Complete Pet Hedgehog Care Guide

Updated April 7, 2022
holding a hedgehog in a ball

Hedgehogs can be excellent pets when socialized and cared for properly. Hedgehogs as pets are known to be entertaining and active throughout the evenings. Keep in mind, they do require a significant amount of care. Their enclosure will need continuous cleaning and they must have quality food for optimal health.

Learn Before Bringing a Hedgehog Home

Baby hedgehog in human hands

There are 17 different species of hedgehogs, but only one is suitable for keeping as a pet. The African pygmy hedgehog is the one you will commonly find in pet stores.

Hedgehogs are growing in popularity, which isn't overly surprising due to their adorable, cuddly appearance. However, pet owners are making a common mistake. They aren't learning about hedgehogs before they bring one home. This leads to inadequate hedgehog care and making purchases from untrustworthy breeders, among other problems.

Before you consider getting a hedgehog, there are a few key characteristics of these pets that you should know. How you care for your hedgehog as far as housing, enrichment, health, grooming, and handling are related to this animal's unique needs.

Personality and Enrichment

Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, which means they are most active at night and sleep during the day. They are also very active, so putting them in a cage and leaving them with nothing to do will lead to a very unhappy pet. They can be very timid and need places to retreat to when frightened. Caring for your hedgehog successfully means providing an environment that fits their personality.

Hedgehogs have regular daily exercise needs that must be met to keep your pet behaviorally sound, as well as from getting obese. Providing a wheel made for a rat or chinchilla, provided it has a diameter of at least 12 inches with a solid surface, is a good choice.

Hedgehogs will also enjoy toys made for cats, such as small balls (solid, not wire) and tunnels. A cheap do-it-yourself toy that a hedgehog will love is the cardboard center of toilet paper or paper towel rolls. You can also make an easy foraging toy by placing some strips of fleece and fabric in a box or bowl and sprinkling some food treats inside.

There is one intriguing behavior you should be aware of. When hedgehogs are exposed to a new scent or food, they froth at the mouth and distribute saliva all over their backs. Hedgehogs do this for unknown reasons, and some hedgehogs do it more than others. But there's no need to be concerned. It's normal, common behavior, so don't panic when you see this for the first time.

Handling Your Hedgehog

woman holding a hedgehog in her hand

The first thing you should be aware of is that hedgehogs sold as pets have the same physical features as wild hedgehogs. This means they're sporting quills, and plenty of them! No matter how carefully you handle a hedgehog, you will get pricked by their quills at some point.

Hedgehogs require daily interaction with you to tame them and keep them that way. You should keep these sessions short in order to socialize them, but not overly stress them out. Hedgehogs that are not socialized will bite if they feel cornered and frightened.

One trick for getting a hedgehog used to you is to place an old T-shirt, sweatshirt, or a towel or blanket in their pen. By snuggling into it they will get used to your scent.

Always use two hands when scooping up and holding a hedgehog so they feel fully supported. In the beginning, you may want to hold your hedgehog in a towel to protect your hands from their quills until they are used to you.

Your hedgehog will also do better if they get regular time outside of their cage to explore. Only do this when you can sit and supervise them and keep any other pets in the home out of the area.

Anytime you interact with a hedgehog, it's important to wash your hands thoroughly once you are done. You should also never bring the hedgehog near your mouth to give them a kiss. The Centers for Disease Control has found that there is a risk of salmonella transmission from handling hedgehogs. You should also never let the hedgehog roam anywhere that food is prepared, such as around your kitchen or on a dining table.

Diet

hedgehog with bowl of food

In the wild, hedgehogs search for and find insects to consume. Hedgehogs require a specialized diet consisting of protein, fats, and fiber to stay healthy. You can purchase a pre-made commercial diet for hedgehogs, although they can also eat dry kibble made for adult cats if it's a reduced-calorie recipe.

Although some sources advocate feeding cat food to hedgies, not all experts agree with this advice, at least as the sole component of their diet. Your hedgehog should always have access to clean, fresh water in a heavy non-tippable bowl. You can use cage bottles for their water but there's a potential for their teeth to become damaged from using it, so it's not recommended.

When and How to Feed a Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so feeding them in the evenings when they're active and awake is ideal. Some hedgehog owners free feed, but it isn't recommended due to concerns about obesity. Obesity is a serious problem that may be avoided by restricting their intake. Food foraging toys are a fantastic approach to present with their meal. These enable the hedgehog to engage in natural actions that can have a relaxing effect, while also improving overall mental and physical well-being.

Ceramic bowls that can't tip over work best for their food and drink bowls in their cage. Cage bottles should not be used because they can cause harm to their teeth.

Hedgehogs don't require a significant amount of food. You can feed one to 2 teaspoons of kibble every day to most, but you'll want to keep an eye on them at first to make sure you're not feeding too much. Check their bowl when they're done eating to determine the right amount to feed.

Dietary Additions

hedgehog with chopped chicken and cucumber food

You should provide your hedgehog with a variety of items to supplement their dry kibble diet, including:

  • Dark, leafy vegetables are cut up into easily digestible pieces in a quantity of one tablespoon three to four days a week. Good choices include arugula, collard greens, dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, and spinach.
  • They also will enjoy chopped up fresh asparagus, broccoli, carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, and turnips.
  • Live or frozen insects such as crickets, mealworms, waxworms, and silkworms, no more than three to four times a week.
  • Baked, roasted, or boiled fresh meats, chopped up, such as poultry, tuna, or salmon, with no seasoning, offered no more than a few times a week to avoid obesity.
  • Fresh fruits in small amounts and choose fruits that are lower in sugar. Examples of hedgehog-appropriate fruits are apples, bananas, berries, cherries, melons, peaches, and pumpkin.
  • Baby food (for humans) of about one to two tablespoons a few times a week. Choose foods that are in stage 2 or lower, as higher stages have higher sugar content.
  • You can feed a tablespoon of boiled or scrambled eggs a few times a week.

Foods to Avoid

There are many foods that hedgehogs cannot eat. To avoid making your pet ill, do not feed them:

  • Anything containing dairy products, as they are lactose intolerant. You may give them a teaspoon of yogurt or cottage cheese once a week but discontinue if you notice stomach upset and diarrhea.
  • High-fat, rich meats like beef should be avoided in favor of leaner cuts and fish.
  • Insects from the wild or from fish bait shops. Only feed insects from a pet store that is designated safe for hedgehogs.
  • Some fruits are toxic, including grapes, raisins, citrus, pineapple, and avocado.
  • Vegetables that are toxic to hedgehogs are garlic, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes.
  • No nuts of any kind should be given to a hedgehog.
  • Kibble made for kittens, as these formulas are usually too high in fat. Adult low-calorie cat food is more appropriate for a hedgehog.
  • Never feed your hedgehog chocolate or human sweets and candies.

Housing Requirements

Hedgehogs are solitary creatures and they must be housed on their own. They shouldn't be kept with other pets. They should only be kept with other hedgehogs if they have grown up with them since birth. The minimum size of the enclosure should measure 2-feet wide by 4-feet long. The more space you can create, the better. The lid should be mesh to allow for air to flow through freely.

Wire flooring can damage a hedgehog's feet. Instead, elect for an enclosure with a solid floor, such as a guinea pig cage or aquarium. A cage that is all one level is better than a multi-level one as it's easy for a hedgehog to fall and hurt themselves. Keep the cage away from areas with cold drafts and loud noises.

Place the enclosure in an area that's between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and that is calm and dimly lit. Do not place your hedgie's enclosure in direct sunlight to avoid overheating. Grab a hiding area or a box to provide a preferred area to sleep or escape to when they're feeling overwhelmed.

Bedding and Substrate

hedgehog in a cage with wood shaving substrate

You should provide soft comfortable bedding for your hedgehog. Cage liners made from cotton, corduroy, flannel, or fleece are good choices. You can also cut up fabric on your own but make sure that there are no frayed ends. You will need to change their bedding every day to keep them clean.

The substrate for the bottom of your cage should be soft without any small bits that can harm your delicate hedgehog. Wood shavings like pine, cedar, and aspen are not recommended. Bedding made from recycle paper, soft fiber, or pelleted materials are also available, and are good choices. These need to be changed regularly to keep the cage clean.

Because hedgehogs are shy creatures, they need to have places in their cage where they can hide and feel safe. You can purchase pre-made hiding places like plastic igloos and sleeping pouches at a pet store or make your own using small boxes or a small section of PVC pipe. They also enjoy burying and hiding under bedding, so giving them an area with several sheets of fabric is another option.

Grooming and Bathing

hedgehog getting a bath with a toothbrush

You will need to bathe your hedgehog regularly to keep them clean. In their cage, they're walking in urine, feces, and food items, as well as their saliva. You can bathe your hedgehog in your kitchen or bathroom sink and use a soft toothbrush to clean their quills with a hedgehog-safe shampoo. Keep your bathed hedgehog wrapped in a warm towel with you until they are dry, as you don't want them to catch a cold while they're damp. Regular nail trims with some small rodent clippers are necessary as well.

Common Hedgehog Health Problems

Hedgehogs have a lifespan of about 4 to 6 years. There are several medical issues you should be aware of to care for a hedgehog properly :

  • Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system that does not have a cure at this time. It is a congenital disorder that can cause problems for your pet's balance.
  • "Spitballs" or "self anointing" occur when a hedgehog smells something that triggers a reflex reaction. The hedgehog will coat their quills with saliva in response. It's not an actual medical concern, but if you notice your hedgehog doing this, consider what odor is triggering it and see if you can remove it from the environment.
  • Obesity is very common with hedgehogs.
  • Bloat can happen due to too much gas in the hedgehog's bowels.
  • Gastrointestinal issues can include obstructions from eating inappropriate items.
  • Pneumonia and respiratory disorders are common to hedgehogs, especially if they are exposed to anything containing ammonia. Always use mild cleaners when disinfecting and cleaning your hedgehog's cage and the surrounding areas.
  • Heart disease is also common with hedgehogs as they age.
  • Hedgehogs need regular dental care to keep them from developing gingivitis and infections in the gums. Cancer in the mouth is also very common and dental visits can help identify tumors before they get worse.
  • Parasites can afflict a hedgehog, including ringworm, fleas, mites, and mange.
  • Hedgehogs shed their quills at least twice as they age and their skin can become dry and irritated during this time. You can use olive or coconut oil on their skin to keep them comfortable.

Finding a Veterinarian

Before bringing a hedgehog home, do some research on area veterinarians. Hedgehogs' medical needs and physiology are not well understood by all veterinarians. You don't want to be unable to take your hedgehog to the veterinarian if he or she becomes ill. Jot down one or two veterinarians and their phone numbers and place them on your refrigerator or some place safe in case you need them.

Legality Concerns

Because hedgehogs are classified as exotic pets, there are some states where they are illegal to own or restrictions apply. You cannot legally own a hedgehog in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and within the five boroughs of New York City. You may own one in New Jersey and Wisconsin, but a permit or additional veterinary paperwork is required.

Learn the Basics Before Bringing One Home

Owning a hedgehog can be a lot of work. They have specific dietary needs, need slow and gentle socialization, and warm, clean housing with places to hide and play. If you learn all the basics and follow through on their care, owning a hedgehog can be a rewarding experience.

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