Hedgehog Care 101

Hedgehogs are spiny little mammals originating from Europe, Africa, and Asia. Because of their sharp-looking exteriors, these critters are not often the first option as pets. But spiky as they may be, hedgehogs can still make great companions. 

They may not be as cuddly, but these mammals are unique and low-maintenance creatures. Hedgehogs even have their own exterior protection. But just like any pet would, a hedgehog also needs to be looked after. So, if you’re thinking of getting one, you should also be prepared for hedgehog care.

 But first, let’s talk about the basics of hedgehogs as pets. 

An Overview of Hedgehogs as Pets

Hedgehogs got their name from two of their features. “Hedge” comes from the fact that they’re commonly seen in shrubs and hedges. On the other hand, “hog” refers to how their noses resemble a pig’s snout. This feature makes their appearance incredibly unique and exotic.

While they may have spikes like a porcupine, hedgehogs aren’t related to the rodents. Hedgehog spines don’t fall off. Meanwhile, a porcupine’s spines can target any predator or threat that comes in contact with it. When a hedgehog is relaxed, its spines or quills are also much safer. 

hedgehog care
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However, you still shouldn’t cuddle with a hedgehog. The CDC advises against it due to potential salmonella infection. You should also watch out for pet regulations in your area since domesticating hedgehogs is illegal in some states. 

If you’re living in a state allowing hedgehogs as pets, then you can choose among these breeds:

  • African pygmy hedgehog / white-bellied hedgehog
  • European hedgehog
  • Long-eared hedgehog

These hedgehogs require minimal maintenance. As long as they have the proper housing and diet, with the occasional medical care, hedgehogs can live up to 4-8 years. Remember, they can only live a long and healthy life if given the proper hedgehog care.

Overall, hedgehogs are low maintenance, unique, and fun to have as pets. Now, let’s talk about hedgehog care and its different aspects.

 

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The Different Aspects of Hedgehog Care

Housing 

One of the first things you need to consider when it comes to hedgehog care is housing. Hedgehogs are active creatures. They like to walk, run, dig, swim, and even climb. So, make sure you give them enough space for such activities. Cages for rabbits, hamsters, and snakes are big enough for hedgehogs. 

Hedgehogs are only sociable during the mating season. So, even if you house a hedgehog with another hedgehog, make sure they have adequate space. Also, make sure you don’t pair them up with other animals. Hedgehogs can either harm other animals with their spine or carry bacteria that can harm their cagemates. 

You should also consider the material and make of the habitat. For the flooring, avoid cages with wire grates. Such surfaces can trap the hedgehog’s small feet and cause injuries. Since hedgehogs are also good climbers, make sure the enclosure’s walls are smooth to avoid accidental escapes.

Additionally, hedgehog care also requires you to add a wheel to your pet’s home. This way, they can still walk around for hours on end without going the distance. This exercise regime can go a long way to prevent obesity, foot sores, and depression among hedgehogs. You can also add other toys and accessories, such as bells, balls, and tubes. 

 

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Environment

Once you get the housing right, you still need to consider the best environment for your new pet. Hedgehog care requires a temperature of around 72–80℉ (22–26.5℃). You can use thermometers to monitor the temperature in your hedgehog’s enclosure.

If the temperature is too cold, your pet may attempt to hibernate—a dangerous and fatal habit in captivity. Sudden large drops in temperature can also push them to hibernate. So, make sure to keep your hedgehog cage away from cool and drafty areas.

Heat lamps designed for reptiles can be a good solution to maintaining ambient temperature, especially during winter. Additionally, you can use central heating, ceramic heat emitters, and space heaters for your hedgehog’s home. 

The other side of the temperature spectrum also provides discomfort to hedgehogs. While these animals can tolerate up to 90℉, too-hot environments are unhealthy. Extreme heat can also prompt a hibernation-like state called aestivation. So, make sure you also keep their home away from direct sunlight and other heat sources.

 

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In the summer, your hedgehog may lay on their bellies with their legs splayed out. You can avoid this by putting cool tiles in the cage where they can cool down. Try out ceramic or floor tiles for the best results.

Feeding habits 

Wild hedgehogs are omnivores. They eat plants, roots, and insects. So hedgehog care should include a balanced meal of dry food, supplements, and treats to replicate this diet. You can also get commercial hedgehog food. However, these products can be hard to find. 

 

Alternatively, you can feed your hedgehog cat kibbles. These kibbles are small enough to not be choking hazards. When looking for kibble and other processed meals, make sure they don’t contain any ingredients toxic to hedgehogs. 

Here are some ingredients you should avoid:

  • milk
  • nuts and seeds
  • dried fruits
  • grapes and citrus fruits
  • onions
  • chocolate
  • bread
  • spicy food
  • raw potatoes and other starchy vegetables

As long as the product lists meat meal as its main component, cat kibbles are a good option. Furthermore, make sure that protein composes at least 30%–35% of their diet. Avoid fish-based meals, as these can result in digestive issues. A meal’s fat content should also be around 10%–15%. Lastly, filler ingredients, like corn, should be minimized.

Of course, these foods can’t recreate the normal hedgehog diet. So, occasional treats and live meals, like crickets and mealworms, are essential for hedgehog care. These types of food provide chitin and blood meal hedgehogs would otherwise eat in the wild.

Remember to feed your hedgehog at least twice a day, once in the twilight and once in the morning. A teaspoon per meal is enough. However, young and pregnant hedgehogs usually need more food. Avoid overfeeding, especially since there are numerous reports about obese hedgehogs that have to go on a diet.

Hedgehogs also need water. Most of them drink from a bowl, but some can manage with water bottles. The latter is more advantageous for you since these require less maintenance than bowls. 

Healthcare 

Hedgehogs are pretty low maintenance. However, their feet are pretty sensitive. Wipe their feet with a damp cloth if they shy away from water baths.

Also part of hedgehog care is taking care of their quills. While you should avoid touching these as they can pierce your skin, you still need to gently brush them regularly.

Like humans, hedgehogs also have medical needs. So, hedgehog care should also include routine visits to a vet. Here are the common health problems a hedgehog may experience:

  • dental disease
  • intestinal parasites
  • mice and lice infestation
  • obesity 
  • tumors 

 

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Spine loss is also normal in small amounts, and thus, shouldn’t be cause for concern. However, if you notice excessive spine loss and bald spots, take your hedgehog to the vet. 

Don’t limit your visits to the vet for instances involving health problems. Instead, make routine visits to your vet a part of your overall hedgehog care. During such consultations, your vet will check heart rate, blood pressure, and other health stats. Vaccinations are also necessary to maintain your hedgehog’s health. 

Lastly, consult the vet about spaying and neutering options. This process can help avoid reproductive problems and tumors in the future.

Petting

Hedgehogs also require love. So, you should add petting to your hedgehog care plan. Since these animals are nocturnal, it would be best to pet them in the evenings. If you try petting them during the day, they may become defensive and curl up into spiky balls.

 

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You can build trust with these animals by giving them treats and rewards, and being patient. It would also be beneficial to get younger hedgehogs since they are easier to tame. Before picking them up, allow your pet to get acquainted with your smell. Once they become tame and comfortable with your presence, they’ll even voluntarily crawl into your arms!

In Conclusion

Hedgehogs are very different from their pocket pet counterparts. So, it’s only natural that hedgehog care is also unique. 

Their diet consists of meat meals as well as chitin and blood-filled foods like insects and mealworms. They also need housing that has enough space for them to roam free and exercise. And while they may be less social than other pets, hedgehogs still need love, like any domesticated animal. So, hedgehog care also includes petting times. While these steps can keep them healthy, annual and routine visits to the vet are still essential. 

Make sure to follow these pieces of advice and you’ll soon perfect your hedgehog care routine. If you keep this up, your pet can be assured of a long, healthy, and happy life.

 

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