How to care for a pet hedgehog

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A hedgehog can make a fun and interesting pet as they are very active, entertaining, and relatively easy to take care of. They are not stinky and keep themselves clean.

Hedgehogs got their name because in the wild they like to hunt for insects, worms, snails, frogs, etc., in hedges and they make pig-like grunting noises.

Since hedgehogs are nocturnal, they are best for people who are home in the evenings so you can spend time with them while they are awake and active.

Scientific name

There are 17 species of hedgehog. The most common hedgehogs kept as pets are the domesticated four-toed hedgehog or African pygmy hedgehog, scientific name Atelerix albiventris.

Native habitat

Central and eastern Africa.

Lifespan

Up to 10 years, but average may be 4-6 years.

Adult size

Six to 9 inches long with a weight of 9-19 ounces.

How to care for pet hedgehogs - Love The Critters
Hedgehog – Photo from Pixabay

Legality of owning a pet hedgehog

There are some places where it is illegal to own a pet hedgehog altogether and some where you are only allowed to have a specific kind or with a permit.

It is best to double check if it is legal where you live as laws are always changing and may have changed since I wrote this.

You are not allowed to own any kind of hedgehog in these places:

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • New York City.
  • Pennsylvania
  • Fairfax County, Virginia
  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • Singapore

In these places, you may only keep African Pygmy hedgehogs and all other kinds are illegal:

  • Idaho
  • Oregon
  • Quebec, Canada
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Latvia
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

You must have a permit to own a hedgehog in these places:

  • New Jersey
  • Wyoming
  • Wisconsin

Interesting Fact:  A group of hedgehogs is called an array

Activity

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means they are active at night. They are very active and in the wild, they can travel 2 kilometers a night or more.

Hibernation

Wild hedgehogs do hibernate during the winter, but pet hedgehogs should never be allowed to hibernate. Domesticated pet hedgehogs no longer possess the ability to hibernate safely, so it must be avoided by keeping correct temperatures for them.



Social

They are solitary animals and should be kept alone in their enclosure.

Quilling

Baby hedgehogs go through a stage of quilling where they lose their baby quills and get bigger ones. They do this around 6-8 weeks old. It can be a bit uncomfortable for them so they may be grouchy during this process.

Adult hedgehogs occasionally lose quills as well and it is normal. Abnormal loss of quills can be caused by stress and improper diet.

Baby hedgehogs, hoglets - Love The Critters
Baby hedgehogs/hoglets – Photo from Pixabay

Housing

Enclosure/cage

Since they are very active, they need a good size cage. They require a minimum enclosure size of 4 square feet of floor space. Multi-level cages are a great way to add extra space if you have limited floor room as long as the ramps and levels are enclosed to prevent falling.

If you decide on a very large cage, make sure it is filled with a lot of stuff as hedgehogs do not like a lot of open space. You can include lots of hides, tunnels, etc., to make them feel safer.

The bottom of the cage needs to be solid and not wire as wire floors will hurt their feet. The walls can be wire and you also need a top as they are able to climb. They can climb well going up, but not going down, so make sure they cannot climb up too high where they can fall and injure themselves.

A good store bought cage is the MidWest Guinea Habitat. I recommend getting the top for it as well to prevent your hedgehog from escaping. This cage would give you 8 square feet of space which is plenty!

Here’s how someone set up their MidWest Guinea Habitat:

Another option is to build your own C&C (cubes and coroplast) cage. You can get really creative this way. They are easy to make and affordable. These are made out of wire storage cubes and coroplast for the flooring and part of the sides. To hold the grids together, I prefer to use zip ties, which I think makes it sturdier and looks better.

Bedding/substrate

The best bedding is fleece fabric. It does not fray and does not have threads that toes can get caught in. You can spot clean it during the week and it is easy to change. Fleece can be washed in your washing machine, so you won’t need to constantly be buying bedding.

Other options for bedding would be aspen or pine wood shavings or recycled paper bedding. Do not use cedar as it can cause health issues. These beddings are not as good as fleece as they are messier and can be dusty.


Heating and temperature

Keep their cage in a place where it will have a consistent temperature and away from drafts, air conditioners, vents, and windows. They prefer a constant temperature of 73 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23-27 Celsius) with optimum around 75-76.

You do not want to let your hedgehog get too cold. They will attempt to hibernate which can be fatal.

There are several ways to heat your hedgehog’s cage. You can heat your whole house, use a space heater, use a ceramic heat emitter, or use a heating pad. I prefer to use a ceramic heat emitter.

Lighting

Place their cage where they will also experience night and day to keep their circadian rhythm (internal clock) working appropriately for optimal health.

You can use an overhead light in the room or you can put a lamp by the cage and plug it into a timer to ensure they get the proper amount of light (12-14 hours). It is best to use a lamp in the winter during shorter days to ensure they get enough light so they don’t attempt to hibernate.

Food and water bowls

For water, you can use a small pet water bottle that hangs on the side or a heavy bowl that cannot be tipped over. I have had good success with Lixit water bottles.  Make sure they have clean water available at all times. For food, you need a couple of bowls for dry and moist food that can either be attached to the side or a heavy bowl that cannot be tipped over. Ceramic bowls work well.

Litter box

Hedgehogs can be litter box trained. You need a small animal litter box with litter consisting of litter pellets made from recycled paper. You can also use paper towel. Do not use clay or clumping cat litter.

See where your hedgehog prefers to do his business and place the litter box in that area.

Hiding places

They require a hiding place to feel safe as well as to sleep in such as a wood house, plastic igloo, or a snuggle sack.


Exercise

Hedgehogs require lots of exercise. You need an exercise wheel that is solid without wires to prevent their feet from getting caught and causing injury. A bucket-type wheel is preferred. You can make one yourself or you can purchase one.

Here is a wheel that is safe for hedgehogs. I like how you can combine it with a litter box.

Toys and Decor

They are very active and curious animals and you should provide a variety of toys and things to keep them entertained and busy. There are lots of options such as PVC pipes, tubes, tunnels, balls, bells, chew toys, and other small animal, ferret, cat, and bird toys.

Diet and supplements

In my research, I have seen hedgehogs listed as either insectivores or carnivores. Their diet includes insects, meat, and a small amount of fruit and vegetables. The majority of their diet should be high in protein and low in fat.

It is best to provide a variety of food to ensure your hedgehog gets all its nutritional needs. This also ensures it does not get too attached to one certain kind or brand of food in case you run out or it becomes unavailable.

Hedgehog eating food - Love The Critters
Hedgehog eating – Photo from Pixabay

Main diet

The main portion of their diet should be dry food. You can provide food specifically labeled for hedgehogs or a high-quality cat food. You need to look at the ingredients as some brands are poor quality and it would be like feeding your pet junk food and lead to poor health.

The first two ingredients listed should be meat such as chicken, chicken meal, or lamb.

Examples of high-quality food:

Spikes Ultra Premium Hedgehog Food (look at the ingredients listed in product description)

Chicken Soup for the Soul Adult Cat (look at the photo that shows ingredients)

For moist food, you can provide canned cat or dog food that is high in protein, low in fat and fillers, and consisting mostly of meat. Feed 1 tbs or less a day.

You can also feed very small amounts (less than 1 tbs several times a week) of fruits and vegetables. If fed too much, they can cause diarrhea and stomach upset. Make sure they are cut small (about the size of a pea) to prevent choking.

Safe vegetables (cooked or raw)

Asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, carrot, celery, cilantro, corn, cucumber, green beans, green pepper, peas, spinach, sprouts, sweet potato, turnip, zucchini, leafy greens.

Safe fruits

Apple, banana, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherry, cranberries, honeydew, kiwi, papaya, peach, pear, plum, pumpkin, raspberries, squash, strawberry, watermelon.


Treats

For treats, you may give occasionally in small amounts freeze dried, canned, or live (preferred) insects like mealworms, waxworms, and crickets, moist dog or cat treats, and cooked food like beef, turkey, chicken, pork, or eggs. Do not feed wild-caught insects as they could have parasites or insecticides on them.

Altogether, hedgehogs eat approximately 1-4 tablespoons of food a day depending upon age, activity, and quality of food.

Hedgehogs can easily get obese which is bad for their health, so you should always monitor their weight. Make adjustments in their diet if you notice your hedgehog getting a bit fat and also make sure it gets enough exercise. If you see your hedgehog cannot completely roll into a ball anymore, it is probably too fat.

NEVER FEED avocados, chocolate, onions, garlic, citrus, grapes, tomatoes, pomegranate, raw meat or eggs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, other nuts and seeds, raisins, other dried fruits or vegetables, or products that contain meat by products such as meat and bone meal, poultry by products, animal proteins or animal fats.

I recommend checking out these 2 pages for even more detailed information on diet and nutrition:  Diet here and nutrition here

Hedgehog being held - Love The Critters
Hedgehog being held – Photo from Pixabay

Handling and time out of cage

You can pick your hedgehog up by putting your hands under its belly where there is soft fur and no quills. If it rolls into a ball, just be patient and wait for it to calm down and come out to explore. You can hold your hedgehog without gloves as the quills are actually not that sharp and shouldn’t cause injury.

Hedgehogs enjoy time outside of their cage to run around and explore. You can also get a small animal playpen for them to explore safely while out of their cage.

Some hedgehogs may bond with their owners and may recognize your voice, smell, and appearance. You should spend lots of time socializing and handling your hedgehog. If you do not, they may always be afraid of you and stay balled up.

Balled up hedgehog - Love The Critters
Balled-up Hedgehog – Photo from Pixabay

Personality and interesting habits

They each have their own personality. Some may be more friendly and some may be more grumpy.

When hedgehogs are afraid and feel threatened, they will curl into a prickly ball in order to look unappetizing to predators.

Hedgehogs may do a strange thing called self-anointing when they are exposed to certain new smells. They create a foam the new substance and their saliva and they spread it onto their quills.

The exact purpose is unknown, but it is thought they possibly do this to camouflage their own scent.  They are also resistant to many toxins, so it is thought they may self-anoint with toxic substances to make themselves even more unappealing to predators.

Interesting Fact:  A hedgehog has 5000-7000 quills

Bathing and nail trimming

Hedgehogs keep themselves pretty clean.  They should stay pretty clean as long as you keep their cage clean. When they do become dirty, you can give them a bath.

You can give them a bath in the sink with about 1 inch of warm water. Do not get their eyes, ears, or face wet. You can use a toothbrush to scrub the quills. If you feel you need shampoo, you can use a tiny bit of baby or cat shampoo and make sure you rinse off thoroughly.

You will need to trim your hedgehog’s nails as they will not wear down in captivity like they would in the wild. You can use small animal nail clippers or human nail clippers. Only trim a tiny bit so you don’t accidentally cut the quick and cause bleeding. If it does bleed, use styptic pencil, flour, or cornstarch on the nail. I always keep some handy just in case.

African Pygmy Hedgehog. How to care for pet hedgehogs - Love The Critters
Hedgehog – Photo from Pixabay

Enclosure cleaning and maintenance

Every day, you will need to clean the food and water bowls and remove any waste. Approximately once a week, the bedding should be changed. Regularly check all toys, decor, and the exercise wheel and clean them when they get dirty. You can use soap and water and ensure they fully dry.

Common illnesses

Illnesses or injuries may occur. If something happens, get your pet to the vet right away.

Unfortunately hedgehogs can get cancer. The common types are oral cancer, mammary gland tumors, reproductive system including uterine and ovarian tumors, lymphoma, skin cancer, and cancers affecting the digestive and endocrine systems. Symptoms can resemble other illnesses, so it’s always best to get the proper diagnosis from your vet and get the correct treatment.

Other illnesses can be ear and eye infections, respiratory infections, tooth and gum disease. Hedgehogs can also be infected by mites, ticks, and fleas just like dogs and cats. They may accidentally eat something they are not supposed to and cause an obstruction in their stomach or intestines, in which case you need to get to the vet right away as it can be fatal.

They may also injure their feet or their nose, so try to keep anything sharp out of their cage and regularly check their toys, etc., to make sure they have not broken and may cause injury.

Interesting Fact:  Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets

Supply list

Forum

Here is an excellent forum for you to visit if you wish to learn more about hedgehogs and ask questions.

How to care for a pet hedgehog, cage, bedding, food, toys, hides, and interesting facts

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