Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hedgehog Care

After ages of research, I finally was able to create a whole information post about pet hedgehogs. Enjoy, everyone!

The pet or domesticated hedgehog, commonly referred to as the African Pygmy Hedgehog is an exceptional animals that is easy to care for and friendly if properly socialized. Not a wild species, the pet hedgehog is a hybrid of  two African species (Atelerix algirus) and (A. albiventris). Hedgehogs are classified as insectivorous and in the wild spend most of their time searching for food. In captivity, they prove to be curious animals who spend an abundance of time exploring their environment.


House your hedgehog in a large glass or plastic terrarium, or a tub type guinea pig cage. Choose a cage with smooth walls that are high enough to prevent the animal from climbing out. Wire bottomed cages should be avoided as they allow their feet and legs to slip through spaces between wires, causing injury. The cage must have ample floor space to encourage movement and prevent obesity in your little friend. Keep the cage in a warm room. A good range of temperature for a hedgehog is 72-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a heater, such as a stick on “under tank heater” available in the reptile department of most pet shops, on the cage in cool climates and cold months.  Cleaning the enclosure on a weekly basis helps control unwanted odors, making it a good pet to house indoors.

Options for Housing Your Hedgehog:

There is some debate on ideal housing options for pet hedgehogs, but for any hedgehog cage, the most important considerations are size, safety, ventilation, and ease of cleaning. There are pros and cons for different types of cages, and it is important to find a cage that meets the unique requirements of hedgehogs as well as fitting your budget and preferences.

Hedgehogs in the wild usually cover a lot of ground in their search for food. Pet hedgehogs need lots of room to move about too. Two square feet (e.g. 1 foot by 2 feet) is sometime quoted as the minimum floor space for a hedgehog, but this should be considered an absolute bare minimum, and only used if you have a wheel and give your hedgehog ample time to roam around outside the cage for exercise. It would be much better to aim for a minimum of about four square feet (e.g. 2 feet by 2 feet).

A hedgehog cage needs to have a solid floor, so avoid any cages with wire or wire mesh flooring (hedgehogs may catch and injure their legs or feet on wire floors). Cages should not have any sharp edges or spaces in which a hedgehog could get his or her head stuck. The cage must also be secure to prevent escapes.

Good ventilation is necessary to keep humidity levels down and to prevent ammonia (from urine) and odor from building up in the cage. Wire cages offer the best ventilation.

Ease of Cleaning 
This one is fairly self-explanaorty, but do not underestimate its importance. Your hedgehog's cage will need frequent cleaning, and a large, heavy or awkward cage will make this chore very unpleasant.

Wire Cages 
Many owners use wire cages since they are quite readily available and these have the the advantage of good ventilation. In addition, they are usually pretty lightweight and easy to clean. However, few are made specifically for hedgehogs so you need to be very particular when choosing a cage. Avoid any cages with wire flooring (or if absolutely necessary, cover the wire with wood, plastic, or a Vellux blanket cut to fit securely). Additionally, cages large enough for hedgehogs might have wire spacing that is too large for safely housing hedgehogs (look for ferret or rabbit cages with spacing of 1 inch or less). There are a couple of manufacturers producing wire cages particularly for hedgehogs: Martin's Cages (choose from the larger ones - the Hedgehog Home is very small) and Hedgehogs by Vicki. Some people recommend multilevel ferret cages, but the height of these cages and the platforms make it dangerous, as falls in these cages are common.

Aquariums are okay, but you need a large aquarium (i.e. 30 gallon is a good minimum) and a wire mesh top. The major disadvantages are the lack of ventilation, and aquariums are heavy and awkward to clean.

Plastic Containers 
Many owners have gotten quite creative with creating cages out of plastic storage bins. With some slight modifications, you can make a large cage for little money out of clear plastic storage containers (solid color containers would be quite dark for a hedgehog). The biggest downside is again ventilation. Holes can be made in the sides and lid with a soldering iron or drill, but it is difficult to provide enough holes to provide great ventilation. If you get a deep enough container and don't have anything (including water bottles) around the walls that the hedgehog can use for climbing, you may be able to get away with having no lid. Alternatively, you can fashion a lid out of hardware wire mesh or screen material, either on its own, or attached to a large opening cut in the lid of the storage container. The Michigan Hedgehog Owners Group site has an ingenious idea for a two-container home with instructions. Hedgehog Valley suggests cutting panels in the sides of the container and fixing wire mesh or plastic canvas over the openings to aid ventilation in this type of home. With creativity, these homes can work quite well.

Other Options 
I have seen other ideas for cages, such as wading pools (solid plastic with high sides) and home-made wooden cages. As long as a cage is large enough, escape proof and safe, ventilated and easy to clean, then your imagination is the limit.


Cage bedding should be nontoxic, absorbent, and relatively dust free. Avoid cedar or pine shavings as they cause respiratory problems in hedgehogs. Shredded paper works well and is cost efficient. Our hospital recommends Carefresh, a paper bedding that is soft, absorbent, and easy to clean. Hedgehogs need a shelter, or a hide box in their cage. Offering a PVC pipe, plastic pot on its side, a tissue or shoe box, or another form of shelter, will give your hedgehog a place of security and a place to sleep.

Hedgehogs require exercise to satisfy their desire to forage and to avoid obesity. This is easily achieved due to their curious and inquisitive nature. Hedgehogs love to push, chew, and manipulate toys, such as hard plastic balls, and paper towel rolls. Your hedgehog will need an exercise wheel to run on ( THIS IS A MUST HAVE ). Hedgehogs need wheels with solid floors, and solid pet-store bought wheels are EXPENSIVE since they need wheels large enough to run on. Wheels cut from the bottom of a plastic bucket and sanded to avoid any sharp edges are your best choice, and they are less expensive and easy to create. Try to avoid mesh or wire wheels, or any other type of wheel that your hedgehog might get their feet or toenails stuck in, which may cause serious injuries. Your pet will also need a food dish, a water bottle or bowl, they will also need some type of hut to sleep in. Hedgehogs are shy but inquisitive creatures and like checking out new things, so alternate things in their cage like rocks to climb on, pieces of drift wood to climb under and push around or even tunnels made of PVC pipe to run through or hide in. These are all good choices to help keep your hedgehog active, happy and healthy.


Hide Outs

  • Hedgehogs sleep in burrows or other dark places in the wild.  We feel it is beneficial for the hedgehog’s well being to have a warm and comfortable place to sleep.
  • Hideouts should have an entrance and an exit (tunnel) or it should be large enough for the hedgie to turn around.  Hedgehogs usually turn around rather than back out of a tight spot.

Ava Carnes

Sleeping bags

  • Fleece sleeping bags are warm and snuggly and most hedgehogs enjoy them.
  • Our sleeping bags have a stiffener in top so the bag remains slightly open which allows the hedgehogs’ easy access inside.

  • It is a good idea to have multiple bags because more than likely the hedgie bag will get dirty and need to be washed.  Dirty bags may become breeding grounds for bacteria.
  • Some hedgehogs might prefer to sleep under or on the sleeping bags instead of inside but as long as the hedgehog is happy the bag is a useful accessory.
  • Remember to always check for loose threads or damaged fabric because a loose thread could easily wrap around a leg and cut off circulation.

Other Burrowing Options

  • Fabric squares will also work for burrowing. Make sure that there are no frayed edges and that the hedgehog cannot get a foot tangled in the material. For example, terrycloth would be a BAD choice.
  • Polar fleece is relatively cheap and can be cut into big squares.
  • Be sure to remove soiled fabric when necessary.


  • Igloos made from hard plastic are another great cage addition.  The cave like structure allows the hedgehog to feel safe and hidden.
  • Plastic igloos are easy to clean and sanitize. 
  • It might be a little tricky getting your hedgehog out of an enclosed igloo so you might want to put the sleeping bag inside the igloo for your hedgehog.  You can pull out the sleeping bag and then take your hedgehog out of the bag. 
  • If your enclosure does not have a roof, watch your placement of the igloo in the cage. Some hedgehogs have been known to use the roof as a launch pad out of the cage.

Sleeping Bags in Igloos

  • Some hedgehogs will drag their sleeping bags into their igloos for an extra cozy sleeping spot.   
  • The sleeping bag inside the igloo will provide burrowing opportunities for your hedgie or it will make a soft, warm bed if your hedgehog chooses to sleep on top of the bag.

Shoes Boxes or Other Cardboard

  • One of the simplest hedgie hideouts is an old shoebox with a door cut in one end.
  • Some hedgehogs love the smell of leather so nothing could be more wonderful for these hedgies than a house that smells like new shoes!
  • A disadvantage to these boxes is that they are not easily cleaned and their flat top makes a good place to poop and the flat box top can give your hedgie just enough of a boost to make an escape.
  • Be prepared to dispose of soiled cardboard.

PVC Pipes

    • Large diameter PVC pipes can be purchased at most hardware stores.
    • You should thoroughly wash each piece and make shore there are no sharp edges on the pipe.
    • They can be easily cleaned and you can connect several pieces to make a lengthy tunnel.
    • The biggest disadvantage of PVC pipes is that it is difficult to get your hedgehog out of the without “dumping” them.  Some hedgehogs may not be too upset about dumping but I know I certainly wouldn’t appreciate being dumped out of my bed! 
  • Some hedgehogs may come out when they hear your voice (usually as conditioned response connected with treats) but most will NOT come when called. 
  • Most PVC pipes are not large enough to allow your hand to slip inside to lift the hedgehog out.

Wood boxes or Huts

  • There are several very cute wooden huts and boxes available for pets.
  • Hedgehogs will not chew on the wood but it is likely they will poop on it at some point.
  • Wood products are not easy to clean and sanitize and should therefore be considered disposable
  • Contaminated wood can harbor bacteria that can make your hedgehog sick.
  • Other accessories include clay flowerpots, one gallon ice cream or paint buckets, and other objects to hide in. 

Critter Exercise Balls

  • Hedgehogs love to explore their environment.  Unfortunately they have a propensity for finding places where they are not supposed to go including under furniture and appliances.
  • A large 12” Critter ball is a relatively safe way for hedgehogs to explore their surroundings.  Most owners prefer the clear balls rather than the colored balls.  It is hard to say what the hedgie prefers!
  • The best way to introduce a hedgehog to the ball is to prop it in its cage so he/she can go into and out of it at will.   Once your hedgehog is comfortable with a stationary ball a rolling ball won’t be quite so scary.
  • One MUST be cautious of stairs and other pets to ensure the hedgehog’s safety.
  • Superpet makes a Hamtrac that will accommodate the large size balls.  This creates an exceptionally safe area to roll.


  • Hedgehogs and are like small children in that they can turn ordinary household items into a favorite toy.
  • One must carefully inspect every cage addition or play item for small detachable parts and sharp edges the same as you would for a young child.
  • Like children, hedgehogs seem to prefer bright colors but your hedgehog may have no color preference at all. 
  • Many hedgehogs like to push, pull, drag, and climb on a variety of different objects.


  • Toilet paper tubes

    • A toilet paper tubes is one of the cheapest and most popular hedgehog toys. 
    • Occasionally a hedgehog will ram its head so far down the tube that its head will get stuck. 
    • To prevent this problem you can cut the tube length ways before giving it to your hedgie.  Some owners cut the tube in half width ways as well.
    • The cut will prevent breathing problems and it will come off more easily for your hedgehog.
    • My friend had one hedgehog that loved to chase plastic cat balls around with the tube on its head.  He would corral the ball and work it into its food dish.  After the task was accomplished he would lie down and go to sleep!

    Small Plastic Balls

    • Many hedgehogs love to play with ping pong balls, lattice bird or cat balls, or small balls with bells inside. 
    • Make sure the balls are not sturdy and not easily chewed or damaged.
    • Another version of the plastic ball is a ferret treat ball.  As the hedgie pushes around the ball a treat will come out.

    Stuffed Animals

    • Some hedgehogs are known to have taken a special liking to stuffed animal friends.
    • We recommend human, cat or dog stuffed animals the same size as your hedgehog or smaller.
    • Your hedgehog may simply ignore the stuffed animal or you may see your hedgehog snuggling with it in its hedgehog hideout.
    • Be sure to wash or replace soiled stuffed animals.

    Cars and Trucks

    • Your hedgehog might enjoy pushing a small plastic car or truck around its cage.
    • Make sure the vehicle has no detachable parts or sharp edges that could harm or injure your hedgie.

    Leather and Rawhide

    • Hedgehogs often have an affinity for old shoes and other leather.
    • Slip-on-shoes are a great place for hedgies to explore!  Be careful of gifts they might leave behind the next time you go to put on your shoe.
    • Leather or rawhide puppy chew toys may be a fun treat for your pet.


Hedgehogs are classified as insectivorous (insect eaters) but appear to be very opportunistic eaters in the wild eating a wide variety of insects, mollusks (worms and snails) small animals and vegetation, fruits. and greens.  Using this information, commercial hedgehog diets have been created to adjust to their dietary needs in captivity. These diets may contain chitin, a material found in the exoskeleton of insects, that some feel is required in the hedgehog diet. If a commercial hedgehog diet is unavailable, it can be substituted with a high quality, high protein/low fat cat food. This can be offered with small amounts of mixed fruits and vegetables. As a treat, hedgehogs will go “hog wild” for live insects, like crickets, mealworms, or earthworms.If your hedgehog becomes overweight, limit the quantity of food and treats given, and increase exercise.

The staple of your hedgehog’s diet should be a quality commercial hedgehog food. It should contain at least 30 percent protein and no more than 15 percent fat. If you are unable to purchase hedgehog food, feed your pet a diet of quality dry cat food that is labeled as low fat. Avoid foods that show processed corn high on the list of ingredients.

Feed your small pet only 4 tablespoons of hedgehog food or dry cat food per day. Any more than this may cause your hedgehog to become obese. If it starts becoming overweight on 4 tablespoons, cut the amount down to 3 tablespoons per day.

Vitamin supplements designed for hedgehogs can be purchased at some pet supply stores and over the Internet, but if your hedgehog is eating a balanced diet, it shouldn’t need supplementation with vitamins. If you want to give your hedgehog vitamins, talk to you veterinarian first.

Hedgehogs need fresh foods in their diet, and these should come in the form of treats. Treats should consist of cooked, unseasoned chicken, tuna, liver and salmon; brewer’s yeast; cooked lentils, cabbage and cauliflower; and cooked or raw peas and corn. Fresh green vegetables are also necessary for your hedgehog to stay healthy. Offer greens such as romaine lettuce, arugula, watercress, dandelions or collards. You can try offering your hedgehog occasional fruit as well, including berries, pears or apples.

Do not give your hedgehog these fresh foods every day. Instead, offer a few pieces each time you give your small pet treats, which should be about four times a week. Overfeeding of treats is a leading cause of obesity in hedgehogs.

Live insects make good treats for hedgehogs, too. You can buy crickets or mealworms to give to your small pet. Give only one insect per week. If you buy crickets for your hedgehog, keep them in a ventilated container with a piece of moist fruit so the crickets can feed and get water before you give them to your hedgehog. 

Socilization and Bonding Tips

The quills on the hedgehog are stiff and pokey to the touch. The quills provide protection when the animal rolls up in a tight ball. When attempting to handle your pet, approach it slowly and quietly. Avoid the quills by lifting the animal from the underneath, where the fur is soft, and hold your pet cupped in both holds. Handle your pet every day for a few minutes and it will become socialized and  easier to handle, therefore, you will not need to worry about getting your hedgehog's quills to always lay flat in order to scoop him up.

Steps for a less grumpy hedgehog: 

1. Try placing an old t-shirt which you have worn recently or kept under your pillow for a few nights in your hedgehog's cage. This will help your hedgehog get to know your scent and be less afraid of you.

2. Hold your hedgehog every night for at least 30 minutes. You can do this while reading a book, watching TV, even while sitting on the computer.

3. Offer your hedgehog a treat when you make progress. For instance, if your hedgehog has just uncurled itself while on your lap, offer him a mealworm or other treat as a reward. Positive reinforcement is a wonderful way to get a hedgehog to be more friendly.

Common problems in your hedgie's health


Mites are an external parasite that feed off your hedgehog and burrow in the skin at the base of the spines. Mites can be extremely debilitating on your hedge if they go untreated. You will probably notice loss of quills, or dry patches of skin. Ask your vet to perform a skin scraping to determine if there are any signs of mites on your hedgehog.

Respiratory Infection

Respiratory infections are common and often associated with a too cold environment or stress. Discharge will be seen on the face or wrists of the front legs and respiration may sound wheezy or crackly.  Respiratory infections in hedgehogs are life threatening and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.  Treatment consists of antibiotics and supportive care and correcting the underlying environmental cause.


There are several causes of diarrhea in hedgehogs ranging from dietary indiscretion to bacterial, viral and parasitic infections.  Dehydration associated with diarrhea is a major concern with these small patients.  Soft stool that lasts more than a day or diarrhea associated with other signs that your hedgehog is sick (not eating, inactivity or other change in behavior) should be brought to your veterinarian immediately.


Unlike wild hedgehogs from cooler climates, the pet hedgehog should not hibernate.  Cold temperatures will lead to hibernation behavior that all too often ends with pneumonia or other disease problems.

Tell if Your Hedgehog is Sick

Healthy hedgehogs have: 

  • Bright, alert expressions
  • Plenty of energy
  • Firm stools
  • Good appetite 

Signs a hedgehog is sick include:

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Reluctance to move
  • Dull expression
  • Weight loss
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Loose stools
  • Panting or labored breathing
  • Paralysis 

What To Do If Your Hedgehog Is Sick
If you suspect your hedgehog is under the weather, contact a veterinarian who specializes in exotics right away. (Veterinarians who treat ferrets usually treat hedgehogs as well.) It's a good idea to find an exotic vet in your area before you even purchase your hedgehog, saving you time if your hedgehog is really in trouble.

While you are waiting to take your hedgehog to the vet, reduce its stress by leaving it alone as much as you can. If your small pet lives with another hedgehog, remove the cage mate right away. Provide your ill hedgehog with a dark, quiet environment with a room temperature of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit to keep it comfortable until it’s time to see the vet.

If your hedgehog is sick, do not bathe it unless your veterinarian instructs you to do so. Don’t expose your hedgehog to drafts or loud noises. Avoid handling it if possible.


1. Hedgehogs are fastidious groomers and regularly “anoint” their quills with saliva.

2. Hedgehogs groom themselves, but sometimes need baths if they develop a strong odor or become dirty.

3. Hedgehogs shouldn’t be bathed more than a couple of times a year.

4. Hedgehogs should be fed a hard commercial food to help keep their teeth and gums healthy.

Bathe your hedgehog in lukewarm water in a small sink using baby shampoo for humans and a toothbrush. Fill the sink with a few inches of water and test to make sure it’s not too hot or cold. Pour some of the water over your hedgehog using a cup, and try not to get water in its eyes or ears. Lather the shampoo by rubbing your hands together and then spread the lather all over your hedgehog except on its face. Scrub in between its quills with the toothbrush. Rinse the hedgehog thoroughly with clean water using the cup until all the soap is gone. Dry the hedgehog off with a towel and keep it out of drafts until it’s dry.

Nail Trims
Your hedgehog’s nails also needing trimming about once a month because they grow continuously. Use a pair of nail clippers designed for cats or human babies. Hold your hedgehog securely on your lap with its feet facing forward. If it struggles, you may need someone to hold it for you while you do the cutting. You or your helper may want to wear gloves or wrap your hedgehog in a towel to avoid getting stuck with quills.

Put one of your hedgehog’s paws in between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze gently to expose the nails. You may need a bright light or flashlight to shine under the nail so you can easily see the pink part. Trim off just the tip of the nail, being careful not to cut into the quick (the pink vein that runs through the thickest part of the nail). If you cut into the quick by accident, the nail will bleed. Stop the bleeding by applying a little styptic powder or cornstarch.

If you are worried about trimming your hedgehog’s nails, ask your veterinarian to do it for you.

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