Introduction: How to Take Care of a Hedgehog
As a hedgehog owner I have spent the past few years reading articles and researching hedgehogs and everything about them.Through nursing them back to health, giving them spa days, cleaning their cages, and determining products that are not safe for them, I feel I have come up with some quality advice for first time hedgehog owners. Initially, owning a hedgehog can be somewhat expensive, especially with exotic pet vet bills, large enclosures, and the flat price for just the hedgehog depending on where you get them from. However, once you get everything set up, they make great, low maintenance pets. With my advice, hopefully there are some first time mistakes you can avoid.
Step 1: Make Sure Hedgehogs Are Legal in Your Place of Residence.
Some states and municipalities have strict exotic pet policies. Before you start to research breeders or buy supplies, make sure that hedgehogs are allowed in your state. In the United States hedgehogs are illegal in the states of Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, and Pennsylvania. Even if you do not live in any of these states, you should still check in case your municipality or region has policies different from the rest of your state, such as Douglas County, Nebraska.
Step 2: Before You Pick Up Your Hedgehog, Gather All the Necessary Supplies.
You will need certain supplies to successfully raise and care for a hedgehog. The essentials consist of an enclosure, a food and water bowl, a wheel, a sleeping hut with something warm inside, bedding, nail clippers, a toothbrush, and hedgehog friendly body wash.
The enclosure will keep the hedgehog from roaming around and getting lost in your house. It also serves as a barrier to protect the hedgehog from any other pets you may have. You can use a guinea pig enclosure or a terrarium to house your hedgehog. Hedgehogs have small, fragile feet and toes that can easily get caught in small spaces. To prevent any breaks or injuries, make sure the enclosure has a solid surface on the bottom and partially up the sides of the enclosure. Hedgehogs are not necessarily small pets and they enjoy moving around. To accommodate this, at least two square feet of space is required.
Food and Water Bowls
When selecting bowls for food and water, make sure the bowls are fairly heavy. Hedgehogs sometimes like to step up on the edge of a bowl when they eat or drink and having a heavy bowl prevents it from flipping over and hurting the hedgehog
Wheels are critical to keeping a hedgehog mentally and physically healthy. Hedgehogs run as their main source of exercise and can run up to 20 km in a night. Having a wheel keeps them active as well as keeps their minds occupied.
The bedding can either be a fleece liner or shredded paper bedding commonly found in pet stores. NEVER use pine aspen chips for bedding because it can cause respiratory problems in hedgehogs. Avoid all wood chip bedding as little pieces can get caught and stuck in sensitive areas.b
Small huts with pieces of fleece or old fleece hats allow the hedgehog to stay warm and feel secure while it sleeps. Avoid using any fabrics with small loops in them because, as hedgehogs can easily get their toes stuck and the string can cut off the circulation to their feet and toes.
Nail clippers, toothbrushes, and body wash are all items used to groom a hedgehog. For more specifics instructions see the “Groom your hedgehog” section.
Optional items would include a heater, paper tubes, and outdoor roaming cage, a litter box, and litter.
Hedgehogs must be kept at around 70 °F to prevent hibernation. Hibernation is especially dangerous for African pygmy hedgehogs because they do not contain enough fat reserves to survive for a long period time. To lull a hedgehog out of hibernation, place them on a warm spot to warm up, like under your shirt on your stomach. Once the hedgehog is active again, you may continue holding them or you may place them back into their enclosure as long as the temperature has been fixed. Because of this, if your house or the room with the hedgehog is not warm enough by itself, it is suggested to I would suggest purchasing a heater for the colder months.
Hedgehogs now and then enjoy playing, and are notorious for making sport out of toilet paper tubes. They also enjoy running around outside.if you want to be cautious, you can purchase a fold-able cage to put outside for them to roam.
Some hedgehogs can be litter box trained and will go to the bathroom in a litter box instead of on the wheel while they run. For this, purchase a small litter box and litter often meant for ferrets.
Step 3: Check Hedgehog for Any Signs of Illness.
Some hedgehogs, especially those from pet stores, can become ill depending on its environment. When picking up your hedgehog, check to make sure it is in good condition. Signs of an unhealthy hedgehog may include:
§ Excessive filth surrounding the fur and quills
§ Scabs or injuries that the breeder may have not noticed
§ Lethargy, a lack of awareness and slow response time
§ Sunken, swollen, crusty, or cloudy eyes
§ Fat rolls around the armpit and inability to roll up suggesting an overweight hedgehog
§ Hollow sides and a concave stomach suggesting an underweight hedgehog
§ Green droppings or diarrhea in the cage (Note: Baby hedgehogs go to the bathroom a lot, do not be alarmed by this)
§ Tattered ears or constant scratching
Step 4: Find the Ideal Place for Your Hedgehog and Make It Feel Safe.
Keep your hedgehog in a cozy, quiet space. Loud noises from TV’s, vacuums, and small children are very likely to disturb the hedgehog’s hypersensitive hearing. Loud noises are capable of spooking hedgehogs, causing them distress and irritability. Often loud noises will prevent hedgehogs from coming out of there small hut and they will consequently not come out to exercise or eat causing obvious problems.
Step 5: Exercise, Feed, and Water Your Hedgehog.
Always keep a wheel in your hedgehog’s enclosure to ensure regular exercise. Allowing your hedgehog to run around outside and in a room is a good way of exercising them as long as you keep track of them and make sure they don’t get lost.
Hedgehogs are normally fed dry cat food, fruits, and mealworms. When finding a healthy cat food to feed your hedgehog, make sure it has a low fat and sugar content to prevent health problems that ensue with obesity, such as Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.
Be aware of foods that are toxic to hedgehogs. Avoid feeding them grapes, avocados, nuts, seeds, chocolate, dairy products, any kind of junk food, and citrus fruits. These can cause a range of problems starting from GI distress to death. ALWAYS check if something is toxic before you feed it to your hedgehog.
Step 6: Handle Your Hedgehog on a Regular Basis.
Handling your hedgehog on a close to daily basis will socialize your hedgehog and make it accustomed to human interactions. Socialized hedgehogs are less likely to bite or puff their spikes out at people and more likely to relax with you.
To get a hedgehog used to your scent, you can put an old t-shirt into their hut so that they sleep in it and relate your scent to safety and comfort. Hedgehogs may sometimes use you as a human toilet, do NOT stop holding them because of this, it will become less frequent the more you interact with them.
Step 7: Observe Changes in Habits.
Look for any changes in exercise, restroom, eating, and drinking habits. Sudden changes can suggest health problems that can be treated more effectively to more carefully you observe your hedgehog. Changes in bathroom habits may suggest illness as well as a need for a change in diet.
Step 8: Change Out the Bedding at Least Every Two Weeks.
Keeping a clean space for your hedgehog minimizes the chance of disease and controls scent. An unclean environment can promote skin diseases such as quill mites and bacterial infections and well as cause an unpleasant smell that spreads in the enclosed area.
Step 9: Groom Your Hedgehog
Make sure to trim your hedgehog’s nails and give them baths on a regular basis.
To trim a hedgehog’s nails, hold the hedgehog on its back on your lab and gently hold one of its paws. Once the hedgehog is still, you nail clippers to cute the white tip on the nail, making sure to not cut the quick. Regular trimmings shorten the quick and lower the chances of hurting your hedgehog. If you happen to nick your hedgehog, use cornstarch to make the bleeding stop more quickly.
When bathing a hedgehog, fill a bath tub, sink, or small bucket with lukewarm water. Use a small cup to wet your hedgehog, but avoid getting water in your hedgehog’s ear to avoid and ear infection. Put a toothpaste sized dot of hedgehog-friendly body wash on the toothbrush and brush in the same direction as the quills. Rinse thoroughly and make sure to not leave any suds behind as these can irritate and dry the skin. Wrap the hedgehog in a towel and keep it warm until it dries to avoid any hibernation scares.
Step 10: Be Aware of Hedgehog Characteristics.
Be aware of normal hedgehog behavior such as self-anointing, quilling, and nocturnal habits.
Self-anointing is a defense mechanism for hedgehogs. When they smell something new or particularly good smelling it my lick or bite whatever is causing the scent and then working that saliva into a foam that if spreads on its back in order to mimic the smell. The process can be concerning to new hedgehog owners because of how they contort, but do not be alarmed.
Hedgehogs will shed their quills twice in its life so that its adult quills can grow in. During this time be aware of where you step, as this is worse than stepping on a Lego brick. Try your best to keep your hedgehog’s skin from drying out and try spreading olive oil on its back to lessen the pain or this process.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and run and eat at night. This is not a habit that can be broken, this is biology. Do not be surprised if your hedgehog is irritated when you wake them up in the middle of the day and do not be mad when they start running on their wheel at three in the morning. This is something you should prepare yourself of before getting a hedgehog, and if you think this may be a problem, consider getting a diurnal pet instead.