So, you've heard about them or read about them, but don't really know what they are. A hedgehog is a small mammal best known for its quill-covered body and ability to roll into a ball. There are two different types of hedgehogs--the European and African. However, it is the African hedgehog which is kept as a domesticated pet. It is, in fact, illegal to own European hedgehogs in North America. The domesticated hedgie is a smaller and much lighter colored version of its European cousin. These little guys also come from a hot, desert environment, whereas European hedgies live in a temperate environment.
A European hedgehog
An African hedgehog
African hedgehogs, also known to some as African pygmy hedgehogs, are actually a cross between the Algerian and White-bellied species found in Northern parts of Africa. These hedgehogs have been brought over and bred to the point where they are considered domesticated pets. These animals are no longer considered "wild exotics", but they are still considered an exotic pet.
Today's African hedgehog is becoming a popular pet across Canada, the US, and some parts of Europe. They come in a wide range of colors (currently there are 91 colors recognized) and grow to be about the size of a guinea pig. Hedgies have a lifespan of anywhere from 3-7 years, with 4-5 years being the most common. They are nocturnal animals, meaning they are awake and active during the night.
Hedgehogs are very special animals and require a certain level of care. A hedgehog can make a wonderful pet,
but they are not for everyone. Consider the following before deciding to bring a hedgie into your life:
If you feel you can handle all of this, then a hedgehog may be a good pet for you. Remember, these are only the negatives of owning a hedgehog, and if these are all okay with you then the positives will end up outweighing the negatives by a long shot.
So you've done it. You've read everything you can about hedgehogs and you've decided you want to bring home your own bundle of quills. First you have to find either a pet store or a reputable breeder to buy from. Breeders are a MUCH better way of obtaining a hedgie. Not only are the hedgehogs more friendly (after all, they've been handled since they were very young), but you get a clean bill of health and breeders usually know much more about proper hedgie care. They will also be there to talk to later on down the road if something comes up.
If it's impossible to buy from a breeder though, pet stores can be fine too. Before buying from a pet store, make sure that the hedgehog they have is in a large enough home, it has a wheel, it is being fed proper food, and is being housed alone. Multiple hedgies in a cage leads to fighting and, when a male and female are involved, breeding.
When choosing your new pet, there should be specific things to look for:
A hedgie from a breeder is less likely to have something wrong with it, but always check for these things just to be sure. When buying from a pet store, these are absolute musts. It is best to go in the late evening if possible since this is when hedgies are more likely to be awake and won't be as grumpy.
After you've decided you've got the hedgie you want, put it in a small, dark travel box. This will be less stressful on the ride home, just don't forget air holes! You shouldn't stop anywhere on the way home, it's best to keep travel time at a minimum so you don't scare your new pet.
Before you bring your hedgie home you should make sure everything is set up in his cage--food, water, bedding, wheel, and hidey house. You should sleep in an old T-shirt for a few nights and put that in your hedgie's hidey house. That way they'll be sleeping with your scent and getting used to your smell. Smell is everything to these critters, so this is a vital step of bonding between you and your hedgehog.
Now that you've brought him home, you've put him in his cage and let him get settled in. It's very tempting to keep checking on him, but that's the last thing he needs. You should leave your hedgie alone for the first night or two so he gets accustomed to all the new smells and sounds. After that, you can begin the bonding process.
The first step is to bring your hedgie out of his cage and into your lap. This is a LOT more intimidating than it sounds. Don't be afraid of your hedgie--even though he can be quite frightening! He will more than likely quill up and start hissing and popping at you. This is normal, it just means he's scared, and with good reason! He's just been brought to a new home and doesn't know you or anyone else. Talk to him in a soft voice, keep telling him it's okay and you won't hurt him. Don't make any "shh" noises though; your hedgie may interpret them as another animal hissing at him. Once you've got your hedgie in your lap, keep talking to him, and stroke him. If he's in a tight ball, try gently rotating your fingers on the middle of his back. This usually will get them to unball. After a while your hedgie should quiet down and stop hissing. Keep trying to get him to unball, but if this doesn't work, put him back in his cage and leave him alone. This is a long process, usually taking about a week, but can sometimes last for a month or more. You should see progress with most hedgies over the course of a week. Just keep talking to them and petting them. Treats are a wonderful way to speed up the process. Bribery knows no shame here. Mealworms are a particular favorite of most hedgies. They learn to associate you with food, and end up unballing much quicker. The key word is patience. Everyone has to go through this as a hedgie parent, so don't get discouraged, it is possible to tame your hissing ball of quills! You may even get to a point where it's impossible to get your hedgie to ball up anymore, so don't give up hope. Once you and your hedgie have bonded, he can meet other people and bond with them too. All this hard work will result in a bonded and trusting pet that was well worth your time!
Pippin, who doesn't want to curl up for me. That's a bit of an understatement...
Pippin, getting a nice skritchin' in my lap
There are a variety of cages you can keep your hedgie in--some of them simple, some of them elaborate. Just remember a hedgie needs a MINIMUM of 2 square feet, bigger is better! Also, NO WIRE FLOORS! Wire floors can result in broken legs and toes. Wood should also not be used in the cage as wood can harbor mites. Wood also soaks in urine which can lead to a nasty smell. Second levels are okay in some cases, as long as the entire upper level is encased with a wall and the ramp leading up is at a low angle.
Each type of cage has its pros and cons, which are broken down here:
This is the cheapest way to house a hedgie. A large Sterlite bin, 90 gallon or bigger, can make a great cage. Lids aren't always necessary, but if used, the top must be replaced with a screen of some sort for ventilation. The sides can also be cut out and replaced with screening to allow more airflow.
-Easy to clean
-Found everywhere: Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, etc.
-Can be added on to using PVC piping and other bins to create a hedgie mansion
-Keeps bedding in
-When cutting lid/sides, the plastic can easily break
-Doesn't allow a lot of ventilation
-Some find the look "tacky"
These are just regular fish aquariums which can be found just about anywhere. If used, the minimum size is 20 gallons, and even that's small. Really I wouldn't recommend using an aquarium, there are much better options out there.
-Clear; this allows for easy viewing of your pet
-Keeps bedding in
-VERY little airflow
-Can overheat easily
-Heavy = hard to clean
-Most are too small
Originally designed for guinea pigs, these cages are a cheap and creative way to house your hedgies. These cages are as big and imaginative as you make them. Try http://www.cavycages.com/ for a step by step explanation.
-Can be as big or as small a you want
-Can be designed to keep out other pets
-Easy to clean
-Keeps bedding in
-If your hedgie is a climber, these MUST have a lid
-Not suitable for baby hedgies, they can escape
-Not easily moved once set up
-Supplies aren't easily found in some towns and cities
Some cages designed for rabbits and guinea pigs can be perfect for a hedgie. As long as there are no wire floors and it's big enough, these can work fine
-Found in most pet stores
-Usually are practical sizes for a hedgie
-Allows enough ventilation
-Usually easily cleaned
-Several of these have wire floors or unsafe second levels
-Some cages would work, but they require modifications
Ahh, the question of "What do I feed a hedgehog?" This is a simple topic that is often made difficult by the wide variety of opinions that different hedgehog owners have. In the wild, hedgies are insectivores, meaning they eat insects. Insects to a hedgie are rather like meat to a dog, so consider a hedgehog a "meat eater" of sorts.
Several people will tell you that you feed a hedgehog... hedgehog food. This is NOT a good idea. Most, if not all, commercial hedgie diets are composed of filler ingredients. Fillers are something added to a pet food to boost the protein and fat percentage of the food, and often are used to make the food taste better. Fillers have no real nutritional value. Corn is the most common filler found in pet food. It's cheap, easy to obtain, and tastes sweet to your pets. Some other fillers are: wheat flour, soy flour, corn gluten meal, ground rice and meat and bone meal. These are often used in generic pet foods. The exact same holds true for hedgehog foods. Their diet should NOT be made up of corn and other fillers. This is unhealthy. Corn is HIGHLY indigestible to hedgies, who should be getting meat as their top ingredients in pet foods.
Since hedgehog food doesn't meet nutritional needs, hedgehog vets and owners have found that a high quality cat food works best. Just remember these rules when looking for a brand to feed your pet:
There are several cat foods recommended by hedgie owners:
All of these should be the "light" version for the lowest amount of fat. Too much fat in your hedgies diet can be hard on their liver, possibly resulting in Fatty Liver Disease.
Since none of these foods has been proven to perfectly satisfy your hedgehog's nutritional needs, it is recommended that a mix of 2 or more foods is fed. The most commonly suggested brands are Chicken Noodle Soup and Royal Canin Slim. It is also suggested that small amounts of Grape Nuts cereal or a bran cereal of sorts be added to the mix for extra fiber. A pinch of Missing Link, a vitamin supplement, can be given as well a few times a week if desired, though this is not necessary. Food should always be left in the bowl in case your hedgie gets hungry during the day and wants something to snack on. Any uneaten food should be thrown out every night. Most hedgies will eat around 2-3 tablespoons in a night, though some eat more and some eat less. You'll discover how much your hedgie eats after a while. If there's a lot of food left over the next night, cut back on it. If there's none or very little left, some more should be added. Keep trying this until you get just the right amount.
All staple foods should be kept in a low dish around 3 inches in diameter. Crocks and condiment bowls work well. Be wary of colored bowls from the Middle East as these sometimes have ink that can leak out. As a rule of thumb: if the bowl is human safe, then the bowl is probably hedgie safe. Make sure the bowl has a heavy bottom so it can't be tipped over. If you have a mischievous hedgie that always tips over his bowl, you can glue it to a small tile and this should prevent anymore food tipping.
As with any animal, treats should be fed in moderation. That being said, a hedgie's favorite treat would be meal worms. These are actually a type of beetle larva that are commonly fed to some reptiles and fish. You can find them in pet stores or buy them in bulk online. Never buy superworms! Superworms are the large mealworms that stores sometimes sell. There have been stories of them biting the inside of a hedgehog's mouth and throat, thereby injuring them.
Crickets are another favorite. Place a washcloth over your bathtub drain, add hedgie and crickets and watch your little guy attack them. Their almost like mini tigers, stalking their pray and pouncing on it. Definitely worth a few dollars just to watch your hedgie chow down on a meal they catch themselves.
Some other treats that can be fed are:
As you can see, there is a variety of foods you can feed as treats. Just use common sense, if you wouldn't eat it, don't give it to your hedgie, and everything (with the exception of fruits) should be well cooked before given. Stay away from onions and citrus fruits; they are bad for your hedgie.
Fresh water should be provided at ALL TIMES. There are two options when choosing a way to provide water for your hedgehog: a water bowl or a water bottle. I'm personally against water bottle use. Water bowls allow a much more natural drinking position while bottles force your hedgie to strain their neck. Bottles can sometimes drip, causing a wet cage and hedgehog. Hedgies have also been known to chip teeth or cut their tongue on a water bottle spout. However, bowls can get bedding in them and need to be thoroughly washed every night. Bottles can go longer without washing, but I do not recommend going more than 2 or 3 nights. If you decide to use a bottle, make sure it hangs fairly low to the cage floor so your hedgehog can reach it. If you use a bowl, the same requirements for a food bowl go for this.
As with cages, there are several options for bedding. Corn cob should never be used as it can become stuck in your hedgehogs' "private" parts. This applies to both males and females. Cedar and pine wood shavings should also never be used. Clay or clumping kitty litter is unacceptable for the same reason as corn cob. If ingested, kitty litter can compact in your hedgie's stomach, causing a serious health problem.
Litter is used for hedgies the same way it is for cats. Surprisingly, hedgehogs can be litter trained. Most will do their "business" under their wheel, so placing a shallow pan underneath and adding litter will prompt them to use that space. It's also a good idea to use a different litter than bedding so your hedgie will differentiate between where it is and isn't okay to use the bathroom. Popular litter choices are paper towels, recycled paper bedding, and newspaper. Newspaper is only okay to use if the ink is vegetable based. Most inks today are vegetable based, but call your newspaper's office to make sure.
These are regular wooden shavings that you see in hamster and gerbil cages. NEVER USE CEDAR OR PINE BEDDING! These woods have highly toxic phenols that over time can give your hedgehog, or other small pet for that matter, a respiratory disease. In some extreme cases, death can result. If you do use wood chips use aspen.
-Can harbor mites
-Becomes expensive over time
-Leaves shavings around your house
-Not very odor absorbent
-Large amounts must be used to cover the cage floor
These are basically pieces of recycled paper, or compacted pieces of pulp that were too small to use by the manufacturing company. They are basically like wood bedding... but paper. Brands used are Yesterday's News, Carefresh, and CellSorb.
-Low risk of containing mites
-Absorb odors and waste very well
-Some are very dusty
-Becomes expensive over time
-Large amounts must be used to cover the cage floor
These are pieces of fabric cut to fit your hedgehog's cage. The most commonly used fabric is Vellux, which can be found in your local Wal Mart, Target, Costco, etc. They are in the blanket section. Corduroy and fleece can also be used. Other fabrics can be used, as long as there are no loose threads and the edges don't fray. To clean them, you throw them in the wash and you're ready to go.
-Cost efficient---buy only one blanket and you're done
-No risk of mites
-If your hedgie isn't litter trained they can get quite messy very quickly
-If your hedgie is an extreme digger, they may dig through parts of their liners
Hedgehogs are active little critters, and they need toys to occupy their time with. There is an absolute must for all hedgehogs, which is a wheel. These are like a hamster wheel, only bigger. The minimum diameter is 11 inches. All wheels must have a solid running surface, and no spokes to get caught in. Hedgies can really get going on these things; they will run up to 3 miles in a night! However, they will also poop and pee on their wheel as they run. In their mind, they are running away form their waste, so it is perfectly normal for them to do this. In fact, if you get a hedgie, expect them to, because I have yet to hear of a hedgehog that doesn't poop or pee on their wheel during their nightly runs. That said, here are a few other accessories and toys your hedgie will enjoy:
Hiding spaces: Hedgehogs love having places to run to and hide in. At least one hidey house is necessary for your hedgehog. Large Pigloos, plastic igloos, are a favorite among owners. This is where your hedgie will sleep during the day. It is also a good idea to place a strip of fabric inside the hiding spaces. This gives your hedgie something to sleep under or curl up with. Just make sure that the fabric has no frayed edges and no loose threads that can wrap around your hedgie's limbs.
Toilet paper rolls: If you cut a slit down the side of an old toilet paper roll, your hedgie may enjoy pushing it around and shoving their head in it. Some hedgies love it, and some hate it.
Plastic cat toys: Some hedgehogs enjoy pushing these around with their nose. Just be sure that there are no sharp plastic edges that can hurt your hedgehog.
PVC piping or ferret tunnels: Hedgehogs will usually enjoy running through these or hiding in them.
Stuffed animals: Several hedgehogs love these. They will crawl over them and tug them around. Some will even "parent" them, and treat them like a young hedgehog. Just make sure that there are no loose threads or open spaces where your hedgie can get to the stuffing. If ingested, the stuffing can cause internal damage.
These are by far not your only options for toys, they are simply suggestions. Look around your house and look at things that might make a good toy. As long as it doesn't pose a threat to your hedgie's health, go ahead and try it out, you may find a toy your pet loves!