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Hedgehog Care Guide - The Critter Depot

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Caring for your Hedgehog begins with a Great Habitat

hedgehog care guide

Hedgehog are fun pets for adults and older kids.  They like to burrow in their hedgehog cages, and eat their hedgehog food.  And they'll even put on some shows if you accommodate them with the right toys.  Here are the important steps on how to take care of your hedgehog. 

Table of Contents

hedgehog rolls up in a ball

Hedgehog Care Guide

A Snippet about Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are adorable.  This is irrefutable fact. They are mostly insectivores (meaning they only eat insects).  And they are great pets for adults and calm, older children. The most popular species of hedgehog raised for the pet trade is African pygmy hedgehog. They are actually hybrids of the white-bellied or four-toes hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) and the Algerian (A. algirus) hedgehog. It is smaller than another popular pet hedgehog species, the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). The rise in popularity of pet hedgehogs has also led to the breeding of new hybrids such as the pinto and albino varieties.

Great for Owners with Allergies

Some of the benefits of owning hedgehogs is they are small and pretty easy to take care of. Unlike some mammal pets like cats & dogs, they have no dander.  This makes it easy for people who have allergies. 

Friendly & Fun

Hedgehogs are a ton of fun to play with, and once they are comfortable in their environment, they are quite friendly. Hedgehogs can be a bit on the shy side until they get to know you. Be patient and do not over-handle your new hedgehog, as this can be stressful for them. Eventually they will enjoy being cuddled from time to time, but if they roll up in a defensive posture when you try to pick them, then they need some space. If you don’t, and they feel really threatened they may bite.  They their bits are painful.  In the 5 years I had mine, ours never once bit myself or my young daughter.  But we always paid attention to her moods and didn’t ask more than she felt like giving.

Hedgehog Longevity

As with most small mammals kept as pets, hedgehogs live longer in captivity, mainly due to a better diet and a lack of natural predators. Larger species live 4 to 7 years in the wild, and 8 to 10 years in captivity. Smaller species live 2 to 4 years in the wild and 4 to 5 years in captivity.

Hedgehog Quills & Natural Defense

Hedgehogs share a common means of defense with porcupines. The average hedgehog possesses as many as quills on its body. Using 2 large, specialized muscles in its back, they can roll up in a ball and completely pull in their head and feet, making it is almost impossible to get past their defenses.

Legality of Owning a Hedgehog

Some US states and Canadian municipalities ban the ownership of hedgehogs, so check before acquiring one as a pet. Species meant for domestication are allowed in most European countries. Wild hedgehogs are listed as endangered in the UK, and keeping them as pets is illegal.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, preferring to sleep during the day and forage for food and mates after nightfall. Solitary as a rule, hedgehogs have a tendency to be territorial in the wild and will display aggressiveness towards other hedgehogs it feels are a threat to them.

How To Build A Hedgehog Habitat

Design & Cage Specifications

hedgehog cage

Wild hedgehogs can travel 4-7 miles per night.  So when housing one as a pet, you'll need the largest habitat you can provide. With plenty of room, they tend to be healthier and happier because they can exercise and explore. The minimum size recommended by most hedgehog enthusiasts is 36” x 24” or six square feet.  But a cage large enough for an additional shallow bowl as a bathing area is really ideal.

The cage should also be well ventilated and easily cleaned. Wire cages are a favorite with many keepers.  These are the same types of cages used for ground dwelling animals such as guinea pigs or rabbits. Cages of this type are strong enough to adequately house hedgehogs.  The screen top is durable and secure, and are able to protect them from other pets and small children.  

The cage should be equipped with a bottom pan, preferably six inches deep or deeper. Deep pans not only contain bedding better, they also prevent the hedgehog from climbing. Plastic pans are generally preferred over other materials. Unlike metal, plastic pans will not rust, are easier to sanitize, and will better maintain their integrity over time. Wire floors are NOT acceptable for hedgehogs. Their tiny feet and longish claws can get caught in the wire, making it difficult for the hedgehog to walk at best, and causing injuries at worst. Clipping your hedgies claws can also prevent wire cage injuries.

Concerning the type of wire on the sides, many breeders recommend ½” wire spacing to prevent hedgehogs from getting their heads stuck between the wires of the cage and to prevent babies from escaping.

The cage should be placed in a spot where your hedge hog can experience both day and night. Even though they are primarily nocturnal they do need periods of light and darkness to remain healthy.

Hedgehog Habitat Requirements

Your cage should have enough room for a

  • wheel
  • litter box
  • nest box
  • eating area
  • water bottle hung on the outside of the cage saves space. 
  • shallow bowl for bathing if room permits 

Hedgehog Bedding

  • Recycled pulp: CareFresh Ultra or Paper Shavings Animal Bedding
  • Compacted Bedding Material: Cell-Sorb Plus or Fresh World Bedding
  • Wooden Pellets: Kaytee Soft Granule Blend
  • Aspen Shavings: 
  • Fabric
  • Corn Cob Bedding

Recycled Pulp

The bottom of the cage will need some form of bedding. There are a variety of different types of bedding that work well. The fluffy bedding made from recycled paper or pulp such as CareFresh Ultra by Healthy Pet or Paper Shavings Animal Bedding by Applegate Insulation. This type of bedding is soft and absorbent and never dusty. Plus, for those who enjoy a little color, this bedding often comes in a variety of fun colors. Hedgehogs love this material but there is a downside to it, that being that it is so soft and lightweight it tends to get stuck in the spines of a hedgehog, especially if it is wet from a bath.

Compacted Paper Bedding Material

Other options include Cell-Sorb Plus by Estes' Co. and Fresh World Bedding by SunSeed. Cell-Sorb is a compacted paper bedding material that expands when it becomes wet. It is very absorbent but not as soft as the products mentioned above. Some owners prefer this bedding because it isn't as lightweight as the fluffy, soft paper bedding options, so it gets stuck in quills less. Fresh World is a soft, fluffy bedding that contains baking soda to help control odors, popular with owners who don’t clean the litter box as often as they should or who do not have a toilet trained hedeghog.

Wood

Recommended wood products for hedgehog bedding are:

Kaytee Soft Granule Blend - Small little pellets that are very absorbent and softer than other wood options.

Aspen Shavings - Aspen is a finer wood shaving than pine and cedar and many owners still enjoy the absorbency and aroma it offers in addition to how inexpensive it is. However, aspen is dusty and it seems to stick to everything, such as your hedgehog's blankets. If you need a cheap bedding in a pinch, choose Aspen over the other wood shaving options.

It is important to note that an owner should never, ever, use cedar shavings for hedgehogs, or any other pet. Honestly, I don’t know why stores continue to sell this stuff, as it is harmful for almost every kind of pet in the world.

Fabric

Many hedgehog owners purchase fabrics like fleece, pillow cases, or towels to use in their pet’s enclosure since they do like to hide. Not only will fabrics absorb liquids but they can be washed and reused and come in practically any color or pattern you want. Fabric pieces are also very popular to help you handle your hedgehog since they provide some protection from the prickly spines.

Corn Cob Bedding

Cheap yes and somewhat absorbent but that is where it’s virtues end. It does little for odor control, is not soft, and may even promote the growth of mold growth. It isn't particularly recommended for hedgehog houses.

Hedgehog Hide

A hide area is a place where your hedgehog can literally hide into, feel safe, and relax. A wood box, tiny pet igloo, half log, or reptile tunnel can all be used as a hide. Occasionally, it's okay to provide your hedgehog with a tube, like a paper towel roll.  But you'll need to watch them play.  Because hedgehogs will want to tunnel through the tube.  It's fun to watch, but they can get their heads stuck.  And if their heads are stuck for too long, they won't be able to drink or eat during that period.  Many owners provide permanent tubing for their hedgehog to climb through.  But we advise against it.  The hide itself should be of sufficient size that your pet feels secure but unintentional tubing cannot occur.

Litter Box & Litter

A hedgehog can often be trained to use a litter box. Observe your pet and then place a small animal litter box placed where they seem to do their busines. Once they are accustomed to this amenity, you can move it a little at a time to a location that suits you better. Litter pellets made from recycled paper can be used in the box. Do not use clay or clumping cat litter.

Hedgehog Habitat Temperature

  • Human Heat Pads: recommended
  • Reptile heat pads: not recommended
  • space heaters: recommended
  • Snuggle safe heat discs: recommended
  • Heat bulbs: not recommended

The cage should be placed away from drafts, air conditioners, heaters, windows, and other locations where the cage temperature would get too hot or cold. A hedgehog does best with a temperature of around 75 to 80 degrees F. The best heating options seem to be maintaining an appropriate ambient room temperature or heating only a portion of the cage so that the hedgehog can move away if it gets too hot. If the room temperature tends to be cooler than 75, then you'll need to provide supplemental heating for half of their habitat.

Human Heating Pad

You can use a human use heating pad turned to low under half the cage or under the area where the hedgehog prefers to sleep. Be advised that sick and injured hedgehog can sometimes burn themselves on heating pads.  The animal doesn’t realize that it is too hot or it is unable to move from the heat.  Many of these burns are not visible from the outside but internal damage will be obvious a couple days later. Many new models of human heating pads have an automatic shut off.

Monitor the temperature on cold days to make sure the hedgehog has consistent heat and that the automatic shut-off is working properly. This can be done very simply with digital laser thermometer. It is a worthwhile investment and for less than $20, a keeper can take readings from all over the habitat with the push of a button.

Be sure to take readings from more than one spot in the habitat, so as not to overlook hot spots (it is more important to identify these than cool spots). Readings should therefore be taken at bottom of the habitat, in the center, in corners, and in any areas your hedgehog seems to hang out in quite frequently. Keepers need to remember that the ambient temperature of the room can affect that of the enclosure, so frequent readings are strongly recommended.

Many under tank heaters designed for reptile use will also work well for hedgehogs. Be sure to read the instructions to make sure the stick-on mat kind won’t get too hot for your cage. Most under tank heaters can be applied directly to the cage so that air does not flow between the cage and the heating element. One handy product is Zoo Med’s Hermit Crab heater. It is enough to create a nice place to sleep but it will probably not be sufficient for ambient room temperatures lower than 70°F. Reptile heat rocks are not recommended because they can get very hot and are not easily regulated, plus they are usually an odd shape and difficult for the hedgehog to sleep on. 

Space Heaters

Some keepers are able to use small ceramic space heaters, especially if the hedgehog is housed in a room of their own such as a craft or guest room. The heaters themselves don’t get hot and aren’t very expensive to run. These heaters do generally have thermostats that cause the unit to cycle on and off so it is important to monitor the highs and lows during its cycling.

Micro-Heat Disc or Snuggle Safe Heat Disks

These 12” plastic disks are designed for use as puppy warmers and are found with the dog and puppy supplies at some larger pet stores. They are about an inch and a half thick and about the size of a Frisbee. Composed of hard plastic, they can be wrapped in a towel or placed in a cover designed specifically for them. Some owners like them but others report them to be inadequate.

Heat Bulbs

Heat lamps are another option. A black or red bulb will provide warmth while not disrupting the hedgehog’s natural light cycle as would happen with a continuous white light. These are not the safest options for plastic containers or aquariums.  A low watt bulb and close monitoring MAY work but the other options mentioned would be better.

One must always be prepared for a power outage if you live in an area where the temperature gets cold in winter. Power outages for long periods in cool weather can be just as dangerous as short power outages in extreme cold. If you are vacationing and a pet sitter is in charge of your hedgie in your absence, make sure that they know about an effective backup plan. Have a hot water bottle on hand that can be filled either from the tap or from water heated on a gas stove. If, during an outage, hot water simply will not be available (such as can be the case with homes supplied by well water) a simple alternative of a Coleman stove setup in the house can heat water sufficiently to make the hot water bottle quite toasty. If the bottle needs to be very hot to start, then it should be wrapped tightly in a towel. Safety pins may be needed to assure that the hedgie doesn’t try to burrow into the towels, get stuck and get burned.

Once the hot water bottle is provided, the cage should be wrapped in a minimum of two bath towels. Ventilation need not be a concern for the short-term as it is much less important than this African evolved pet getting chilled. Owners needing to be away on vacation should leave the camp stove set up with a canister attached but turned off, matches, pot for heating water, a gallon container of water and the towels all in the same location, as time may be of the essence if the power has been off for some hours. Or clear instructions for the pet sitter to take the animal to their house.

Hedgehog Food

Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs do not eat chili dogs.  

Hedgehogs eat once or twice a day. Make food convenient for them by placing it right outside of the hide. Hedgehogs like eating insects and worms. Crickets, mealworms, silk worms are all great choices. These food items should come from a supplier of captive bred insects intended for the pet trade. Do not catch bugs from outside and give them to your hedgehog as they will almost certainly contain parasites and possibly transmissible bacteria and viruses. Earthworms, slugs and snails are taboo, as they contain a number of parasites that will do your hedgie in within 6 months.

Crickets and Superworms

Crickets are a great choice for a really active pet. Don’t feed them too often or your hedgehog may become obese. Feeding 2 gut loaded crickets 3 times a week is plenty. “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your pet. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. Many experienced pet keepers and breeders use a variation of the following formula for gut loading feeder crickets or superworms.

  • 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self rising)
  • 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
  • 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
  • 3 pbw soy powder
  • 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)

The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth.

Insect Alternatives

On non-cricket days, adequate nutrition can be supplied by providing finely minced, rice-and-meat, low-fat cat or dog food. A piece of fresh fruit from time to time is recommended if your pet likes it (and some do not). Too much fruit is not good, as the sugars can lead to obesity, so once a week is best. Owners can choose from the following items to tempt their pet’s palate:

  • green beans (fresh or frozen & thawed – not canned)
  • cut tomatoes (fresh)
  • squash & zucchini (cooked)
  • green peppers (fresh)
  • cucumbers (fresh)
  • dark green leafy veggies (like spinach) that has been washed very well
  • baby foods (especially for an older or sick hedgehog)
  • Berries – blue berries, strawberries, black berries, raspberries

Important Food Notes

Never feed grapes or raisins, as these can be toxic to hedgehogs. Bananas and apples can be too fattening. Again, these insectivorous animals need very little in the way of vegetable matter, but will eat a little occasionally (if it makes you feel better).

Hedgehog Habitat Sanitation

Daily Cleaning

Daily removal of uneaten food is essential.

Weekly Cleaning

Weekly cleaning of the litter box is highly recommended. While you’re at it, place the food dish and hide in the dishwasher as well as any small bathing dishes.

Monthly Cleaning

Monthly remove the substrate entirely and spritz down the whole habitat with 10% bleach. Keep your pet in a warm location for three hours while the habitat dries and is re-assembled. Provide clean bedding and litter, a clean bath dish and water bottle, sanitized hide, and any toys or running wheels. Allow the habitat to come up to temperature before putting your pet back in.

These common sense sanitation measures, combined with sensible housing and good nutrition should keep your hedgehog hopping for all the years of their lives.  And remember, if your hedgehog is showing signs of lethargy, or loss of appetite, that a good indication that it's time to find a veterinarian near you.  

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