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Hedgehogs as Pets – An Introductory Guide

Hedgehogs have become popular pets. This trend started in the USA, then some European countries – such as Spain – followed and, some time later, they have become popular in Latin America as well. If you’re thinking of having one at home, this article will provide you basic information on their special care, so that you can enjoy their company for a long time. Your hedgehog will appreciate it!

What is a hedgehog?

He is a mammal belonging to the Erinceinae familyHedgehogs and porcupines are frequently confused, as both of them have quills. However, they differ in size and quantity. Another difference is that porcupines can dart their quills when in need to defend themselves and the hedgehog can not.

There are 16 species of hedgehogs in 5 genera, and they are natives of Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand. The most common species that have become pets are the African Pygmy Hedgehog and the Egyptian Hedgehog, also called Big-Eared Hedgehog.

                                            African Pygmy Hedgehog

Hedgehogs as pets - African Pigmy HedgehogImage“SumandaMaritz”


                                                 Egyptian Hedgehog

Egiptian Hedgehog Image / سبأ


Physical appearance

They are usually up to 20 cm long (7.8 inches). Their cranial cavity is small, they have sharp teeth and their front legs are shorter than their hind ones.

Their bodies are covered with quills, which help them defend themselves from their predators.

Their vision is poor, but they have an excellent sense of hearing and smell.

Character

He is a solitary, quiet and not very noisy animal. He likes to get human attention, but in moderate amounts. When he is scared, he will defend himself by snorting, snoring, and curling into a ball.

Hedgehog curling into a ball

hedgehog curling into a ballImageIan Beck


Are hedgehogs good pets for children?

No they are not, as they are nocturnal animals who prefer to sleep during the day. In addition, their sharp quills can be dangerous, especially for kids under seven.

Accessories

 Cage

big hedgehog cage Image / Roxie Prince


His cage must be ventilated and spacious, not smaller than 100 x 60 cm (39.37 x 23 inches), so that he can feel comfortable and calm. The floor must be smooth (it must never have wires) so that his legs do not get harmed.

The base of the cage should be covered with an easy-to-clean and non-toxic material. The tablecloth rubber material  is a good choice, but when you buy it, do ask for the non-slip one. Polar fleece is also commonly used, but it is not a good option, as mite formation is very likely. Even if the hedgehog is trained to use the litter tray, his legs can dirty it, causing bad odors. In summer, this material produces a lot of heat. Do not use newspaper because he can get intoxicated when licking the ink.

He needs a shelter to sleep and feel safe, a trough for food and another one for water, a wheel, and a litter tray. You can use unscented hay for his shelter.

Temperature

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT to keep his environment at a constant temperature, which should oscillate between 24 °C  and 26 ° C ( 75° F and 78°F). In winter, a thermostat and heat sources will help to control it. If  his body temperature drops too low, he will try to hibernate, and not being ready to do so,  he can die.

 

 

Material for the litter tray

– Adequate: recycled pressed paper: it eliminates bad odors, it is very absorbent and does not contain toxic substances.

– Inadequate: pine tree and cedar tree shavings, as they can irritate his respiratory tract and skin. Cat litter is not recommended either, as the dust it releases can also cause respiratory problems.

Food trough 

The best option is the one that goes attached to the cage, so that they cannot knock it over.

Water trough

A bowl: not a very tall one, so that he can drink comfortably.

Wheel

The wheel must be solid and wide so that his spine stays in a straight position (avoiding bad postures). He enjoys this activity a lot, especially at night, and that is why it is good to place the cage away from the bedrooms, so that he does not disturb people during their sleep. Bar wheels, on the other hand, are dangerous because his legs can get trapped in between the bars, getting seriously injured:

bars wheelImage / Chris Spencer


Corner litter tray

That is where they will stool. You can put it in a corner of the cage.

Toys

They love walking and hiding in tunnels, this will keep them busy and happy. They also love hiding inside pillow cases, blankets and pillows (it is important that you check these places before you sit down). 

On the other hand, hedgehogs do not enjoy exercising with balls, as body temperature and humidity will rise quickly, making them very anxious:

exercise ballImage / Paul Wells


Carry cage

It is the safest way to take them anywhere.

Basic care

Bath time

hedgehogs as pets - bath timeImage / Ian Beck


Choose a comfortable place with  lukewarm water to bathe them.
Fill this place with little water, so that the can walk (he will feel calm that way).
Gently wash his legs, nails, quills, and belly with a toothbrush for children and neuter shampoo.
Rinse him completely before taking him out of the water and drying him with a towel.
Wash his legs daily or clean them with baby wipes to prevent stool or urine accumulation in his nails.
He usually defecates during bath time.

It is advisable to bathe his once a month, but not before he is two months old. 

Nails trimming

When in captivity, his nails do not wear out in a natural way. You can use a special cat nail clipper, but you need to be very careful not to hurt him by cutting a vein. If you don’t know how to do it, better to go and see a vet  for instructions.

Exercising

hedgehog walking through a tunnelImage / Roxie Prince


 Daily exercise is important to prevent health problems related to obesity, and the wheel is one of the best ways for this.

 Pick a room and surround it with a fence, so that he can explore safely out of the cage. 

Diet

It should be rich in proteins and  low in fat. Super Premium and holistic dry food for cats have these characteristics, though it is important to supplement it with vegetables, fruits and living insects like mealworms, wax worms and crickets (you can buy those in pet stores). And of course, water must be available twenty-four hours a day.

Diseases

Several factors can affect hedgehogs’ health. For example, obesity, mites, skin diseases, fungal infections and respiratory diseases from exposure to drafts and low temperatures. If you observe excessive scratching, open wounds or foot peeling, get an appointment with the vet.

Choosing a vet

Before taking your hedgehog home, choose a vet who is expert in hedgehogs.

Cleaning

On a weekly basis

With water and neuter soap:

– Cage.
– Toys.

On a daily basis

 Remove the stools inside and outside the litter tray.
 Change food and water.
Clean the wheel.

Interaction

It is essential to interact with your pet daily to earn his trust and socialize properly.

Points to remember

 If he is allergic to soap, keep bathing him only with water.
Avoid drafts in the cage and place him in a semi dark place, so that he can sleep during the day.
Before taking a hedgehog home, check if the laws in your country allow having him as a pet.

 

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