Goodbye, Nal

A little under three years ago, my wife and I decided that we wanted a pet, but unfortunately while she loves cats I am deathly allergic. I suggested rats, but they live such short lives that she didn’t want to go that route. We settled finally on a hedgehog, since based on our research it looked like they could live up to five to seven years. After being on a waiting list for several months, we were finally able to go claim our little girl: an African pygmy hedgehog we named Nal (which means “needle” in Norwegian).

The day we brought Nal home, she was not a happy hedgehog. Taking her out of the cage for the first time was a trick (we had to wear gloves, since we hadn’t figured out the art of hedgehog handling yet), and after we got her out she sat in my wife’s lap for a good fifteen minutes, balled up, hissing, and clicking:

Nal's first outing

We tried to tempt her with mealworms, but she was having none of it! Being in a new place with strange new people and smells was absolutely not alright by her. After a long wait, though, she finally uncurled and we started to get to know her properly. By the time we put her back in her cage, she was still tentative about us, but willing to let us see her face:

Nal uncurls

Ever so slowly, Nal started to get used to us. She absolutely refused to be out and about in her cage with us in the room, so we never got to see her run in her wheel (although she pooped all over it enough times that we knew she enjoyed it), but after a year and a half or so she started coming out of her how-dare-you-just-picked-me-up funk quicker and quicker. For the past several months, she sometimes would come out of her cage without even hissing, although she always expressed her displeasure as we took her house off her.

She particularly opened up once we bought our house. For some reason, the move to the new house really made Nal happy, even though it also coincided with her coming down with mites, causing her discomfort and some quill loss (thankfully easily treated, despite a traumatic visit to the vet; Nal may have grown comfortable with us, but other people touching her was not okay in the least).

Nal sleepingNal, we discovered, was possessed of a strong personality. She loved to explore (her jaunts in the out of doors were things she particularly enjoyed), would tolerate petting if we provided a place for her to hide her face, and vastly preferred mountain climbing up human legs to being picked up. She hated baths, and would burrow under any scrap of fabric she could find:

Nal burrowing

Nal anointingFor quite a while we thought the only treat Nal truly enjoyed was any bit of paper or cardboard that she could find and would then self-anoint with. However, almost purely by accident we also discovered that she would go absolutely ga ga for were bits of chicken, fresh corn, peas, or sunflower seeds:

Nal chowing down

Unfortunately, a few months ago Nal had a couple of seizures while we had her out, and when we took her to the vet they x-rayed her and told us it looked like she had a tumor. We started her on a regiment of meds twice a day, but the vet told us we did not have much time left.

Nal would hear none of it, though. We never saw her have another seizure, and she was a perfectly happy hog for long after the vet told us we could expect her to pass on. As a result of taking her out twice a day instead of just once, she grew more comfortable with us than ever and we started developing different routines (I would often serve as jungle gym and preventer-of-escapes-under-the-couch as she ran around on the floor, while my wife would spend more time cuddling with her).

Sadly, about a week ago Nal started to lose her balance, drastically dropped weight, and day by day lost control of her limbs. She finally stopped eating yesterday, and today I came into the office to find her on her side squeaking in distress; it was the first time I had ever seen her out in her cage when I got up in the morning, and the first time I’d ever heard her vocalize that way in distress.

Though betrayed by her body, Nal remained cantankerous and determined to face life on her own terms to the end. We will miss you dearly, Nal. Rest in peace.


3 responses to “Goodbye, Nal”

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  1. Karl says:


    My condolences to you and your wife. Nal sounded lovely. I sympathise with you both, and have been in your position many times throughout my life. I can do nothing to ease your pain apart from say that Nal was lucky she was found by you and your wife, as it’s clear she was treated with much love and affection.

    The pain will ease, but you’ll never forget her.


  2. Dale says:

    Thank you for sharing Nal’s life with us. I’m saddened by your loss but at the same time heartened by the time you shared. My condolences to both of you.

  3. I can’t remember the last time I read an entire blog post from top to bottom, but this one I couldn’t *not* keep reading word by word to the very heartbreaking end.

    I’m way late, but I had to thank you for writing and sharing this. What a wonderful little creature, and it’s so obvious she had an amazing life—just look at her munching away at those yummy snacks!

    An insanely great hedgehog, no doubt.

    — LDN

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