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Owning a pet hedgehog | A Complete Hedgehog Care Guide with feeding, handling and housing info

If you are here, then you are considering a hedgehog as a pet and you are in the right place to learn vital information to make the right decision. Hedgehogs are generally easy to care for but still have many considerations. This was written from the perspective of a professional hedgehog caretaker and actual hedgehog experience, be careful of pet articles written by professional writers who only compile information from the web and may have an agenda or bias underlying the article.



Hedgehog Pet care guide Ashley Duncan JEAR

As a hedgehog caretaker since 1997 I have personally cared for hundreds of different hedgehogs as well as breeding and selling them since 2008. My name is Ashley Duncan I am the owner and founder of JEAR and hedgehogs have been a big part of my life since I was a teenager. I thoroughly enjoy sharing them with people because of their surprisingly sweet nature.









Owning a pet hedgehog Care guide



What it's like living with a pet hedgehog

The care of pet hedgehogs is basic and mainly involves feeding and watering each night, changing the bedding, and handling a few nights a week. Considerations for temperature and proper food are important. They each have their own personality but in general, hedgehogs are introverts who prefer to sleep or cuddle during the sunlight hours and will be active and more interactive at night. Hedgehogs are great and fun small pets. JEAR recommends hedgehogs as pets for kids, teachers, families, and as ambassador animals for programs.


How long do hedgehogs live

Pet Hedgehogs Lifespan African Pygmy Hedgehogs can live between 4-8 years. At JEAR we normally see our hedgies live around 6-8 years.



How big are hedgehogs?

Pet Hedgehog Size Healthy hedgehogs are normally no more than 1 pound, about the size of a softball or grapefruit, and small guinea pig size-ish.



What do hedgehogs eat?

Pet Hedgehog Diet- Our recommended hedgehog diet consists of our home-blended hedgehog food, Pokey Crunch. It is a hard kibble with added vitamins, dried fruit, an insectivore diet, coconut oil, and mealworms. It is a complete diet and there is no need for supplements. They are fed 2 tablespoons of Pokey Crunch once every evening.


Hedgehogs are omnivores. A wild hedgie diet consists of insects, fruits, veggies, meats, and eggs. They are lactose intolerant, so avoid dairy treats.


It’s important to switch or add foods slowly. Hedgies can easily get an upset tummy. Wait at least one week in between new foods to identify if there is an issue with a specific one.


Good treats for Hedgehogs
  1. Boiled Chicken

  2. Boiled or scrambled egg

  3. Live or dead Insects


Bad Treats for Hedgehogs
  1. Any fruit

  2. Avocado

  3. Onions, garlic, or chives

  4. Human junk food

  5. Chocolate

  6. Peanuts or legumes

  7. Pits and seeds




How can I handle my pet hedgehog?

Hedgehogs are not really cuddly creatures, and not just because they are full of spines. The spines, however, are more like plastic forks, and won't penetrate your skin, so don't be afraid when handling your hedgie! They do not like to be handled, restrained, or toted around for extended periods of time, so try to give them frequent breaks. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and are awake at night. If you go to get your hedgehog out during the day you will most likely encounter some resistance and even a grumpy hedgehog. During the day, easy handling and even allowing your baby to sleep in a pouch on your lap is best. No activities or extended playtime.



At night, typically when all the lights go off hedgehogs come alive! This is the time they would prefer to be handled and played with. This is also the time for them to go into their playpens. Actually holding and touching a hedgehog can be challenging at first but will quickly become an easy task to achieve. Yes, they have sharp spines, however, they are easy to handle and even novice owners will be playing and holding their babies in no time.



Using both hands you can scoop your baby up like water. You can even scoop up a bit of bedding to protect your hands a bit more if you are nervous about getting pricked. Keep calm and give your hedgie time to relax and smell you.







Don't try to pet your hedgehog in its cage. Scoop them up and get them relaxed first.

Don't try to pet your hedgehog until they have relaxed.

Don't grab your hedgehog from above.



You will find that your hedgehog will be more receptive to handling at different times of the day. Most hedgehogs prefer to be handled in the evening when they are waking up for their day. If you are handling your baby during the day, remember it's the middle of the night for them and they may be grumpy. The best thing to do for daytime bonding is to simply let your hedgie sleep on you. Either in a pouch or in your clothing somewhere secure.





What supplies do you need for a hedgehog?

Hedgehog Supplies

-Enclosure with solid floor and at least 4 square feet with large front opening or top opening. This will help when taking your hedgie out the correct way. The bigger the better.

A single-level cage is ideal since hedgehogs are terrestrial and don’t use vertical space. Ventilation is also crucial, you need to prevent drafts and retain heat. Therefore, we recommend storage bin cages. The solid sides help keep heat in and cool drafts out.


-Cage cleaner – Dish soap, vinegar


-Bedding – Shavings/pellets, Paper, Liners - never cedar

Liners need to be changed every few days. Other beddings will need to be dumped and replaced once a week. Avoid using any scented soaps or cleaners since hedgies have very sensitive noses.


-Wheel (with a smooth running surface) or some kind of exercise option

While running on their wheel it is inevitable that they will relieve themselves and make a mess. It’s important to keep your hedgies wheel clean to avoid “poop boots” or a coating of poop around your hedgies feet. You should spot-clean the wheel every day if possible. It’s recommended to use a vinegar solution for cleaning, as it works better than water alone.


-Hiding place – igloos, reptile hides, sleep sacks, cardboard box, PVC pipe


-Small, heavy food dish


-Water bottle


-Heat source , heat pad or heated room


-Food




Enrichment for Hedgehogs

Exercise does not necessarily mean only running on a wheel. Hedgehogs also need activities and enrichment. This is done by foraging, inspecting surroundings, making new burrows, and encountering new smells and objects.


  • Supervised playtime outdoors in a playpen where they cannot escape. Make sure your yard was not treated with any chemicals or pesticides.

  • Hedgehog wheel is another great way to give them exercise. Make sure the wheel is wide enough for your hedgehog to fit into and always remain clean.

  • Guinea Pig sized large hamster ball for them to explore inside or outside with supervision.

  • Hiding treats in their cage or play area encourages foraging and is a great physical and mental exercise.

  • Get Creative! Hedgehogs can be trained to go through tunnels and mazes made at home.




Tip: Set up their play area differently every time they are put in it. Change the placement of hides, scatter food, and insects in different areas/corners, and move the actual play area from time to time.



Out-of-Enclosure playtime


When you take your hedgehog out of its cage for some play and exercise time, you will want to place them in a kiddie pool or some kind of playpen. We don't recommend allowing your hedgehog to free roam in your house to avoid any household hazards.



Can I take my hedgie outside?

Yes! They love outside time. However, consider this before you do:

1. Are there insecticides or pesticides in your yard?

2. Can any other animal potentially hurt your hedgie? Stray dogs, hawks, etc.

3. Is it between 73 and 80 degrees outside?

4. You will want to wait until dusk or evening time to avoid direct sunlight

5. Will your hedgie find and eat any harmful bugs?

6. Hedgies are experts at disappearing the moment you turn your back, keep an eye on them!




Bonding with your hedgehog

Bonding: Bonding is a big part of owning a hedgehog. You will want to form a routine of handling your baby every day. Getting your hedgie used to your scent is the most important part of bonding. You can accomplish this by letting your hedgie sleep with an article of clothing you already wore or letting them nap inside your jacket or in their sleep sack while you're watching tv or using the computer. Holding, petting, and playing with your hedgie's belly, ears, and feet is a great way for your baby to get more comfortable with you. Be patient and gentle.



Quilling

Quilling is a stage where hedgies shed their quills and grow new ones. This happens several times as nursing babies, again at 8-9 weeks, and a light quilling at one year. Some are done in a week or so, but for others, it can last several months. Your hedgie will likely get grumpy and less social during this time. It’s like a child teething. This is a very uncomfortable process for the hedgie.


Other reasons hedgies may lose quills include stress, malnutrition, hormone imbalance, or when recovering from a parasite or illness. Abnormal quill loss should be evaluated by your vet.




Hedgehog Anointing
Anointing

This is the process of your hedgie chewing something into a foam and spreading the foam on its back quills. This is completely normal; they are trying to blend in with the smells surrounding them. They will usually exhibit this behavior when they are in a new place or are given new cage accessories.









How to groom your pet hedgehog


Hedgehog Nail trimming

It's important that you are capable and comfortable with nail trimming. If they get too long they can cause discomfort and curling. Having an extra hand is always helpful when trimming your hedgies nails. If you don’t have an extra hand, you can try using a wire grid. Have your hedgie walk on the grid and when their foot falls though, grab it firmly and start trimming. To get your baby used to you touching their feet you can play with them during handling time. The best thing to use is human baby nail clippers. If you cut the pink part use quick-stop, corn starch, or flour to stop the bleeding. If this happens, don’t feel too bad. Almost every hedgie owner has done it at one time or another.



How to give your hedgehog a bath

Try to give your hedgie a bath only when it's necessary since it can be stressful and drying to their skin. They will keep themselves clean and have no odor if they are kept in a very clean environment.


Bath time checklist:

1. Make sure the area is warm with no drafts – watch the water temperature

2. Have everything you need ready to go – towel, 1 teaspoon coconut oil, clippers, cup, toothbrush

3. Fill the sink or bowl with 2-3 inches of warm water

4. Place your hedgie in the water slowly – their feet should be able to touch – let them soak

5. Using a cup or your hands to get the hedgies back wet while avoiding their face and ears

6. You can now drizzle a bit of coconut oil onto your hedgie's skin between the quills to help keep them moisturized, and brush it into the quills with the toothbrush.

7. Another good rinse, don't use soap on your hedgehog

8. Place your hedgie in your towel and keep them warm until they are completely dry.


A foot bath is a shorter and easier way to get rid of “poop boots” or hedgie poop caked onto the bottom of their feet. No soap, just allow your hedgie to walk around in about half an inch of water to loosen up the poop. For an even quicker foot bath if your hedgies feet aren’t too bad, you can use unscented baby wipes.


Be sure to never use any products containing Tea Tree Oil. This is toxic and fatal to hedgehogs!






Hedgehog Health

Keeping weekly records helps you get a feel for what is normal and what’s not. Some things that are recommended to keep track of are weight, food intake, wheel activity, temperature, and any physical changes. It’s even more helpful when your hedgie starts to get older.


The first thing you should do if you are concerned that your hedgie is acting weird is to bump up the heat and address the issue ASAP. They are naturally prey animals, therefore, they hide their illnesses very well. Any odd behavior can be the first sign something is wrong.


Remember to locate a vet experienced with exotics and that is willing to see your baby before you get your baby. Before the big day, schedule an appointment for your baby to be seen within 72 hours for our health warranty to be effective. Have your vet give a general examination and let them get familiar with you and your baby in case of an emergency or routine visits in the future. You should take your baby in yearly for annual checkups.


Major red flags:

1. Blood – female hedgehogs do not menstruate

2. Lethargy

3. Vomiting – for no obvious reason

4. Runny nose and excessive sneezing – hedgehogs have a naturally wet nose, but it should not be dripping or have mucous

5. Paralysis

6. Trouble breathing



Common health issues:

1. Dry skin – Flaxseed oil or coconut oil is highly recommended

2. Mites – vet treatment

3. Tattered ears – Nipple cream or coconut oil is recommended

4. Obesity – Exercise

5. Bloody feet – Sometimes hedgies love their wheel so much they will run their feet raw. A warm foot bath followed by walking around on a paper towel to dry them off can help. Also, limit your hedgies wheel time.

6. Upper Respiratory Infection – If your hedgies nose is dripping, if they are sneezing a lot, or has cloudy or green mucous, they need to see a vet.

7. Urinary Tract Infection – If your hedgie seems to be having trouble urinating, and they seem like they are in pain or if you see any blood, they need to see a vet.

8. Tumors, Abscesses, and Cysts – These if caught early can often be removed before they progress. They need to see a vet if you feel any abnormal lumps.

9. Parasite or skin infection – If you see fur loss on your hedgies belly this may mean they have a skin condition.


Be sure to never use any products containing Tea Tree Oil. This is toxic and fatal to hedgehogs!


Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

WHS is a devastating and fatal neurological disease. WHS gradually deteriorates a hedgehog’s ability to function and leads to paralysis. Usually, the back legs are affected first, causing them to drag. This is usually followed by the inability to stand or walk in a straight line, and eventually paralysis. WHS is a hereditary disease and has no known cure. Symptoms usually begin to show by the time a hedgehog reaches around 2 years old. This doesn’t mean your hedgies life is over, there’s a lot you can do to improve their

quality of life!


Bald Spots

All hedgehogs, when relaxed, have a reverse mohawk. This bald strip in the middle of their head allows for their muscles to contract and erect their quills when they sense danger. Any other bald spot is not normal


Hedgie Lump

They also have a “hedgie lump”. This is a small pimple-sized bump on your hedgies chin. Both males and females have this and it’s completely normal. Any other lumps on your hedgehog are not normal.


Owning a pet hedgehog Care guide



Hedgehog FAQ's


Will my pet hedgie bite me?

Anything with teeth can bite. However, this is not your hedgies' first line of defense. They will most likely roll into a ball and hiss until they feel the danger has passed. Often your hedgie will start by licking your finger before nipping out of curiosity, meaning you probably smell like something they want to try.


If your hedgie bites, don’t immediately put them down. This will teach them that biting gets you to leave them alone. Try not to flinch or yank your finger away, instead try gently blowing on your hedgies face.


No, they do not have scent glands and do not produce an odor. If they are kept in a clean cage they are virtually odorless.


Do hedgehogs need baths?

Try to give your hedgie a bath only when it's necessary since it can be stressful and drying to their skin. They will keep themselves clean and have no odor if they are kept in a very clean environment.


Do hedgies require vaccinations or shots?

Thankfully, None are needed.


Can I litter-train my hedgehog?

Hedgehogs will not constantly or reliably use a litter box. Often times they pick a place in their cage they like to potty the best and it’s easiest to spot-clean that place.


Are hedgehogs good with kids?

Hedgehogs are hearty animals and low maintenance! They are a great first pet for children. I have taught children as young as 4 to 5 years old to hold hedgehogs and as long as there is a willing family to help with daily care they are fantastic pets.


Can I legally own a hedgehog?

Before deciding to purchase a hedgehog, research whether they are legal to own as pets in your state, city, and county. If you are traveling with your hedgie out of state, know the legal status of hedgehogs in all areas you will be traveling.


Should I get a male or female hedgehog?

There are very few differences between males and females, and they are all anatomical. Each hedgie has its own personality and habits. Their personality in the long run will depend on many factors, the main one being handling. Regardless, most hedgies bond well by simply sleeping on their owner’s lap. Females do not go into heat or have a period. If you see blood in your female hedgehog’s stool or urine get to a vet immediately.



How are hedgehogs with other pets?

Larger animals may frighten them, we recommend not having direct contact with larger animals. You can purchase a 'hamster ball' and let them roll around without worrying about direct contact. Hedgehogs can be easily stressed and intimidated from exposure to large animals and should never be housed in the same cage with any other species.




What supplies do I need for my hedgehog?

The main necessities for owning a hedgehog are a cage, method of heating, hidey house, pine bedding, hedgehog food, and water bottle. All supplies are available at pickup to purchase.



What sex is my hedgehog?

Hedgehogs are easy to sex. Males have a prominent “belly button” (the penile sheath) located about halfway up the abdomen, whereas females do not. Both sexes have nipples.


Are there differences between male and female hedgehogs?

Besides anatomical differences, male and female hedgies are pretty much the same. Each individual hedgehog has its own personality. No particular gender is a better pet.


How do I pick up my hedgehog?

The best way to pick up a hedgie is to scoop him up with both hands under the belly. Keeping your hands very flat they will unroll - do not touch the quills if they are erect.



My hedgie is foaming at the mouth and spreading on his quills! This is called “self-anointing”. When a hedgie finds a new smell or one they just like, they will froth at the mouth, contort themselves, and spread the saliva mix on their quills. Some hedgies do this often, some, or not at all. Hedgies especially like to do this with new smells.


How do I trim my hedgehog’s nails?

It's important that you are capable and comfortable with nail trimming. If they get too long they can cause discomfort and curling. Having an extra hand is always helpful when trimming your hedgies nails. If you don’t have an extra hand, you can try using a wire grid. Have your hedgie walk on the grid and when their foot falls though, grab it and start trimming. To get your baby used to you touching their feet you can play with them during handling time. The best thing to use is human baby nail clippers. If you cut the pink part use quick-stop, corn starch, or flour to stop the bleeding. If this happens, don’t feel too bad. Almost every hedgie owner has done it at one time or another.


How do I give my hedgehog a bath?

Hedgies don’t need baths very often but do get dirty feet from running on their wheel. If this is the case, a foot bath is better than a whole bath. To give a foot bath, simply run an inch or 2 of warm (not hot) water in the sink or tub, and let hedgie walk around. This will loosen and wash off the residue. You can use coconut oil in the water for cleaning and you can splash the water on the baby if they need further cleaning.



What should I use for heating my hedgie’s cage?

A heating pad under the cage is the best option for heating the baby. Some people recommend heat lamps, but in my experience, they are too hot for hedgehogs and dangerous to use.


What temperature should my hedgehog be kept in?

The proper temperature would be indoors at a warm 73-78 degrees F. This needs to be consistent around the year.


What is this bald strip on my hedgehog's head?

There are no quills there because there are muscles that help the hedgie roll into a ball.


How do Hedgehogs drink? Should I use a water bottle or a dish?

There is some debate over whether a dish or a bottle is better. The bottle is the only acceptable means to give your hedgehog clean water. Using a bowl is not sanitary, the hedgehogs will step in the water or can push shavings in which can contaminate the water.


Do hedgehogs know when to sleep? Does my hedgehog need artificial light?

No, artificial light should never be used. They are nocturnal and will hide completely during the day and come out only when it is dusk or dark. Do not keep your hedgehog in a darkened room or closet during the day. They will adjust to regular room lighting and will develop a proper sleep schedule for the day.


Do Hedgehogs want companions? Should I get my hedgehog a friend?

Hedgehogs are solitary and do not want or need companions. Males should never be housed together. Male-female pairings are acceptable when one is altered. Female-female pairings can work under the right circumstances, meaning you must have a larger cage and two of everything. Housing hedgies together does not always work and you need to be prepared to separate them at the first sign of aggression.






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