Hedgehogs are cute little creatures known for their prickly spines, which they have everywhere except on their face, legs and bellies. When a hedgehog feels threatened, they curl into a tight ball tuck in their heads, tail and legs, to protect vulnerable parts of their body as self-defense. The back of a hedgehog is covered in a thick layer of spikes known as quills, and they have between 3,000 to 5,000 quills covering their backs.
There are 15 different species of hedgehog, found across Europe, Asia and Africa. They can live in a variety of habitats, including deserts, forests and grasslands. The most common species of hedgehog kept as a pet is the African pygmy hedgehog.
The intelligence of a hedgehog is to that of a hamster, they may learn certain behaviors through positive reinforcement or conditioning but only at a very basic level.
Hedgehogs are known to be very communicative when it comes to their needs, and often make a low purring sound when they are happy or content.
Do hedgehogs make good pets?
It is essential to do your research before buying a hedgehog as a pet in order to be certain that their personality and needs fit with your lifestyle. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, meaning that they are awake all night and sleep all day.
In the wild, hedgehogs are solitary animals and they spend most of their time alone except during mating season. They tend to be shy and wary of people. It takes patience and a gentle hand to form a trusting bond with a pet hedgehog. Once a bond is established hedgehogs can be quite playful and occasionally cuddly.
There are a number of safety concerns to consider when it comes to owning a hedgehog as a pet. Because hedgehogs can carry salmonella they are not recommended for families with children under 5 years of age, seniors, or people with compromised immune systems.
If you handle a pet hedgehog be sure to protect yourself from salmonella poisoning by taking the following steps:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching, feeding, or caring for a hedgehog or cleaning its enclosure.
- Don’t kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, because this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth.
- Don’t allow hedgehogs to roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchens or dining tables.
- Clean and wash enclosures, toys, and supplies outside of your house when possible.
- If you get a puncture from a hedgehog quill be sure to clean your hands and the puncture area thoroughly.
Health, Diet and Husbandry
All hedgehogs should be examined annually by one of our veterinarians. Please monitor your pet and call us if you have any concerns. Some signs of concern include:
- eating less or not eating at all,
- appearing uncomfortable,
- hunched/curled all the time,
- quieter than normal or lethargic.
SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECES OF MAKING SURE YOUR HEDGEHOG IS WELL TAKEN CARE OF INCLUDE:
- Commercial food diet made particularly for hedgehogs
- Fruits and insects in small moderation
- Large enclosure with hiding places
- Housed in temperatures between 75°F and 85°F
- Supervised play time outside of their enclosure
Hedgehogs eat mainly invertebrates. Insects such as mealworms, dubia roaches, earthworms, waxworms, or crickets can be provided daily as treats in moderation.
Pet hedgehogs should eat a staple diet of commercial food made particularly for hedgehogs, OR a high quality cat food. Food should NOT be provided free choice because hedgehogs can easily become very overweight.
Hedgehogs can also be given a daily maximum of half a teaspoon of fruit such as banana, grape, apple, pear, or berries.
Calcium powder should be supplemented into the diet; cover insects with powder daily.
Foods can be hidden in the pet's bedding to promote entertainment, exercise, and natural foraging behaviors. Hedgehogs should be fed around dusk, and uneaten food should be removed in the morning to prevent consumption of spoiled food.
DO NOT FEED: any raw meat or eggs, milk, nuts, seeds, large and hard human food items.
- Hedgehogs may be wary of new foods. New foods should be introduced slowly. It may be necessary to expose them to new foods for several days (replaced daily) before they will consider eating the food.
Clean water should always be available. Both a sipper bottle and a ceramic or glass dish can be used. The dish should be sufficiently deep and heavy to prevent spillage and tipping. The dish should not be so large that the hedgehog can fall in. Once it is certain that the hedgehog is drinking well from the sipper bottle, the water dish can be removed.
Housing & Temperature
- Hedgehogs are solitary creatures, so they should be housed individually. They are very active and require as large a space as possible. At the very least, their enclosure should have a floor space that measures 2′ × 3′.
- Hedgehogs are great escape artists, so a secure lid must be provided. Plastic bottom cages with plastic or wire walls are recommended. However, the wire must be spaced narrowly enough that the hedgehog cannot entrap its head or limbs. This can be dangerous if a leg gets stuck.
- Bedding should be soft and absorbent. Wire, cedar, pine, aspen, corncob, or any dusty or scented substrate is not recommended (can increase risk of respiratory issues). Paper bedding (e.g. Care Fresh) is a great option. Any cloth left in the enclosure should have a tight enough weave that toenails are not caught. Soiled bedding should be removed every other day, and the entire bedding should be changed weekly.
- Hiding places should be provided. Cardboard boxes, wooden boxes, a flowerpot, a cloth bag, or PVC tubing is suitable. An exercise wheel can be placed in the enclosure to provide entertainment for the hedgehog. However, the wheel should be solid. The traditional rodent wheel can cause severe trauma to hedgehog feet and legs.
- Hedgehogs should be let out of their enclosures daily and supervised. Cardboard tubes and boxes, swimming tubs (hedgehogs are excellent swimmers but should always be supervised), straw, safe climbing structures, and other toys can be provided.
- Hedgehogs are sensitive to temperature changes. The ideal range is between 75°F and 85°F. However, they will tolerate temperatures between 72°F and 90°F. Hedgehogs can go into a torpor (hibernation-like state of inactivity) when temperatures are too hot or too cold.