Hedgehogs are adorable fun mammals that feed on insects. They have become a popular pet in America because they make good pets. Hedgehogs are easy to take care of when provided with the right circumstances.
In the wild, hedgehogs live for up to 4 years. However, when kept as pets they can live for up to 7 years. You should therefore be prepared for a long-term commitment before you get a pet hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are native to Africa, Asia, Europe and New Zealand. There are several breeds of hedgehogs. The common breed kept as pets is known as the African pygmy hedgehog.
Hedgehogs have a timid nature and are not social animals. They do however respond to their owner’s voice when well socialized. They are active at night and prefer to sleep during the day.
Although hedgehogs are easy to care for, they have special requirements that need to be met.
Caring for pet hedgehogs
Hedgehogs are insectivorous mammals. Therefore their diet mainly consists of insects.
In the wild, they feed on a wide range of crawlies including worms, beetles, earwigs, slugs, caterpillars, fly larvae, and millipedes.
Proper nutrition is important when taking care of hedgehogs and other pets.
You should feed your pet hedgehog on a complete diet that is high in proteins and one that closely resembles their wild diet.
There are several foods that you can use to feed pet hedgehogs
- Hedgehog kibble – these are foods that are specially formulated for hedgehogs. These foods are available both in wet and dry variety. You can obtain them from pet stores. However note that hedgehog food is not regulated. Therefore we recommend choosing one that has high meat content such as
- Meat based cat or dog food – you can also feed hedgehogs on low fat meat based cat and dog food. Indoor cat food is preferable as dog food tends to be larger in size making it difficult for hedgehogs to chew.
- Live foods – you can supplement your hedgehog’s diet with live foods such as crickets, mealworms and roaches. Ensure you purchase live foods from reputable sources to avoid introducing pests to your hedgehog.
- Occasionally you can give boiled or scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, cooked or minced lamb, chicken or beef as a treat.
To feed your hedgehog, place the food outside the hiding area in the enclosure. Serve the food in a shallow tip-proof dish.
You can feed your hedgehog twice on small portions that they can finish. DO NOT OVERFEED your hedgehog as they may become obese.
Ensure that you provide your hedgehog with clean drinking water at all times in their enclosure.
You can provide your hedgehog with water using a shallow tip-proof water bowl.
Some hedgehogs can drink from bottles or automatic drinkers. When testing a water bottle ensure you provide a water bowl as an alternative.
Ensure that you clean the water bowl or bottle on a regular basis.
Housing and environment
Providing a good enclosure and optimal environment makes it easy to take care of hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals that are very active and spend a lot of time running, climbing and digging. As such they require a huge space to be able to express this normal behaviour.
Hedgehog enclosure or cage
A good hedgehog enclosure is one that is comfortable, secure and large enough. You can use any rabbit or guinea pig cage or a terrarium for your hedgehog.
Hedgehogs have very small feet that can easily get trapped within small spaces. Therefore, select an enclosure with a solid bottom. Cages with wire mesh on the bottom are not recommended.
Additionally, a large cage is more suitable as it has better ventilation and provides the hedgehog with enough room to explore. Hedgehogs require at-least 2 sq feet of space. We recommend a minimum size of about 6 sq feet.
Lastly, the enclosure should have smooth sides. Hedgehogs can easily climb and escape from their cages. Therefore ensure that your cage is secure and escape proof.
Since hedgehogs are active animals they require plenty of exercise.
Provide your hedgehog with an enclosed smooth sided wheel to run in. Running helps to prevent your hedgehog from becoming obese and keeps them busy. A wheel ensures that your hedgehog is both physically and mentally healthy.
For more mental stimulation, provide your hedgehog with ramps, tunnels and ledges to climb on and through. You can use PVC tubing. Additionally you can use toys such as balls, chew toys, and bells meant for cats or birds to keep them busy.
Lastly, provide your hedgehog with a sleeping/hiding area. You can use small huts, plastic igloo for rodents, upside-down box with a cut door, or hides. You can easily buy hides or rodent igloos from pet stores. Make sure the hiding area is big enough to fit your hedgehog.
You can use a variety of beddings options to line the hedgehog enclosure.
Paper-based beddings such as recycled paper towels make good bedding as they are gentle on hedgehog’s feet. You should however change this beddings on a regular basis.
You can also use wood shavings as bedding for hedgehogs. Kiln dried pine and aspen make good beddings for hedgehogs. Avoid cedar bedding as they contain chemicals that are potentially toxic to pets. Be careful where you source your wood shavings as they may contain a lot of dust that can cause respiratory problems to your hedgehogs.
Fleece or clothe bedding is another good bedding that you can use for hedgehogs. These make an excellent bedding as they are reusable. Clean and change your fleece and towel beddings on a regular basis
DO NOT use clay or clumping cat litter as bedding for hedgehogs. They can cause digestive blockage if ingested.
Hedgehogs do well in temperatures of between 70 and 80 degrees.
To maintain optimal temperatures place the enclosure out of direct sunlight and away from cold. You can place the cage in a dark corner of the house that is draft free.
Additionally, you can provide your hedgehog with small warm area where they can easily go to warm themselves and leave when they feel too hot. You can purchase warming pads from the reptile section in pet stores.
Handling, cleaning and grooming
Hedgehogs have prickly spines and will roll into a ball when handled.
Tame hedgehogs however can allow their owners to handle them for a bit if trained to be handled. To have a hedgehog that enjoys being held you need to train them when young. We recommend getting hedgehogs at 6 weeks old so you can be able to train them to be handled.
Handling is important as it allows you to be able to clean hedgehog’s feet and trim their nails.
Cleaning and grooming
Hedgehogs do not require a lot of grooming. You do not need to clean your hedgehog unless he or she becomes really dirty.
However, you may need to help trim your hedgehog’s nails. Overgrown nails can lead to foot problems which may in turn lead to other health issues.
You can visit your local exotic pet veterinarian to help trim your hedgehog’s nails or do it yourself. Use regular human nail clippers if you opt to do it yourself. Be careful not to cut too close to the pink area of the toes as this may cause bleeding.
Spot clean your hedgehogs bedding daily to remove waste and damp bedding that could cause health problems. Change the bedding on a regular basis depending on the type of bedding you are using.
Clean the food and water bowl daily.
A healthy hedgehog is easy to take care of. In order to ensure you have a healthy hedgehog you need to provide them with an optimal environment. Additionally it is important to schedule regular check-ups with a local veterinarian who is familiar with hedgehogs to ensure they are healthy.
Your veterinarian will advise you on
- Routine vaccination that your hedgehog may require
- Proper flea, tick and intestinal parasite control
- Neutering so as to prevent health problems related with reproduction such as testicular tumors that can affect your hedgehog later in life
- Routine check to ensure that your hedgehog is progressing well depending on your hedgehogs breed and age
The most common health problem that affect hedgehogs is dental problems. We recommend thorough dental examination once every year to ensure your hedgehog is ok.
The other common health problem is spine loss. Spine loss may be normal if it occurs in small amounts. However if the loss is massive to the extent of forming bald patches, it indicates an underlying health problem. External parasites such as mites are the most common cause of excessive spine loss.
African pygmy hedgehogs and European hedgehogs are also commonly affected by a disease known as wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS). This condition manifests as paralysis of especially the hind limbs. To find out more about WHS and what to look out for ask your local veterinarian.
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