It might look like a walking cactus, but that little thing is a Hedgehog. Hedgehogs are great for families with older children and either don’t have the space for a larger pet, or who don’t have the time that a larger pet would take up.
Hedgehogs don’t need much time at all compared to other pets. Because they are solitary most are happy to spend their day exploring their cage undisturbed by anyone else. If you do have some extra time then you have a number of different ways you can play with them if you are up late.
If you’ve ever wanted to stand out as someone with a unique pet then this one will do in most cases. Hedgehogs are not terribly popular within the US because they are not as sociable as other pets, but many families love having a low maintenance pet around to play with.
If your family is too busy for other pets, and you have time on the evenings or weekends and want a pet this one might be right for your family.
Hedgehogs are small and compact mammals. The most unique feature of these animals is that they have quills on their back. The quills look similar to what the porcupines have but the quills on the Hedgehog’s body are softer and do not spike out in defense. They can have as many as 6,000 quills on their body!
The fur on the face, tail, stomach and neck is short and soft. They have 5 toes on each foot and their ears are short and snout.
They come in a variety of colors like deep brown; pale brown; white and black; cinnamon; snowflake. Some Hedgehogs might also have deep brown or black markings on their face.
There are 17 different species of Hedgehogs but the African Pygmy Hedgehog is the most common one kept as a pet. They have white quills, but otherwise look mostly like the other types.
Hedgehogs are quiet, active and independent mammals. They don’t seem to have much interest in human interaction or with other pets. They will be perfectly happy alone in their cage tunneling around.
Hedgehogs are not aggressive and will rarely bite. If they feel scared they will usually just roll themselves up in a ball with their quills expanded. If you pick them up expect to see this happen often.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals who will sleep during the day and will be most active during the night. They can sleep for up to 18 hours a day! The best time to play with them is in the evening or early morning. If your family isn’t available in the mornings or evenings, a Hedgehog may not be the best pet for your family.
Since Hedgehogs are independent and do not like social interactions, training is largely limited to litter box training.
All Hedgehogs may not instantly start using the litter box but being persistent can help. To encourage them to use the litter box, place them inside the litter box when they wake up and after their meals. The goal is to place them inside the litter box when they are about to potty. Unless you are active during the times when they are, it will be almost impossible to potty train them.
Sometimes it may take months for the Hedgehog to start using the litter box but in some cases it can take up to a year! It will depend on your Hedgehog and how stubborn they are, but the important thing is to keep trying.
On a final note, even if you do potty train them you can still expect daily “accidents” outside of their litter box. This is especially true if you have something like an exercise wheel for them or some tubes. Expect to clean these out once a day.
Hedgehogs are not recommended for families with children under 5. The fast movements and excitement of children can scare the Hedgehogs. They may roll themselves into a ball, causing their quills to raise which could hurt or scare the children.
Hedgehogs are not the cleanest animals to start with as they will usually go to the bathroom wherever they are, even while walking. They also carry salmonella, which can make people incredibly sick if they do not wash their hands after handling them, or rub the animals against their face.
Younger children are at an increased risk of getting a serious illness from the germs these animals carry. For older children, make sure there is an adult around to supervise when they play with the pet as their spikes may hurt the children. Make sure your child does not kiss the Hedgehog and always washes their hands after playing with the pet.
Hedgehogs have prickly backs but their underneath is soft. To handle your Hedgehog scoop them from their belly. Keep one hand around their belly and the other to support their back. Avoid touching the quills while handling them and limit your touch to the fur on their body.
Stay calm and allow your Hedgehog to get used to your touch. They may roll up into a ball when you first handle them but you need to be patient. The quills look sharp but they will not hurt. Wait for the Hedgehog to calm down. After a while they may start sniffing around and let you handle them.
Some important things need to be followed while handling them. Hedgehogs are known to carry Salmonella, a bacterial disease that infects the human intestinal tracts. There have been several instances of the infection spreading through contact with a pet Hedgehog. While handling them:
Hedgehogs look small but like to stay active and need a lot of space. The cage should be big enough for the Hedgehog to move around and exercise. It should also have space to keep hiding areas, litter boxes, a running wheel and food bowls.
Hedgehogs will spend most of their time inside the cage so make sure to give them lots of toys and accessories to keep them entertained.
The cage of the Hedgehog should be at least 2 feet long and 3 feet wide. If you can get a bigger cage then that is even better. The best cage for Hedgehogs is a wire cage with a solid floor. Avoid using a cage with a wire floor as it can hurt their feet and make it difficult for them to walk properly.
Hedgehogs like to climb so you can also get a multi-level cage for them. There are many different types and styles available at local pet and online stores.
Place the cage away from air conditioners, drafts, heaters, windows or any other location where the temperature can get too hot or cold. The ideal temperature of the location in which the cage is kept should be between 75 to 80 degrees F.
Since the Hedgehogs are nocturnal, the cage should be placed in a location where they can experience both day and night.
For bedding you can use shredded paper. They are cheap and easy to replace. Avoid using wood shavings as it can be harmful to Hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs like to relax in covered spaces as it makes them feel safe. So they need to be given hiding areas inside the cage. You can use a wooden box, a hollow tube or a pet igloo. It is important that the size of the hide is large enough for the Hedgehog to stretch and relax. This space is important for them because they feel safe and secure while hiding.
Hedgehogs will enjoy playing with toys so you can give them a variety of toys. Balls, chew toys and bells are good toys for the Hedgehogs. You can also keep PVC pipe, ramps, tunnels and wooden shelves inside the cage as it will help them to stay active. Exercise wheels are also great because it lets them do a lot of exercise to keep them busy and keep them healthy.
A Hedgehog needs to spend a few hours outside the cage. Because Hedgehogs anywhere anytime toilet habits, few people will want them running around on the floors of their house. Most owners will get them a playpen to spend their time outside the cage. A playpen will ensure the Hedgehog has ample space to explore and also prevent accidents from happening in your home.
To give Hedgehogs access to clean water at all times, keep a bowl of water inside the cage. The cage should also have two food bowls – one for wet and the other for dry food. Hedgehogs like to run around the cage and may accidentally hit the bowl. A good way to prevent them from being tipped over is to attach the food and bowls to the cage.
Hedgehogs can be trained to use a litter box. You can keep a small animal litter box in one corner of the cage. Use shredded paper as litter pellets. Avoid using clay or clumping cat litter as they can be harmful to your Hedgehog as it can stick to their body.
To keep their cage clean, remove the poop and any uneaten food from the cage every day. The food and water bowls should be cleaned and replaced with fresh water every day.
Replace the bedding once every week. Check and replace any damaged toys and cage parts once every week.
Disinfect the cage and anything else inside the cage once a month. Carefully clean the walls, floor and hiding areas inside the cage.
The attention a Hedgehog needs depends on the individual pet you have. Most Hedgehogs do not like a lot of human attention. While most don’t enjoy being handled by people, there are a few that either don’t mind or seem to enjoy it. You will know after a week or two if your pet Hedgehog likes being handled.
While handling them, be careful with them, they may curl themselves up with their quills puffed out without warning. This sudden movement can cause you to drop them.
A clean cage, a well-balanced diet and lots of exercise will help to keep the Hedgehog healthy. They may still suffer from some health issues and you should take them to the vet immediately if you see any signs of illnesses or infection.
Some common health issues are listed below:
Cancer is a common health issue found in Hedgehogs. The disease generally affects Hedgehogs who are 3 years or older. Cancer mostly occurs in the mouth, stomach, intestinal tract but can also occur in any other part of the body. Symptoms can include a tumor or a simple illness like lethargy, lack of appetite or weight loss.
They are a fungus infection that can result in missing quills, hair loss and dryness or peeling of the skin. The condition can be treated with medication but owners need to be careful as it can be transmitted to humans and other pets.
Obesity is a serious health issue in pet Hedgehogs. The cause can be a lack of exercise, feeding them high-fat foods and excessive treats. Overweight Hedgehogs will have bulky legs, skin under the quills and armpits. Affected Hedgehogs may not be able to roll themselves into balls and develop weakened bones. If your Hedgehog is starting to become obese, reduce the amount of food you give to them and give them more toys to promote them exercising. You can encourage them to use the wheel inside the cage when they are awake at night.
Some Hedgehogs may get respiratory diseases like pneumonia. The symptoms include sneezing, nasal discharge and labored breathing. Respiratory diseases can even be caused if the cage is too cold or dirty. It is important to keep the temperature of the cage in the range to keep your Hedgehog healthy.
They can also have digestive infections from bacteria, the most common being Salmonella. Salmonella can be fatal as it can grow in their intestinal tracts without any symptoms. Some common signs of this disease are:
The disease is dangerous because it can be even transmitted to humans. Do not handle your pet Hedgehog if you see any of the above symptoms. Take them immediately to a vet and have them diagnosed with Salmonella so that they can be treated.
It is a neurological disease that can lead to progressive paralysis. The exact cause of this disease is not known but it is suspected to arise from a genetic disorder. Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome will first affect the Hedgehog’s muscle control. It will start from the hind legs and then progress to the rest of the body. The muscles will lose mass and strength. There is no cure available for the disease and it will generally result in death within 18 to 24 months. The only remedy is to give them supportive care to make food and water easier for them to feed.
Hedgehogs are generally clean animals and do not need a lot of grooming. Sometimes their quills or fur may get dirty and will require you to bathe them.
To bathe them you need towels and a toothbrush. You can use a sink or bowl for bathing them. Fill the bowl/sink with half-inch of water and make sure the water is not too warm. Wet your pet Hedgehog’s back with water but avoid applying water on their ears, eyes and face. Use the toothbrush to scrub their quills and use your hand to gently rub the fur on their belly and legs. A shampoo is not needed but if you want you can use a mild cat shampoo.
Once you are done bathing them, remove the Hedgehog from the bowl and place him on a towel. Use the towel to gently dry them and remove the remaining water from their body. Make sure the Hedgehog is completely dry before placing them inside the cage.
The nails of the Hedgehog need to be trimmed every week as the items in their habitat won’t do much to naturally wear down the nails. Use a pet nail clipper to trim their nails. While trimming their nails it is important to be gentle and patient as the Hedgehog can sometimes become difficult and squirm or ball up while you trim their nails. Avoid clipping the nails too far as it can cut the blood vessels in their nails. If you accidentally hurt them and bleeding occurs, use a styptic pencil or flour to cover the wound.
Check their teeth weekly for swollen gums or tartar build-up. If your pet is drooling excessively, has inflamed gums or any other signs of infection, take them to a vet. Sometimes you may find the Hedgehog licking their quills and covering them with a foamy saliva. The behavior is completely normal and is known as Self-Anointing.
Hedgehogs primarily eat insects in the wild but pet Hedgehogs can be fed commercial cat or dog food. It is important to feed them a food that contains rich sources of protein like chicken or fish.
Dry food should be the main source of food for Hedgehogs. You can give them dry Hedgehog food but if it is not available at the local pet store, you can also give them dry cat or dog food. They should occasionally be fed wet food, either canned cat or dog food will be good for them.
You can add small amounts of vegetables and fruits to their diet. They can be fed beans, apples, carrots, peas and corn. Hedgehogs may have their preferences, so you might try some things out and see what they like. Try to give them a variety of vegetables and fruits rather than limiting it to a few.
For an occasional treat you can feed them insects like crickets and mealworms, boiled eggs or commercial cat treats. Treats should consist of a very small portion of their diet.
Ideally you should feed them at night because that is the time they are most active.
1 to 2 tablespoons of dry and wet food should be fed to them daily. Fruits, vegetables and treats should not be more than one tablespoon. If you see your Hedgehog gaining weight, their diet should be reduced.
Just like Ferrets, Hedgehogs can be kept as pets in most states of the United States except for a few. States that have banned Hedgehogs include California, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Georgia and the Five Boroughs of New York City. States like New Jersey and Wisconsin require a special permit for owners to keep Hedgehogs as pets. The reasons for banning them include concerns about the Hedgehogs being carriers of diseases like Salmonella, potential threat to local wildlife and establishing their own populations. Check with your local municipality before getting a Hedgehog as a pet.
Hedgehogs are independent and should always be housed individually. Keeping same-sex Hedgehogs will result in frequent fighting and keeping a male and female will result in many baby Hedgehogs. If you want to keep more than one Hedgehog, it is best to have a separate cage for each.