The first question you might ask is, "Is a hedgehog the right pet for me?"
Hedgehogs are awesome pets. They're considered "exotic pets", which usually indicates their care is a little more involved than a dog, cat, or hamster. That said, they are totally worth it. JUST LOOK AT THAT FACE!
Hedgehogs are more than just a pretty face, however, and they are somewhat grumpy by nature. Which is why breeders work so hard to breed only the healthiest, most friendly hedgies possible. Even still, they are prey animals, so they are very often on the defense, particularly since their eyesight isn't that great. They function largely by smell. So the more they are used to your smell, the better! They may huff and ball up at first until they get used to you and realize, hey, you're the human with the treats!
They probably aren't going to come when you call their names, but they do get used to your voice, and a well socialized hedgie doesn't usually mind being handled and often has a pretty good time. Some like to snuggle, and some love to explore, and some love to do both!
They are also nocturnal, which means they sleep all day and they're up all night. This isn't to say that you can't wake them up and handle them, but they might be in a better mood in the evenings or very early mornings. They mostly come out to eat and run in their wheel, so added interaction from you really enriches their little lives!
Hedgehogs are not rodents-- they're insectivores, so they love bugs. Mealworms, super worms, wax worms, dubia roaches, crickets... BIG FANS! Which is one of the key things that make their care a little more unusual. They do eat cat food, but, they also eat bugs. Bugs provide chitin, which is fiber, which burns fat. They chunk up easily, so it's an important factor in their diet!
They also need space to run around, a heat source, (especially if where they are located is a cooler spot in the house) a wheel that needs cleaning almost every day, places to hide, (like a snuggle bag or an igloo) toys to enrich their little environments, monthly baths, and nail trims when necessary.
There are many MANY MANY pages on the internet that go into great detail for hedgehog care, and they are invaluable. Research for these little dudes is key to their well-being and longevity. But I will give you a basic run down, and if you have further questions or need clarification, you are welcome to contact me! I am happy to answer any questions you might have.
HANDLING YOUR NEW HEDGEHOG
I wanted to add a section on how to get your hedgehog used to you when you first bring them home. Some hedgehogs are naturally friendly and curious, and I try to breed for that, but some are shy at first no matter what. They are prey animals, so by nature they are fight or flight. They are out to protect themselves from being a predator's meal. So a lot of patience goes a long way! I cannot stress that enough!!
Please also remember, these are animals with quills. They will poke you, perhaps accidentally, but it happens. Sometimes they may be huffy at first, especially if woken up, but warm up quickly once you handle them. It is okay to use a snuggle bag or gloves to pick them up at first until you are used to their quills, but try to do this minimally, because they won't get used to your smell if you continue to use them.
Your hedgehog may be in a ball, and may huff, click, and pop at you to scare you away. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE MEAN. IT MEANS THEY ARE SCARED. Do NOT put them back in their cage if they're doing this, or they will quickly learn how to make you go away!
Things you can do to help your hedgie warm up to you:
-put a t-shirt you've worn in their cage so they become used to your smell
.-sit quietly with hedgie in your lap until they unball
-massage their back quills in a circular motion until they unball
-offer them treats (mealworms, wet cat food, or cooked unseasoned meats are good ones)
-speak softly to your hedgehog-do not yell or make loud noises
-if in your lap or in your hands, let them unball in their own time as they feel safer.
Spending time with your hedgie, like having them in your lap in a snuggle sack while you watch tv, or even without the snuggle sack, helps them relax and bond with you.
A hedgehog with their head up and quills down is a relaxed hedgie. This is the goal! Having a pet hedgehog who trusts you is one of the most rewarding things, since it is not particularly in their nature. Which is what makes them such fun pets!
The Hedgehaus eats--
I mix these together. I did a lot of compare and contrast to find a mix of foods that I feel benefits my hedgehogs the most. If you pick one of these foods rather than mixing them altogether, I would choose the Chicken Soup for the Soul or the Rachael Ray as a single staple kibble. (Supplemented with bugs, treats, etc.)
I prefer to stick with cat foods with less than 13% fat, and in the range of 30% for protein, and as much fiber as I can find, which is often very low in cat foods, and why things like insects or cricket powder are helpful; they help burn fat.
I do not recommend most foods manufactured specifically for hedgehogs. Largely, they lack most of the nutrition that hedgehogs need. Hedgehog Precision is my only exception to this rule. I buy it on and off and mix it with the cat food. (Sometimes it is out of stock, so it is not a permanent fixture in our mix.)
There are, as always, debates on how much protein/fat are acceptable, but these ranges have always worked well for me. So when selecting a cat food for your hedgehog, check the bags nutrition with these numbers in mind. Also, high quality ingredients, that list meat as the first ingredient. I give them about 2-3 table spoons of kibble a night, mixed with cricket powder, and a couple of drops of flaxseed oil mixed into their food a couple of times a week for their dry skin.
*cricket powder~ This was a suggestion from Antigone that I loved and it has proven to be great. I kinda swear by this stuff now. It really makes a difference, in my opinion. I sprinkle a pinch over their cat food each night and mix it in. The insect fiber (chitin) increases the hedgehogs' ability to digest fat. Which really means, poo is not nearly as stinky!!
Also, fat hedgehogs might look cute on Instagram, but trust me, fatty liver disease will shorten the life of your hedgie. A good diet and exercise is imperative for long-term health.
Other treats that hedgies love: scrambled eggs, unseasoned/unprocessed meats, unseasoned/cooked eggs (hardboiled or scrambled), baby food, wet cat food, cottage cheese.
!! IF YOU AREN'T SURE IF SOMETHING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEDGIE TO EAT, PLEASE USE YOUR FRIEND GOOGLE TO FIND OUT BEFORE FEEDING IT TO THEM! ALSO CHECK MULTIPLE SOURCES FOR EXTRA VERIFICATION BECAUSE THE INTERNET IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!!
Water bottles have always worked for me with no issues. You can also use heavy ceramic bowls for water. Hedgehogs love to tip stuff over, so make sure it is heavy enough that they can't.
PRO TIP: If using a plastic bin for a DIY cage, after melting holes for the water bottle to fit into, elastic banding tied around the bottle holds it in tightly and they are easy to remove!
PLEASE make sure they always have access to fresh water. Probably a given, but must be said, regardless.
This is yet another topic of various opinions and debates. There are many types of cages/housing to choose from! I prefer to make cages out of Rubbermaid/Sterilite bins. These are very economical and easy to clean! I recommend a minumum of 110 qts but the bigger the better!
Here are a couple of videos for reference on how to make one-
If you don't have the luxury of leaving the lid off, because you might have cats or dogs or small children that could get into the cage, I have cut big rectangles in the center of the lids, and hot glued screen mesh over it for ventilation. You can find it super cheap at Walmart or Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.
There are also a lot of great options on Amazon, such as the Critter Nation cages. I personally don't have that kind of space, but they look pretty cool and spacious. Just make sure it's something that you won't mind cleaning once a week! DO NOT HOUSE YOUR HEDGEHOG IN AN AQUARIUM. There is no air flow in an aquarium. Cages with wires are also not recommended; some hedgehogs try to be escape artists and can get stuck and die!
Hedgies ALSO need hides available in their cage. Something like a plastic bowl, igloo, snuggle bag, shoe box, cereal box, PVC pipes, they love to sleep somewhere cozy and safe that isn't out in the open. Toys are also something they enjoy-- toilet paper rolls, jingly cat balls with bells in them, rubber ducks, toy cars, stuff they can nudge around keep them entertained and occupied.
NO CEDAR NO CEDAR NO CEDAR
Kiln-dried pine, aspen, carefresh are all fine. I prefer the Kaytee Aspen. Many people like to use fleece instead of bedding. It is economical. It is not something I have explored. However I would make sure the fleece does not pill. Hedgie toenails can snag it, pull it, and get it wrapped around hedgie feet and cut off circulation faster than you realize. (For that matter, so can HAIR, or any kind of string, and I have seen this happen! Very important to check feet DAILY, imo.)
A wheel is very important. IF for whatever reason you don't have or want a wheel, if your hedgie gets a lot of exercise (running around, like in a small kiddie swimming pool minus the water, or SUPERVISED around the house) that should be fine but I like to take the guesswork out of it and just give them a wheel! My all time favorite is the Carolina Storm Wheel found on Etsy. They make zero noise, which is wonderful for a light sleeper like me. They are a bit pricey after shipping, but worth every penny. They make models with a litter tray beneath them and without. Since hedgehogs like to run and poo, I advise the litter tray model. My first two wheels didn't have the tray, and I regret that despite them being great wheels otherwise. Regardless of whether or not it has a litter tray, your hedgehog WILL poo & run. It will be gross. You WILL have to clean it AT LEAST every other day. Spot cleaning is good if it's a few spots, but mine like to make a huge mess so they always require complete cleanings. Fortunately, that isn't very difficult.
The Kaytee Comfort Wheel is also good but maybe not as silent.
In addition to a wheel, you can let your hedgie run around in the bathtub with no water in it, (OR with a small amount of warm water and let them have a little foot bath for poo feet!) or let them run around your house as long as you're watching them, there are small animal playpens online, and I have even bought small kid pools that I put bedding in for hoglets to run around in. There are many exercise options! Hedgehogs LOVE TO RUN, so please please do not deprive them of this joy in their life! Thus the reason I think a wheel is soooooo important, in addition to it keeping them fit and active.
African Pygmy hedgehogs WILL hibernate if they are too cold. BUT unlike European hedgehogs, African Pygmies are NOT SUPPOSED to hibernate. Below 70 is too cold. Some can handle it, but that's a horrible risk to take. If they hibernate, they will die. So, no hibernation, please. Keep your hedgie warm! I keep the thermostats in my hedgie cages set to 75.
My setup is as follows:
-Fluker's Repta-Clamp Lamp with Switch for Reptiles (8.5")
-CHE (ceramic heat emitter) bulb
-thermostat for setting temp
If you search for the Fluker's lamp on Amazon, it'll probably show you the other products as "Frequently Bought Together".
There are several videos on Youtube on how to set these up.
I wouldn't advise a heating pad. Some people use them, but I don't want anything to catch fire or melt the plastic of a bin cage, etc.,
Hedgehogs, unless super filthy like covered in poop, don't really need baths very often. It can really dry out their skin which is already super prone to dryness*. (More on dry skin in a bit!) I typically don't bathe them more than once a month, but you can put them in the sink or the tub for a quick foot bath to get the poo off of their feet from running in their wheel. Yes, they love to poop on the run. Foot baths can be done as needed or a few times a week.
One advantage to baths is that they are frequently more relaxed or prone to unball. This should NOT be used as a method to get your hedgehog used to you, but you will very likely notice a difference in their temperament during a bath.
I use Aveeno Baby Gentle Wash & Shampoo with Natural Oat Extract, Tear-Free & Paraben-Free Formula for Hair & Body to bathe them and for foot baths. Other things to have on hand for bathing are: a toothbrush that you are hopefully not using, a towel, a hair dryer, and if needed, nail clippers and styptic powder.
Here is how I bathe my hedgies:
-fill up the sink or tub with just an inch or so of water with bath soap in it
-the water should be warm but NOT HOT
-set them in the sink or tub, let them walk around, poop will likely ensue. If in the sink, I pull the plug and drain that out and refill with clean water. Not the end of the world in the tub, but be sure to rinse them well.
-gently get them wet under the stream of warm water avoiding their eyes as much as possible (this is why I get tear free shampoo)
-put soap in your hands, rub them together, then wash your hedgies underbelly and top of quills
-put a dab of soap on the toothbrush and gently massage through their quills to really get them squeaky clean
-place hedgie under stream and rinse thoroughly until all soap is gone
Have a towel ready to dry their quills and tummy as much as you can, then wrap them up like a hedgie burrito for a few minutes. They always seem to love this.
Then I get my hair dryer, put it on low/warm, hold hedgie in hand, (usually completely unballed at this point) and blow dry their tummy and quills. All of my hedgehogs seem to relax and love this. I'm sure they love the warmth. I get them as dry as possible before I return them to their bin.
After their blowout, if they need a nail trim, this is when I do it, because they're usually pretty chill. Just make sure you clip the clear nail only and not the quick (pink part). If you DO accidentally get the quick, they can bleed, so it's good to have some styptic powder (can be bought at Petco or on Chewy, Amazon, etc) on hand, as this stops the bleeding. This task can seem very daunting but you will get the hang of it. If not, I do offer bath and nail trim services!
Hedgehogs have VERY dry skin. During the winter particularly, when the heat is running, their skin can get flakey. A humidifier really helps this issue. I also buy flax seed oil pills, use scissors to cut a tiny hole in one, and add 2-3 drops in their kibble twice a week. This has seemed to help their skin a lot. There is a difference between this kind of flakiness and what I am describing below. Below is a much more extreme version. A few flakes similar to dandruff may just be dry skin. If you have any questions or doubts, take your hedgie to the vet. If you need a vet reference in the DFW area, I have a list of DFW vets who see hedgehogs on the LINKS page. Please have one lined up for your hedgehog prior to taking them home.
IF your hedgehog has excessively dry skin to the point where it is covered in white flakes, on its face and between quills, losing quills and itching a lot, your hedgehog may have mites. This is not an uncommon issue but it is annoying. They can get mites from bedding (some people freeze bedding for 24 hours before using to kill mites) or kibble or wherever they are. They essentially cause a severe skin reaction. Your hedgehog WILL need vet care for this issue. They will give you a tube of kitten Revolution and a syringe. Usually the vet will do the first dose for you, then you can put the remainder in the package on again in 3 weeks or so to make sure it is completely cleared up, or they will have you come back and they will do it. (My vet knows I know how to do it, heh.) It's a pretty simple solution. If you have more than one hedgehog, make sure they do not interact, but, I would dose them all just to be on the safe side! You can also try giving them the vet suggested dose every other month just to keep them at bay so they are not an issue at all.
As you can see, hedgehogs have many requirements, some more unusual than others. PLEASE make sure these are requirements you can provide. I will ask for pictures of your setup before a baby is allowed to go home.
Also BEFORE you get a hedgehog, make sure you know an exotics vet who sees hedgehogs, so you know who to take your hedgie to if needed. (There is a list of DFW area vets on the links page.) Vets for exotics can be pricey, so keep that in mind. Don't cheap out on your hedgehog! They, (just like any pet) deserve the very best!
I hope this adequately covers MOST of the bases, and again, if you have any questions, feel free to send me a message!
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