Hedgehog Care & FAQs
We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on Hedgehogs. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your Hedgehog’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:
Before Getting a Hedgehog
Should You Get a Hedgehog?
Hedgehogs are a small, insectivorous (insect eating) mammal that can be found throughout the world. They are native to England, Europe, Africa and Asia. The hedgehog that is now kept as a pet in North America is the Pygmy Hedgehog from Central Africa.
Since there are no native species of hedgehog in either Canada or the United States, many people still mistake the domestic hedgehog for the porcupine – an entirely different and unrelated animal. While porcupine quills are extremely sharp, barbed and very dangerous, the hedgehog quill is smooth and not nearly as sharp. Petting a friendly hedgehog can be compared to petting a hairbrush – bristly, not prickly.
The average African Pygmy Hedgehog weighs about ½ to 1 ¼ pounds and is 5 to 8 inches long – about the size of a Guinea Pig. There are some that will grow to as much as 1 ¾ to 2 pounds (without being fat) while others are as little as 6 or 7 ounces. Your pet should be kept indoors at normal room temperature (65 to 80*F).
The following are a few basic facts about Hedgehogs:
- Hedgehogs are mammals that are related to moles and shrews.
- Their food consists of insects.
- The spiny hedgehogs are found in Africa and Eurasia, except SE Asia.
- They have rounded bodies up to 13 in. (33 cm) long, very short tails, and pointed snouts; their backs and sides are covered with stiff spines and their undersides with coarse hair.
- They are usually brown and yellow in color.
- When frightened, a hedgehog rolls itself into a tight ball with its spines pointing outward; when rolled up it is invulnerable to almost any predator.
- Hedgehogs are not porcupines or vice versa. This is a common myth.
- Hedgehogs usually suffer from fleas. Flea powder can be used to combat this. The good news is that it can’t be spread to cats, dogs or humans.
- Obviously hedgehogs are not like cats or dogs. You cannot cuddle them or pet them. This is important to realize before purchasing one.
That noted, if you are interested in buying a hedgehog as a pet, be advised that you should only buy one. Especially if you are a first time buyer. They are unique animals and it is best to always start out with one.
Bringing Your Hedgehog Home
Care and Management
When you bring you new hedgehog home, place him in his new cage and let him have absolute privacy for at least a day. You may pick him up and hold him once or twice for a few minutes the first day, but remember, it will probably be more like a week before he begins to feel at home. Baby hedgehogs need quite a bit of sleep the first month after they come home with you, so don’t be too concerned if he sleeps a lot at first.
What Kind of Housing Will He Require?
Your hedgehog will require a secure home since they are very good climbers and can easily escape from open-topped cages that are designed for animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits. If you do use a cage with an open top, it must have slippery sides that are at least 12″ high and a floor space of at least l6” x 24”. A 20 gallon aquarium is ideal. It must also have good circulation and be well lit but not exposed to direct sunlight during the daytime.
Place your hedgehogs new home in a comfortable, warm, well lit area that is free of drafts and direct sunlight. They are most comfortable at temperatures of between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit. (18-27 degrees Celsius) The basic rule of thumb is, if you are comfortable without a sweater, they will do just fine.
Aspen, Pine or White shavings (NOT CEDAR!) are by far the best choice for bedding material. Crushed corn cob makes a relatively good bedding and is safe to use for females and adults, but it SHOULD NOT be used for young male hedgehogs. Place approximately two inches of bedding material evenly over the floor of the cage.
This can be as simple as a piece of 4 inch PVC pipe, an old plastic pitcher, or an old shoe box with a hole cut in one end. (this should be replaced every 2 to 3 weeks).
Your pet will use a litter box if you provide it with one. A small box that is 2” deep x 6” x 9”, half filled with dust free cat litter does very nicely. Non-clumping cat litter is the safest choice.
Understanding Your Hedgehog
Hedgehogs snuffle and buzz through much of their activity. The snuffles become hisses as the hedgehog becomes uneasy. When rolled into a ball in defense, the hissing becomes a sort of chuffing, accompanied by shuddering and jerking of the body, especially when touched. The jerking will drive spines into the skin of the unsuspecting.Hedgehogs of the more temperate or desert climates do dig, making burrows, especially under rock piles and stumps. Hedgehogs in more constant climates simply shelter under logs and brush piles.Hedgehogs practice a behavior called anointing. They lick and smack their saliva into a froth and then lick it in under their spines. There are a number of theories as to why hedgehogs (and similar animals such as tenrecs) anoint:1.) Some insectivores have a poisonous saliva and perhaps it acts as an irritant, making them even less tasteful, especially to predators that get past the spines. They have been witnessed rubbing on toads, which would have the same effect.2.) Anointing is often triggered by pungent smells and the salivary froth often includes the chewing of the pungent item (items such as cigarette butts, leather, creosote, glue and toad skin). The use of these strong tasting substances in the anointing may help to eliminate parasites. Hedgehogs are notoriously plagued by a wide variety of parasites.3.) Anointing most often takes place during the breeding season and the anointing odors may be sexual messages and attractants.
You will want to choose a single hedgehog since they are solitary and don’t normally like to share a cage. Never buy a male and female to be placed in the same cage unless you intend to breed! Hedgehogs are ready to breed as early as 8 weeks and females should never be bred before 5 months, so be careful!
Both male and female hedgehogs make equally good pets so this decision is entirely your own. You can readily tell a boy from a girl. If the hedgehog is tame and friendly, gently roll it over and look at the area closest to the tail. A female’s genitals are immediately next to the anus, while the male’s penis sheath, or “belly button” is farther up the tummy. The distance between the anus and belly button will be approximately 1/2 inch on a six week old male hoglet. However, this distance can increase to as much as an inch or more once it fully matures.
Taking Care of Your Hedgehog
Hedgehog Diet and Obesity
Your hedgehog should be fed a base diet should consist of a good quality cat food or hedgehog food. Whenever possible supplement with their natural diet of insects.
The food bowl needs to be fairly wide and heavy to prevent your pet from dumping out its contents and using it as a toy. Small ceramic crocks that are designed for small rodents are perfect food dishes for hedgehogs. The width or diameter of the dish can be 3 to 6 inches and it should be no more than 3 inches high.
Water bottles are preferred over open dishes. Hedgehogs love to fill open water dishes with shavings and this prevents them from getting enough water to drink.
Since a healthy hedgehog is a bit on the plump side naturally, determining the difference between a healthy animal’s “chubby” condition and obesity can be somewhat difficult. Since there is such a wide variety of size in domestic stock these days, an obese hedgehog can be as little as 8 ounces to as much as 2 pounds in weight, so weight guidelines are of little use in identifying a fat hedgehog! Of far more use to you than a set of scales is a weekly or monthly visual inspection of your pet’s front legs and chin. While a hedgehog in its normal trim will be a bit chubby in these two locations, an obese specimen will have a double chin and “ham-hocks” for legs and sometimes even rolls of fat under the arm-pits. Such animals will be so fat that they will even be incapable of rolling themselves into a ball! If your pet should become this fat eliminate all treats from its diet but do not reduce the amount of dry food – the primary source of necessary proteins, vitamins and minerals. If after a month you see no evidence of weight loss, change the type of dry food that you are feeding to one that has a fat content of at least 20 percent. The theory is that the added fat will cause your pet to “bulk-up” and eat less and will actually help it to lose weight.
Healthy Diet For a Hedgehog
- Pumpkin for constipation (Canned)
- Insectivore Diet
- Meal Worms 6-10
- Wax Worms 1-2 teaspoons (3-4 times per week)
- Crickets 1-2
- Mixed Frozen Veggies 1-2 Tablespoons
- Diced leafy dark greens – ½ teaspoon (Spinach, Kale, Collard/Beet/Mustard Greens)
- Diced Carrot – ¼ Teaspoon
- Diced Apple – ¼ Teaspoon
- Diced Banana – ¼ Teaspoon
- Diced Grape or Raisin – ¼ Teaspoon
- Dry Reduced-Calorie Cat food or mix canned and dry (Iams, Eukanuba, or Science Diet)
- Hedgehog Food
* Contact Hedgehog Breeder Jessica Elrod (265-9087) for information on care and specialized diets.
If you choose, you can also add a few toys for your hedgehog to play with. An exercise wheel is an excellent addition and will help him to stay healthy and trim. Although a guinea pig wheel will suffice, there are now specially designed Hedgehog Wheels available from many pet suppliers. These are safer for your pet since they have a solid or mesh-covered running surface rather than the more common metal bars which they sometimes get their long legs caught in.