comfortable standing firmly by their work, because they know that they're working with hardy, healthy lines only. If they're unwilling to do so, then that is very telling about the lines they're working with. Offering a vet check in place of a full guarantee is also a red flag- a vet check cannot prove genetic health, only their current condition.
-A breeder that is willing to educate and answer questions. A good breeder is happy to help you prepare for your hedgehog to come home!
-Healthy animals. Nails should be properly clipped (this is a HUGE tell-tale sign!), eyes should be clear and bright, they shouldn't be extra-small or obese, fur should be clean and not stained, and they should have access to quality wheels (meaning full size bucket wheels or 12" Comfort Wheels- no "express wheels", no wire wheels), safe and appropriately sized cages, and clean appropriate bedding.
-Breeders that are actively involved with the rest of the "hedgehog community", both online and locally. For example, on the local level, we regularly consult with both Shadow Fox Hedgehogs and Salt City Hedgies, and work together toward the same goals (healthier lines, longer living hedgies). We also work with breeders in other states, such as Volcano View Hedgehogs and the since-retired long time breeder, Bloomin' Hedgehogs, who is still actively involved in the hedgehog world (and also makes great supplies!). We also are one of the creators and administrators of a hedgehog information forum on Facebook called Hedgehogs Anonymous, which is for the assistance of hedgehogs owners world wide. Our current member count is 6,700.
-Breeders with multiple high recommendations, positive reviews, and a good track record with past customers. Check Facebook reviews, ask for references, etc. You'll be able to tell if they've been around for as long as they say they have, and if they're as experienced as they should be.
-Breeders that track pedigrees, not just a couple of generations, but 6+ generations. Remember, having "registered" animals does not mean they have good genetic back grounds-- all hedgehogs can be registered for free, even if you don't know their pedigree and regardless of their genetic health.
-Breeders that encourage you to come meet their hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are not right for everyone, it's good to be able to meet them and make a more educated decision.
-A good screening process and welfare contract. Again, this shows that they care where their babies are going, and that they get the best care possible.
-Quick responses and eagerness to help. If your hedgehog were ever to become ill or get injured, your breeder is an invaluable resource!
-Quality supplies being recommended. IE, if someone is trying to sell heat pads, glass tanks, "Express Wheel" style wheels, gloves, too-small Comfort Wheels or wire wheels as a "safe set up"... that's not a good sign! Good quality supplies that have been tried and proven by seasoned owners and breeders will be things like ceramic heat emitters with a thermostat, full size Volcano View bucket wheels, ceramic dishes, fleece liners, etc.
-A good understanding of behavior. If your breeder appears to be handling their hedgehogs like they are nervous, or if they are using gloves to handle their hedgehogs, that means they are not properly socializing their animals. While hedgehogs are prickly, you shouldn't use gloves to handle them, especially if you are a breeder and supposedly handling them for several hours a day! Things like gloves inhibit bonding and create crankier hedgehogs. The breeder should be able to help you handle behavioral issues and be willing to sit with you for as long as it takes to help you become comfortable handling and understanding your hedgehog, too.
-A good understanding of health. They should be familiar with vets around the state that are hedgehog experienced, and be ready to offer basic health information when asked, before and after your hedgehog comes home.
-Breeders that offer a full genetic health guarantee. If they are a newer breeder (less than 2 years-- MANY breeders are currently claiming to have been around longer, there are only 4 breeders in Utah that have been around longer than 2 years, and only 2 of them have quality lines), make sure to get that guarantee on paper, in case they decide to quit breeding as many new breeders do, and potentially leave you holding the bag if problems arise.
-Breeders that give their females at *least* 5-6 months between litters. While hedgehogs are capable of reproducing back to back, it is physically demanding and can result in literally breeding a hedgehog to death. If they have less than four females, and always have babies available, the mothers are not getting adequate rest.
-Breeders that retire their females by age 2-2.5. We retire ours at 2 years or younger, but some will wait until 2.5 years. That is considered middle age for hedgehogs, and let's be honest, mothering is tiring!
-Thoroughly explained care pages-- not copied or printed off the internet, but what they wrote themselves. Breeders want you to be as educated as possible when it comes to the caring and preparing for your new hedgehog. Writing their own thorough care page is their way of helping you do that. A well-written care page is also a good way to know that the breeder themselves know what they are talking about.
-Their goal shouldn't be to "sell their product", but rather, to help you understand what ownership will be like. Hedgehogs are not for everyone, and a good breeder will want you to make sure it's a good fit for you!
-A breeder that is willing to help hedgehogs in general, not just when it helps their bottom line. Rescue work is not only good for the community, but shows a genuine passion to better the species' condition, both through careful breeding and compassionate care. Adoption fees should be minimal (not over $100) and they should be able to provide proof of vet care.
-A breeder that will continue to assist and respond to your questions, comments, and concerns. The vet and your breeder are your two allies when it comes to emergency health situations or even just day to day care questions. When you pay for a hedgehog, you are also paying for a part of the breeder's time and mind. A quality breeder should be happy to offer that to you!