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How To Care For Hedgehogs

Pet Care Tips 8 min read
African pygmy hedgehog walking on autumn leaves

Hegehogs are small nocturnal mammals that can be found anywhere in the world but are native to Africa, Europe, and Asia. They are omnivorous and feed on beetles, worms, and other insects in the wild. The African pygmy hedgehogs are more commonly kept as pets and are domesticated, so they are opportunistic omnivores, and would have a different diet than wild hedgehogs, like European hedgehogs and desert hedgehogs. 

Hedgehogs hide in the wild and are mostly kept indoors when domesticated, so many who aren’t familiar often mistake them for porcupines, which is a different species altogether. The main difference between hedgehogs and porcupines is the quills. Porcupines have 2-3 inches or foot-long quills, and they fall off easily. While hedgehogs have shorter quills that are about 1 inch long and do not lose their quills generally. Besides the noticeable difference in size and also animal family, they behave very differently. Hedgehogs curl into a ball as a defense mechanism. Meanwhile, porcupines’ quills will come off and prick onto their predators when it attacks. 

Hedgehogs have an average life expectancy of 3 to 6 years. They come in around 90 different colors, the most common being salt and pepper, cinnamon, grey, brown, and chocolate.

Hedgehogs can be legally kept in many places around the world including all of Canada (with the exception of Windsor, Ontario and Langley, British Columbia), and most of the United States. Hedgehogs are illegal in Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, the 5 boroughs of New York City, and Douglas County in Nebraska. In the state of Maine, two permits are required to have a pet hedgehog.

hedgehog walking on autumn leaves licking his lips

Diet

The diet for domesticated hedgies consists mainly of high-quality and grain-free cat food with protein like chicken, beef, pork, or even fish. Still, the latter should only be given in moderate amounts. Commercial hedgehog food is not suitable as there are many fillers in it, so many hedgehog breeders and parents prefer cat food. The ideal diet composition should be 30-33% protein and 10-12% of fat content. Sometimes you can also pair their main diet with unseasoned cooked meat, unseasoned boiled eggs, non-citrus fresh fruits like apple, banana, watermelon, and finely chopped and cooked vegetables. Since hedgies enjoy scavenging naturally, you may feed live insects like mealworms, super worms, crickets, dubia roaches, waxworms, but in moderation as the fat content can add up very quickly. 

hedgehog being held in a hand - how to care for hedgehogs

Handling

They are known to have soft and furry bellies and quills as hairs on their back. You’ll often see them curling up into a prickly ball whenever they are startled, afraid, or annoyed. Sometimes they do this with a hissing and popping sound to deter their predators, which may overwhelm new pet parents at times. This doesn’t necessarily mean your hedgehog doesn’t like you, it is a natural response, and it will take them a while to uncurl once they know they’re in a safe space. 

Well-socialized hedgehogs usually relax and curl less, which is why it’s helpful to get your hedgies familiar with your scent! You can start to do so by placing old clothing or even socks in their house. Despite this, hedgehogs can interact well with humans, and it’s best to spend at least 15 minutes a day with them to create a bond. Evenings or nighttime would be the best as that is when they are usually awake. You may do so with the old t-shirt trick, a cuddle pouch, or with bare hands.

It can be stressful establishing a bond for a first-time owner, so it can be a good idea to take it slow and not be deterred by their prickliness. Some hedgies may also take your hesitation towards their grumpiness as a reward for leaving them alone, which will usually encourage their irritability. Usually, hedgehogs will relax once they see their humans in a more relaxed state too. Although gloves may seem like a good tool to handle a hedgehog, this is not recommended as your hedgie will not be as familiar with your scent and touch it this way. The best way to pick up a hedgehog is to call for them, wait for them to uncurl, and place two of your hands underneath their belly. 

photo of a hedgehog habitat

Housing

Before getting a hedgehog, you must know that they require at least 3 – 4 square feet, so they can have plenty of room to explore and hide. Most opt for the C&C setup, DIY cabinets, or even commercial small pet housing cages. One thing to be mindful of is to make sure to cover any grids with a smooth surface. This can help to prevent escape artists from climbing. Most hedgies enjoy hiding and sleeping, especially during the daylight, so it’s essential to set up sleeping areas for them with fleece bedding or cat litter to burrow in. 

Having a constant heat source is exceptionally important since it can be very dangerous for a domesticated hedgehog to attempt hibernation, which can be deadly and a health hazard. If you find your prickly baby attempting hibernation, please keep them warm immediately with your body heat or a heat source. Please avoid placing them in warm water directly. The recommended temperature is between 72-80 degrees Fahrenheit or 22-26 degrees Celsius. Anything too hot may also cause health complications, like heat stroke or heat exhaustion. It’s best to get a thermostat so the heat source will be constant. 

Heat pads or hand warmers with covers are suitable for traveling but not as a constant heat source. Make sure to never directly expose them to a heat source and have a covering in between to avoid heat burns. We recommend ceramic heat emitters (CHEs) as a steadier and more reliable heat supply. Unlike reptiles, hedgehogs do not need UV light. A constant light source, like a floor lamp or ceiling light, is adequate, as this way, they can tell the difference between daylight and nighttime. Hedgehogs sleep a lot and can sleep up to 18 hours, especially when they are younger. So don’t be surprised when your hedgehog is only active for a couple of hours before you sleep! They will very often be busy running on their wheels and snacking away during the night. 

For bedding, fabric liners like fleece, flannel or corduroy fabrics are the best choices for your baby, as they are soft, warm and more resistant to digging (a natural habit of hedgehogs). Loose ends of fabric should be avoided as sometimes it can be a health hazard to their tiny feet. You may also use wood shavings like aspen or pine (NEVER cedar) or paper kitty litter. Still, it may cause allergies, dry skin, respiratory irritation, contain mites, or even getting caught in the penile, eyes, which may cause injuries and illness.

Hedgehogs are natural burrowers. They look for hiding places regularly, especially to sleep and seek shelter. You can find commercially available hiding places like igloos, hiding logs, or snuggle sacks are among the common ones. You can even provide extra bedding material inside the hiding places, so they feel even safer, and they can keep hidden and warm. Sometimes PVC pipes can be a cute and fun tunnel for them to hide as well. Just make sure to get one that can fit your hedgie comfortably. 

The perfect food bowl is usually heavy ceramic, 3 to 6 inches wide and no more than 3 inches high. If the bowl is too light, the hedgehog can use it as a toy and dump the food all over. Although it might be fun (for them), it is not practical or clean. 

Your hedgie’s water bowl may also be the same kind as their food bowl, or you can even use a waterer. Spring-loaded water bottles are not recommended as they may chip their tooth when they bite hard. Also, it is important to continually clean the bowls and provide fresh water to your quilled baby.

A wheel is essential as it can help keep your hedgehog entertained and active. It is part of their environment enrichment, so your prickly furriend can have a happy and healthy quality of life.

Hedgehogs can also be trained to use a litter box. It is best to place this under their running wheel. You may use reusable puppy pads, disposable puppy pads, paper towels, or kitty litter. 

hedgehog curled up in a hand

Exercise

A healthy hedgehog shape is when they can curl up into a perfect ball and when they have tear-dropped shaped. If your hedgehog is overweight, it would be a good idea to speak to your vet to review their diet and come up with a treatment plan. This is where an exercise wheel comes in to play. The best kind of wheel is flat and smooth surface ones, like a bucket wheel. Hamster wheels, discs, silent spinners, wooden wheels, and grid wheels may not be appropriate due to size and health hazards. Wheel covers are also unnecessary since they may lead to urine burn if not appropriately monitored. The best wheel size is 11-12 inches and a minimum of 4 inches wide, this way, it provides a stable runway for them!  

Sandpaper is also unnecessary as the best way to trim our hedgies nails is with a small nail trimmer or animal-friendly nail trimmer. The best way to help uncurl them during the nail trimming process is to place them in shallow and warm water. 

hedgehog wrapped in blanket

Choosing A Hedgehog

While choosing a good hedgehog as a companion, pay attention that they must be at least 8 weeks old, have bright and attentive eyes, clean ears and nose, intact quills on the back, no signs of fleas, mites, or diarrhea in the pen. It is important to also get your hedgehog from an ethical breeder as backyard breeding often leads to hedgehogs with poor genetics, like wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS). In some areas, you may also be able to find rescued hedgehogs in need of a loving home. If ever in doubt, if the hedgehog is healthy or not, consult a trusted veterinarian.

Patience is key when you bring a new baby hoglet home. It is usual for them to be startled and defensive as they will need some time to adjust to the new place and your scent. Ideally, they will probably need around a week before feeling comfortable at the new home and a little bit more time before developing a relationship with you. 

Supplements

Just like many species of furry friends, NHV has some options for supplements that can help hedgehogs have a healthy life.

Turmeric extract has anti-inflammatory and nutritive properties that promote overall vitality while helping to support a variety of health conditions such as cancer, heart conditions, and arthritis. It also has a high concentration of antioxidants and is excellent anti-inflammatory support. Studies have found the antioxidant effect of turmeric appears to be so powerful that it may stop the kidney from being damaged by toxins. Studies have also linked the frequent use of turmeric to lower rates of certain types of cancers as well. In hedgehogs, it can help with eye health since eye problems like prolapsed eyes and cataracts are a concern within the species. This herb is found in many hedgehog foods, but if your little one needs extra support, NHV can help you and your baby.

Yucca contains two very beneficial compounds: Sarsasapegenin and smilagenin. These two compounds work on the mucous membranes of the small intestine helping with the absorption of minerals and vitamins. Sarsasapogenin and Smilagenin are also known as steroidal saponins which act as precursors to corticoids helping with symptom relief related to inflammation, pain, and loss of appetite. Our Yucca is formulated and dosed specifically to be safe for long-term use in pets. In hedgehogs, it seems to help with appetite, in case your little one is having a poor appetite.

Milk Thistle (Silybum ebumeum or Silybum marianum) has been used for over 2000 years as a remedy for various types of liver diseases. In fact, studies have shown that Milk Thistle can decrease or reverse damage to the liver and kidneys. It can help detoxify the liver and kidneys by removing toxins that can build up in a pet’s system when taking pharmaceuticals or chemical-laden foods. Milk Thistle also has antioxidant properties and may benefit as anti-cancer support.

Tripsy is a soothing formula that helps control infection, has a demulcent effect on urinary calculi, and supports the health of the kidneys and bladder. Hedgehogs are particularly prone to UTIs since it is easy for grains and dirt to get stuck in the penile. Tripsy may help in case your hedgehog is facing any kidney, urinary, or bladder problems.

Dr. Rebeca Oliveira DVM

Dr. Rebeca Oliveira DVM

Dr. Rebeca is a holistic veterinarian from Brazil with a passion for natural and integrative medicine. She’s been studying integrative medicine and alternative (and healthier) diets since 2015, and now started to study the power of herbs with the NHV Family. In her spare time, you can find her spending time with her golden retriever, Kuga.

Published: February 24, 2021

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