Let’s face it, keeping a pet hedgehog is a lot different from keeping a hamster.
For one thing, hedgehogs aren’t fluffy. They have quills, and when they feel threatened, they roll into a spiky ball.
And here’s another thing:
A pet hedgehog has different needs from other small pets and often requires a specialized vet.
Plus, you’re not going to find them in most pet shops.
And if you live in California, Hawaii, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and a few other places, I have bad news for you:
You’re not going to find them at all because hedgies are illegal there.
But many people think hedgehogs make great pets. What’s more, their popularity is on the rise, and I’ll tell you why.
You're probably asking yourself if a hedgehog is right for you.
Well, that's what we're here to find out.
Meeting the Hedgie
Hedgehogs are mammals. There are 17 different species, but only a few are commonly kept as pets:
African pygmy hedgehog (most common)
Egyptian long-eared hedgehog
Indian long-eared hedgehog
Hedgies are native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. They are particularly beloved in Britain and Russia.
And, no, they're not little pocket-sized porcupines.
In Britain, the slug-eating hedgehog is a much-loved garden visitor. Unfortunately, cars, predators, and pesticides have made it an endangered visitor.
Four Scottish islands have an opposite problem: hedgehogs are overrunning the islands and munching on the eggs of endangered seabirds.
The Uist Hedgehog Rescue came up with a unique solution.
Now they airlift the unwanted Scottish hedgies to the mainland, where they are freed to feast upon garden pests to their hearts' content.
More hedgie facts
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, though a pet hedgehog may be active during the day as well.
But wait. It gets even more interesting. Did you know:
Hedgehogs "camouflage" themselves with scent?
When a hedgie encounters something new, it licks and bites at it. Then it mixes the smell with saliva in its mouth. And then it takes that scented saliva and "anoints" itself to fit into its surroundings. Cool, huh?
Also, hedgies are immune to several types of snake venom -- assuming any snake is stupid enough to try to take a bite out of a hedgehog.
Hedgehogs As Pets
If you're thinking about getting a pet hedgehog, you should know what you're getting into.
A pet hedgehog is generally small enough to hold in the palm of your hand.
The most popular pet hedgehog breed, the African Pygmy Hedgehog, is between five and eight inches long and weighs between half a pound to one and one-half pounds.
The hedgehog gets its name from its pig-like snout, as well as the fact that in the wild, it lives in bushes and hedges.
Their most notable feature is their quills. The quills are hollow. However, unlike porcupine quills, they're not barbed.
That doesn't mean they can't hurt you. But it does mean that they're less likely to do lasting damage.
Hedgies come in a variety of colors, including:
Salt and Pepper
What nobody wants to talk about
In the wild, hedgies rarely live for more than three years. However, a pet hedgehog can easily live twice that, or even longer.
According to Hedgehog Headquarters:
"If your pet hedgehog turns 5, they'd be in their mid-70s! And if they turn 7, well, then they deserve a medal, because if they were human, they'd be a little over 100 years old."
Some have described the hedgehog as "prickly," especially during quilling.
That just a way of saying:
When it's losing its juvenile quills, and the adult quills are coming in.
Of course, that could make anyone grumpy! Other than this, though, a properly socialized hedgehog can be quite tame and affectionate.
In addition to quills, their other main defense is rolling up into a ball. You should never try to unroll a hedgie when it's in this position. You could hurt it badly -- and get a few prickles yourself.
Hedgehogs are solitary by nature. That's good news because it means that, unlike rabbits, you can keep just one very happily.
Hedgies aren't normally cuddly like a cat or dog. If you raise it right, though, with plenty of love and gentle handling, a pet hedgehog can be taught to enjoy human contact.
How to tell if your hedgie likes you?
A properly socialized pet hedgehog will lay its quills flat to show you it trusts you. If the one you're considering rolls up in a ball and won't come out, or acts defensively, it probably wasn't socialized correctly.
In this case, it will probably not make a good pet.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal. That means they sleep during the day.
After dark, though, look out!
A pet hedgehog can be quite active and noisy at night. If you're a light sleeper, this is something to consider.
Because they're so active, you'll need a lot larger enclosure than you might think. But more about that later.
Many states will allow you to keep a pet hedgehog. But it's important to be aware that hedgies are illegal in a number of places. These include:
New York City, NY
Ottawa, ON, Canada
Also, some places will allow you to keep some breeds, but not others. Some places will also require you to have a special permit.
So if you're thinking about a pet hedgehog, know the laws where you live.
Your Pet Hedgehog: Care and Feeding
The little guy has to live somewhere, and he's certainly gotta eat. Let's find out what's best for them.
The hedgehog house
The right kind of home makes for a happy hedgie. It's not difficult, but a hedgie house is probably different from what you might think.
A pet hedgehog is small, but it can be very active. They need to have room to run around and stretch their tiny little legs.
A hedgehog enclosure should be a minimum of four feet long by two feet wide, so your pet has plenty of room to run around.
Some sources recommend a multi-level enclosure to save space.
Other experts say that since hedgehogs are ground-dwelling animals with poor height perception, this could be dangerous.
For this reason, it's a good idea to avoid putting ledges in your hedgie house.
If you've had hamsters, mice, or other small animals, you know there are three basic types of enclosures. These are:
Wire cages have the best ventilation. On the other hand, wire might not be the best choice if you have curious cats or other pets that might like to take a poke at your hedgie.
A dark plastic storage bin can make it easier for your hedgie to sleep during the day. An aquarium allows you to see your hedgie easily. With a plastic enclosure, you need to be very careful about ventilation.
A see-through aquarium might confuse your pet hedgehog. They might think if they can see through the glass, they can push against it and keep going.
Think about your household and your lifestyle. Then try to figure out which type of enclosure would work best for you and your new buddy.
Keep them safe
If you choose a wire cage, make sure it has a solid floor. Hedgehogs have small feet that can get caught in wire.
And make sure you do this:
Choose a wire cage with walls lower than 12 to 14 inches. Your adventurous hedgie might try to climb those walls...and fall.
No ledges for hedgies! They can fall off and hurt themselves.
If you choose an aquarium, watch out for "cage rubbing." That's where they rub their face against the glass, thinking they can get out that way.
It can cause bleeding and pain for your little guy.
And again, if you choose plastic, be very, very sure to provide adequate ventilation.
Hedgehogs are diggers, so whatever sort of home yours has, it will need two to three inches of bedding. That bedding, or substrate, needs to be both absorbent and free of breathable particles.
What makes good hedgie bedding? Try these:
Recycled paper substrate like Care Fresh. Paper shavings and compacted paper bedding pellets are soft and absorbent. They also expand when wet. On top of that, they don't have any oils or particles that your hedgie can breathe in.
Wood fiber pellets. These, too, are soft and expandable. Avoid pine and cedar products and wood shavings, though, as their oils can harm your hedgie's lungs.
Dried corn cob bedding. It's soft and absorbent. On the other hand, it won't do much for odor.
Towels and pillowcases. A pet hedgehog loves to hide, and this option will let them. Wash and change fabric bedding often, though.
Another warning about cedar:
Cedar shavings can harm your pet hedgehog's heart and liver, and may cause allergic reactions.
One of the best things about a pet hedgehog is that hedgies are clean by nature. They don't want to wallow in their own mess, and you don't want them to!
It isn't hard to train your hedgie to use a litter box, either.
Just do this:
Litter Box Tips
The litter box should be open-topped and not too deep, so your pet hedgehog can get in and out easily.
Also, and this is important:
Choose a dust-free, non-clumping litter. Hedgehog Welfare says that clumping litter can stick to your hedgie's genitals.
And they might eat it, which is not only icky, it's bad for them.
Light and temperature
Your hedgie will be miserable if you treat him like he's not nocturnal.
So, ake sure their enclosure has daylight during the daytime and darkness at night.
Keep temps in this range for your hedgehog.
If it gets much colder than 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), your hedgie may attempt to hibernate.
Do this to prevent that from happening:
Put a heating pad on LOW, and UNDER the enclosure, if needed.
Can a hedgie get too hot?
Yes, and you should know the signs. If your hedgie is lying spread out, with its nose up, panting, this means that it is too hot.
Hedgehogs are active and curious.
Let's face it:
Nobody likes to be bored, so make sure your pet hedgehog has something -- a number of things -- to do.
You might try:
An exercise wheel. Like all of us, hedgies can become obese if they don't get their exercise. Choose a solid wheel, though, not a wire one. That will keep their little feet from getting stuck and possibly injured.
By the same token, you might try an exercise ball. Just be sure to keep an eye on your hedgie when it's out and about. And keep them away from the stairs.
Hedgies like to hide, so make sure yours has a hiding place. A box or cardboard tube works well.
Your pet hedgehog will also love toys it can push around. Try balls, rollers, and treat dispensers that they have to figure out themselves.
Now your hedgie is hungry
You can feed your hedgie pellets like a rabbit or hamster, right?
Hedgies aren't grass-eaters. They're omnivores. Like us!
In the wild, their diet includes slugs, snails, insects, eggs, mushrooms, some fruits, and even frogs and snakes.
This means that your pet hedgehog will need a high-protein diet, not a grass diet. They will also enjoy a select group of fruits and veggies. But you have to be careful.
Feed Your Hedgie These:
High protein meat-based cat food
Crickets and mealworms from a pet store
Bell pepper (remove the seeds)
NEVER feed your hedgie these:
Live-caught insects (they may have parasites)
Any citrus fruit
Like any pet -- and like humans, too -- your pet hedgehog needs a steady supply of fresh water. You can give your hedgie a water bottle, or, if they don't like it, a water dish that's too heavy for your pet to tip over.
Keep your little buddy's water bottle clean, especially the tip. If you use a dish, change the water every day and wipe it clean to keep bacteria from building up.
Pet Hedgehog Care and Hygiene
You take your dog to the groomer, and your cat takes care of itself.
Hedgehog are different:
You need you to groom them. And they have some special needs you might not have thought of.
Many hedgies hate having their nails done.
Most animals do.
But it needs to be done anyway.
That's because as the nails grow, they curve, and can eventually grow into the pads of the feet, crippling your hedgie. Trim their nails every few weeks.
How do you trim a pet hedgehog's nails? Here are some tips:
Use nail scissors or a baby nail clipper.
Trim nails after a bath. Your hedgie will be more relaxed then.
Don't pull or twist your hedgie's legs.
If you accidentally trim too far and the nail bleeds, cornstarch will help it stop.
Bathing your pet hedgehog
Unlike nail trimming, many hedgies love a warm bath.
You should bathe your pet hedgehog whenever you notice that they are dirty, especially if they are soiled with feces. Bath time can be fun for both of you.
First, gather your equipment: a soft toothbrush, pet soap or pet shampoo, and a towel.
Next, fill a sink or plastic tub with about an inch of warm (not hot!) water.
Hedgehog Headquarters recommends the same temperature you'd use for a human baby. Hedgehogs like to relieve themselves in the bath, so keep this in mind when choosing your container. (designer_end)
Also, a piece of low-pile carpet on the bottom of the container will make the bottom less slippery and help your hedgie to clean its feet.
Now, let your little buddy get used to the water. If their spines are up, wait for them to relax them.
Lather up your hands with a small amount of pet shampoo and gently apply it to your hedgie. Use the toothbrush to scrub your pet's feet and spines gently.
Don't get soap into your hedgie's eyes or mouth.
Rinse them thoroughly, then wrap them in a warmed towel.
Finally, make sure your hedgie is completely dry before putting them back in their enclosure. Otherwise, they may catch a chill.
Handling your pet hedgehog
Hedgehogs aren't naturally cuddly, but they can learn to enjoy being handled. With regular handling, you can bond with your pet hedgehog just like any other pet.
Hedgehog Headquarters suggests the following:
Handle your hedgehog at least half an hour a day. It will get them used to you and comfortable with you. Try in the evening.
Some signs that your hedgie needs a break:
trying to run away
If you see any of these signs, let your hedgie have a rest from your attention. Otherwise, they may insist by giving you a bite!
Hedgie Health: Diseases and Illnesses
By this point, you know that hedgehogs are unique little critters. That includes their health concerns.
Here are a few things to look out for.
Mites are the most common parasite your hedgie is likely to encounter.
They're tiny insects that can cause your pet hedgehog big discomfort. Look out for these signs:
Dry, flaky, or red skin
Itching and scratching
Scabs or sores
If you think your pet hedgehog has mites, seek treatment from your vet.
Mites aren't the only cause of dry skin.
Your hedgie might have dry skin because it needs a bath -- or has been bathed too frequently. Low humidity might also cause dry skin.
Not only that:
Diet can cause dry skin as well.
But here's the good news:
Oatmeal baby shampoo can help. You can also apply a drop or two of olive oil to the dry patch.
Normal hedgehog feces are black. However, your hedgie might produce green feces from time to time. That could be a sign of:
If it lasts more than two or three days, see your vet. Your pet hedgehog may require an antibiotic.
And Speaking of Vets
Hedgehogs, like rabbits, turtles, and snakes, are considered exotic pets.
Meaning that you can't just take your pet hedgehog to any old vet. You'll need to find an exotic animal vet.
On top of that:
Before you book an appointment, you'll need to make sure that your vet-of-choice treats hedgehogs.
Hedgehog Welfare has a state-by-state listing that can help you find your vet.
Be safe and have your vet lined up before you need one.
Are you ready for a Hedgie?
Hedgehogs are fun, affectionate, and pretty easy to care for.
On the other hand:
They have some unique needs that you need to keep in mind.
Many of us grew up with dogs and cats, so taking care of them is second nature. But with a pet hedgehog, there's a learning curve.
Make sure you're prepared to learn how to keep your hedgehog happy and healthy.
Are you ready for a completely different kind of pet? Then a pet hedgehog might just be your new best friend.