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Hedgehog Care Part I

Last Updated: 10/28/06

General Information
Male or Female and How Many?
Cages and Heating
Bedding and Litter


General Information

The first thing most people notice about hedgehogs is their quills or spines which can be very sharp. If the hedgehog or hedgie is happy, then the quills will be in a less painful position when you touch them (and yes, at that time, you can pet them, front to back only). If they are scared (anyone or anything new can scare them), the quills stick out and can puncture the skin. In that case, gloves may be needed. Once a hedge gets to know someone, you can use your bare hands to scoop him up from below. The quills are modified hairs. Unlike a porcupine, hedgehogs cannot throw their spines. Porcupines do not really throw their quills either but when an animal sticks their face on the spines, they come out and stick in the would-be predator. This does not happen with hedgehogs. Their stomachs have soft, normal fur. Hedgehogs have been bred in a number of color patterns but most are variations of agouti (white tips on black spines).

Hedgehogs belong to the Order Insectivora which includes moles and shrews. They are not rodents. Hedgehogs are more closely related to bats which are in the order Chiroptera which may be an off-shoot of Insectivora than they are to rodents who are in the order Rodentia. Being in the insectivore category, hedgehogs thus mostly eat insects but also worms and other small animals. The African pygmy hedgehog's scientific name is Erinaceus albiventris or Alelerix albiventris depending on which source you believe. A hedgehog breeder sent me an e-mail saying the correct name is in fact Atelerix albiventris so the various sources are all over the place!

Hedgehogs are exotic pets. They require specialized care that many people are not willing to provide such as special foods, supplemental heating, and more. They are illegal to breed without a USDA license in the USA. They are illegal in many states and cities. When I say hedgehogs on this page, I will be referring to African pygmy hedgehogs as the European hedgehog is not domesticated or kept as a pet. But, if they were, the care would be almost the same except they are carnivores (instead of omnivores). I did not seek out hedgehogs as pets. They fell into my lap from a relative. I fell in love with them which I did not think would be possible (let us just say, I did not think I woul be cuddling with them anytime soon!). But, I found that they require specialized care (which I was willing to give) that may be more than most people would be willing to do. They do not really require any more work or money than other small animals but just special knowledge.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal. That means they sleep all day unlike most small pets, like guinea pigs, which are diurnal or sleep at night. Because of this, be sure to keep the hedgehog in an area where it is quite (but not totally dark) during the day. Also keep them where they will not keep you awake at night while they play. But, it should be someplace warm.

Hedgehogs do some strange things. When confronted with a new smell or a stressful situation, they will froth at the mouth. Then, they smear this foam onto their quills. This is called anointing. Hedgehogs may be called hedgies, HH's, hogs (not too often, some may think it rude but it is what I use most at home), or pogs (perhaps derived by combing pig and hog). As I had two guinea pigs and two hedgehogs, if they could have interbred, then I would guess I would have had a pog!

A hedgie's home can NEVER be too big. If your choice is between a tiny cage and a large one, ALWAYS opt for the larger one. The hedgehog will be happier, and you will not have to clean it as often. Hedgehogs are smaller than guinea pigs and rabbits but they are very active at night and love to "get into trouble" (in other words, play). At night, my hedgies tossed things around.

Finally, keep any cages, litter pans, etc. as clean as possible. Most cages should be cleaned well at least once every two weeks for one hedgie. Weekly spot cleaning is good. There is NO such thing as "an easy to care for" pet. All require your time and love!


Male or Female and How Many?

Hedgehogs are solitary in the wild and should be housed separately. What if you do not do this? If you put two girls together that are litter mates or young, they may or may not get along. If two girls get along, they can be quite happy together. If you put two boys together, they will most likely fight. One web site says they tried raising male littermates, and one eviscerated the other (if you do not know what that means, then you probably do not want to know). If you keep a girl and boy together (like Sonic and Prickles were before I got them), they will usually get along except he may harm her somewhat when he gets "in the mood." Eventually, she will give birth (unless one is infertile), and most likely, one or both will eat the babies. Males apparently think they are great snacks, and females are inclined to eat them whenever stressed (and what is more stressful than a male trying to have his way with you?). It is also illegal to breed hedgehogs in the US without a USDA breeder's license. So, just keep them separate.

Sexing:

Turn over the hedgehogs and try to get a look at the belly. A male will have a large round area about 2/3 of the way from the head down to the tail. This is where the penis is located, way up on the abdomen. If you see it, you cannot mistake it for anything else. His testes are located in the lower abdomen, internally. Due to this (internal testes) and the fact that it is very dangerous to anesthetize hedgehogs, neutering is almost never done. If you have a female, you will see no such "belly button." She will have a v-shaped vaginal opening directly above her anus. There are also small pink nipples on the lower abdomen. While sexing adults is no problem IF you can get a look under there, babies may be hard to tell and are often mis-sexed. Look for the "belly button." One way to see under a hedgehog if they will no unroll for you is to have them walk over a mirror and look at the reflection.


Cages and Heating

Cages, Toys, Tubes, Bags, and Wheels:

Hedgehogs need a nice big cage with at least three square feet of space per hedgie. Prickles was in a cage that is 18" x 30", and Sonic's was about 18" x 32." They need most of all a place to hide. A plastic igloo, a reptile log, an empty baby wipe container, or even an empty tissue box will work. They like tubes and containers to climb in and sleep in. Hedgehogs like to throw things around and move them so you can put in an empty toilet paper roll (slit it so they will not get stuck), cat toys, balls, etc. You can buy hedgie bags and hats from a number of the places listed in the links sections. Finally, all hedgehogs should have a hedgehog exercise wheel except for females with newborns (she may take them for a fatal ride) or sick/disabled hedgehogs. The links in the link section sell many kinds of wheels.

One person who used to have hedgehogs made them an interesting home by buying two plastic storage containers. He cut off most of the lid but left a lip in it. Then, he cut circles in them and joined them with a PVC pipe. This gave them a little extra room and was economical. If you try this, be sure they cannot escape. You may want to glue the pipe in if there is any chance it could come off. Also, if you have other animals loose in the house like I, a full lid (with ventilation) is essential. You could cut most of the lid out like he did and then cover the opening with hardware cloth (rabbit wire which is little squares) by stapling it on. Be sure the lid itself cannot pop off as many inexpensive box lids tend to do. I prefer the more expensive pre-made, solid-floor rabbit cages as I know they are escape-proof, house predator-proof, and there is side ventilation as well as top ventilation.

Heating:

Hedgehogs need to be kept warm, over 70 degrees F. The easiest way to do this is to keep them in a room that does not get any colder than that. Experts say not to use reptile heat lamps (too much light), reptile hot rocks (too hot), or undertank reptile heaters (could melt plastic cages and do not get very hot). They say it is ok to use a ceramic heat emitter in a ceramic fixture or to use a human heating pad on low but I would be worry about them putting waste on a heating pad (which is why is goes under the cage). I used heating pads on low under the cages for the four years that I had hedgehogs. I covered part of the cage with a blanket to keep out drafts and keep in more heat for them. They also got warmer by snuggling into their bedding. NEVER keep a pet hedgehog outside. Even if the temperature is above 70 degrees F, the cage may not be safe from persistent predators. Also, do not keep the hedgehog in the cold rooms or hot rooms in the house which means no garages, basements (unless it is heated), or attics. If you would not be comfortable in the room naked, then your hedgie will not be happy there either. Remember, they come from Africa.

A breeder pointed out that just as it is important to keep the hedgehogs warm, they can also be too hot and that may cause estivation (hibernation when it is too hot). So, aim for 70-80 degrees F or slightly above room temperature. If the hedgehogs have a range of temperatures in their enclosure, they can move to slightly cooler or warmer areas depending on how warm or cold they feel. If your hedgie sleeps right on the heat, it may be too cold in there. If he never sleeps there, it may be too hot in that spot.

Heat For My Hedgies:

My hedgehogs had a small space heater and each had a human heating pad on low under their cages (under their igloos). I also bought two microwaveable disks (the disks came from Drs. Foster and Smith) in case I needed to give them more heat or to use if the power goes out (heated in a neighbor's microwave or via our generator if we get it going). [I never did use the disks; they get really hot at first and cool down too fast). The room they were in is about 68 degrees F without any added heat (just house heat) so they needed some more heat. With the space heater, it was stable always above 70 degrees F (not warmed because the hedgies were in a huge open room so heat was dissipated quickly but the cages were about 2 feet from the full warmth of the space heater and did get warmed from it but not as much as in an enclosed room. In our case, this area was the best place we could accommodate them but if you have a room you can shut off, that is much better). It does vary depending on how high the house heat is and can range from 70-75 (in November, 2002). With the added heating pads, they were fine. They used to sleep curled in a ball but then slept open with tummy towards the heating pad. After Sonic died, I turned off the space heater. My father was always paranoid the house would burn down. Since the space heater was aimed at Sonic's top cage, it really did not help Prickles much. She lived for a year after that.


Bedding and Litter

Never use untreated pine or cedar shavings as all can cause respiratory problems. They also are not as good as the product that I used. CareFresh is made from unused wood pulp. It is better because it provides a soft place to sleep, does not have much smell or dust (I hated the dust from cedar shavings!), absorbs liquids and odors well, is very light, and is environmental friendly. There are other similar products. Some people say hedgehogs can choke on CareFresh but mine never tried to eat it. There is a risk with any litter of a small animals eating it and causing compaction as well. Kiln-dried white pine shavings, aspen shavings, and other environmental beddings are possible choices. Do not use corncob litters as they get stuck in the male's penile sheath (as can many beddings so be aware). Visit a FAQ on bedding to learn about why shavings are bad and other products are better.

Some hedgehogs can be trained to a litter pan. Use a corner ferret litter pan with CareFresh or non-clumping (plain) cat litter. Hedgies also like to dig around in sand sometimes for fun. If a hedgie has a wheel as he/she should, then much poo and pee will be deposited there and may be spun out of the wheel so they may need to be cleaned often. Litter training is easier without a wheel (but I would not deprive mine of theirs!). Some people keep the litter pan under the wheel.

Most of the expert hedgie keepers use vellux (supposed to be sold at most chain department stores but I have not looked yet myself) to line their cages and a litter pan in the corner. Some places also make cage liners from corduroy and other materials. See some of the links for more information.


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