Last Updated: 11/12/13
Grooming - trimming nails and bathing
African pygmy hedgehogs are omnivorous but predominantly insectivores. In the wild, they eat mostly insects, worms, slugs, and other small animals. In captivity, they are usually fed a basic diet. To make their lives more enjoyable and nutritional, they can also receive live and dead small animals, some fruits and vegetables, and other treats. Hedgehogs are prone to obesity so food should be limited, mostly the basic diet, and they should get exercise (via supervised time out of the cage and/or an exercise wheel).
For hedgehogs with oral problems or who refuse to eat other foods, you can try Miss Murray's Mash at this hedgie site.
The Basic Diet:
There are many good hedgehog foods out there, and there are many bad ones too. It used to be that cat food was the only option. Over time, cat food can cause fatty deposits and liver toxicity (fatty liver disease which can be seen as yellowing under the arm pits) resulting in a much shorter lifespan, obesity, and health problems. There are a dozen brands of hedgehog food. I tried out the ones sold by PawPrint and also by Brisky's (see the links for contact information). Both have gotten great reviews. After trying them out, my hedgehogs will not eat the Brisky's food but like the Zoo Fare, Avian hedgehog food, and Pretty Pets hedgehog food I got from PawPrint (out of business now). Some say that hedgehogs choke on Zoo Fare while others think it is great. I liked the variety and ingredients for the hedgies, and they did eat it without problems. The VitaKraft which was the first hedgehog food I could find is not appropriate for them at all. I used it up in very small quantities, more as a snack for the first year or so. My hedgies were also trying out Spike's Delight, Select Diet, and Felidae (a cat food). Also, see the many websites to which I link for more information on the basic hedgehog diet. The basic diet should contain MEAT (real meat would be nice but they all seem to have by-products) and not just corn, oats, soy, etc. flavored with fat (like cat food which is not very good for our cats either by the way!). For a list of places to buy the various hedgehog foods and treats, see hedgies.com shopping guide. I wrote the above when I started keeping my hedgies. By the end, they were getting a mix of L'Avian hedgehog food and various natural cat foods (Felidae, low-fat Wellness, Nature's Variety, and others). I had stopped feeding "hedgehog" foods. Many places went out of business.
Hedgehogs will gladly eat live mealworms (regular ones and king mealworms also called superworms; you can feed both the worm-like larvae and the adult beetles of these species), crickets, beetles, earthworms, waxworms, and anything small that moves. It is easy to buy live mealworms at the pet store which is their favorite food of all time (or so Sonic said!). See my mealworm page on how to raise mealworms. Hedgehogs may also eat freeze dried versions of these critters. Hedgies will eat cooked and unseasoned chicken, ground beef, and other meats (Prickles liked a piece of plain steak). Do not ever give them uncooked meat, meat with bones, or meat with anything added to it. My hedgies loved mealworms, crickets, and waxworms but ignored a large earthworm. I gave them some cooked, unseasoned ground beef on 11/3/02, and they scarfed it up. For a few years, I gave them a teaspoon every time I cooked ground beef. On 11/4/02, I gave them some adult mealworm beetles which they crunched up quickly. (I know, eww!) Hedgies are supposed to like rawhide but Sonic ignored the one I put in. In later years, they both ate mealworms, mealworm beetles, and waxworms.
For those hedgehogs who are not eating well, you can feed chicken or turkey human baby food. They are also supposed to like Gerber Graduates turkey and chicken sticks. I got some. They are like little hotdogs. Sonic and Prickles ate baby foods and Prickles liked the sticks (which I only fed for about a year when she stopped eating them). You can also puree together fresh cooked meats with the hedgehog foods and other foods mentioned. Some people do this routinely while others do it just with hedgehogs who are not eating all they should or are too picky. They cannot pick anything out if it is homogenized.
"Magic Hedgie Balls:"
I made magic hedgie balls for the hedgehogs on occasion the first year I had them. Do not feed this too often as it is not that great for them (no one will say why though aside from them being high in fat). I took a pound of raw ground beef and rolled it into a few dozen one inch diameter balls. You can remove some for the human family to eat as well as a pound makes a lot of balls! Then, I froze them. As one was needed, I took it out, microwaved for about a minute, broke the meat up (half per hedgie), and added anything that needed to be added. Since my hedgehogs had poor appetites for a short time soon after I got them, I added small animal liquid vitamins and ProZyme which is a mix of digestive enzymes. I thought these magic hedgie balls might work well to give medications. Mine were not eating much of anything but live mealworms and these ground beef balls. If they had needed medications, I could probably mix it in with a ball, and they would get most of it. Mine always ate ground beef. It seems that microwaving the ground beef cooks the meat strangely (half raw, half rock hard) so the balls are better pan cooked which takes time. I only made them for a short time. Over time, I figured out how to microwave them so the hoggies liked them.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Hedgehogs will a bit reluctantly eat some fruits and vegetables. Mine tried and ate grated carrot and apples. They did not touch grapes or kale (actually, at the end Prickles did eat the grapes). Hedgies are supposed to like bananas but when I offered some, it was untouched. It is important for them to get fiber in their diet. Most commercial hedgehog diets contain large amounts of corn, soybean, and/or wheat so apparently those are okay to feed but I do not think they should be so predominant in the hedgehog feed. It is the same way with dog and cat food. Cats and hedgehogs both enjoy mostly meat and yet there foods are mostly corn. Why? It is cheap. They figure if they can smear some by-products and lard on the corn, the cats and hedgehogs will not know the difference which is usually true but that does not mean it is good for them! A hedgehog breeder said never to feed fruits or vegetables as it causes diarrhea but all my books and FAQ's say to feed them small amounts of fruits and vegetables. I think it is about moderation. Tiny amounts of fruits and vegetables are fine. (My hogs never really liked them anyway.) Their main meal should be meat-based. Of course, as I said, most commercial hedgehog foods are mostly vegetables and grains! Some foods have higher meat content like Zoo Fare, Felidae, Spike's Delight, etc.
Eggs and Dairy:
Hedgehogs love eggs! Hard boil them first and cut them into quarters. One website says to feed them with the shell still on but that is not necessary. Hedgehogs will also eat some dairy products. Try yogurt (plain or various fruits like banana) and cottage cheese as treats. As I am updating this site after my hedgehogs have both died, I realized I never did give them eggs but I think I did yogurt once.
Some companies make hedgehog treats. Most are not good to eat often but are okay if giving only rarely. Be aware that some may contain peanuts or other things that can get stuck in hedgies' mouths.
What I Was Feeding To My Hedgehogs:
As of 11/13/02, I mixed up the foods I had to save time each night. This is the concoction of foods Sonic and Prickles were eating combined together in a ziploc bag and mixed: half cup their old food (cheap cat food, feeding just to be sure there is at least one kind they will eat as their diet is changed, will NOT get more when it is used up), half cup 8-in-1 hedgehog food, half cup Brisky's regular hedgehog food (they did not like it, did not get more when used up), half cup Pretty Pets hedgehog food, half cup Spike's Delight, half cup Felidae cat food, 1 cup Avian hedgehog food (I had a lot of it and many people recommend it so I put in more of it), quarter cup VitaKraft hedgehog food (not good for them but I wanted to use it up so using less of it), 1/8 cup of freeze dried cricket and waxworm mix, 1/8 cup freeze dried crickets, 1/8 cup freeze dried mealworms, and 1/8 cup 8-in-1 hedgehog treat (not very good for them, did not buy more). I put about 1/8 to 1/4 a cup (amount depends on age, sex, weight, and health of your hedgehog) of this mix in each cleaned bowl at 9 pm each night and added a sprinkle of Select Diet (had to stay in the freezer and fridge so I do it separate from the rest), Zoo Fare (moist and best kept refrigerated), and occasional treats including Snack Time (liver treats), live mealworms (larvae and adult beetles), live waxworms, and live crickets. I put in a few of these on top of the food or hand feed them when I take them out to play. In addition to all of these, I offered a tiny amount of shredded carrot, a sliver of apple, a dollop of yogurt, a teaspoon of cooked ground beef, and perhaps some of the others foods mentioned above a few times a week. I made magic hedgie balls (see under meat above) with the ground beef but they lost interest in those.
As of 2/13/03, I have altered their mix slightly. I used up their old cat food so that is gone. I increased the Felidae to 1 cup in the mix as it is their favorite. I used up the waxworm/cricket mix but bought some freeze-dried waxworms and put in 1/8 a cup of those. I used up the Select Diet and did not get more. I mixed in the Snack Time at 1/8 a cup into the mix. I also got some Bugs and Berries (they have ants) and Nut Mix treat thing (I forget the name). I did not think they were eating it but each of those get 1/8 a cup too. I did not buy more when they were gone either. The hedgies were enjoying canned crickets from Zoo Med (the small ones), Gerber Graduate chicken and turkey sticks, and baby foods (chicken, turkey, or beef). I alternate the various kinds and do not give much of those.
Wow, when I updated this page just now, I could not believe how much variety I used to feed them! By the end, I was mixing up L'Avian hedgehog food, Felidae cat food, low fat Wellness cat food, Nature's Variety chicken flavor cat food, and sometimes other natural cat food in about equal parts as the main food. I would add a tiny dollop of chicken or turkey or beef baby food and two mealworms each night. Every other morning, I would put in some grated carrot, half a grape, a piece of apple, and piece of kale. That was pretty much it but sometimes waxworms or adult mealworm beetles.
Hedgehogs are generally pretty healthy animals. Their main problems are a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. See the section above on feeding. Buy the hedgehog an exercise wheel made just for them (no holes to get feet stuck in). Many places sell them (see links below).
Did you know that hedgehogs can harbor a mite that is only found on hedgehogs and most store- bought hedgehogs have them? Sonic and Prickles were infested with thousands of these guys!! The treatment is a series of three ivermectin injections. Most hedgehogs get these mites from their mom so be sure to have the vet check for them at the hedgie's first visit. They are too small to see but the skin may appear crusty with lots of debris.
Hedgehogs generally live 3 to 5 years. A few live to the old age of 6 or 7.
As with most mammals, female reproductive cancers (breast, uterine, ovarian) are very common so keep an eye out in female hedgehogs for any growths, blood in the litter, abnormal appetite, behavior, etc. Hedgehogs are very prone to cancers, urinary tract infections, tumors of various kinds, and other ailments as they age.
Another problem is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome or WHS. I do not know a lot about it. Hedgies with this wobble when they walk. It often hits young hedgehogs. The disease is progressive and fatal. You can find help via the HWS website and Yahoo group (see the first link in the hedgehog web site section).
Normal body temperature for a hedgehog is 95-96 degrees F.
Most hedgehogs that die when older die from cancer. Sonic got penile and mouth cancer. Prickles got brain cancer; the vet guesses.
All hedgehog's nails should be trimmed every few months. Be sure to cut beyond (when you are facing the hog's rear; beyond meaning further out on the nail, further away from their body) the quick which is where the blood is. If you do not trim the nails, they can get caught on something, get torn off, and/or grow into the foot. It will take practice to get the hedgie to cooperate. Until then, take them to the vet. Sonic's nails were ingrown when I first took him for a trimming. Once he trusted me more, I was able to grab a foot and trim it after throwing a wet paper towel over his head in the water. If the hedgie just keeps rolling into a ball, just trim one foot at any one session. Cat nail trimmers work well.
One person said to try to trim their nails while they are taking a bath as they always open up then. I tried with Sonic's front foot while bathing, and he bit me (did not hurt really). Then, I was able to do a few back feet but he kept trying to walk away. I finally started doing Prickles nails. She wiggled but never tried to bite.
On 12/28/02, I trimmed both Sonic and Prickles' nails during their separate baths. I found that wire cutters worked better than cat nail trimmers since their nails were so tiny. I got about 70% of their nails including the longest ones (back "big toe") and had no problem doing their nails from then on. Even if I only got a few at a time, they all got done sometime!
By 2/22/03, I had the nail trimming down. I did Prickles in the water without too much problem. Sonic on the other hand liked to bite if my hands were near his face. I figured out a way to distract him. I threw a wet paper towel over his face while in the water. While he was snorting under there, I managed to get his back feet. His front feet were harder since he got the paper towel off too quickly, and the nails were curled/deformed. So, for his front feet, I did those when out of the water, wrapped in a regular towel on top of the washing machine for a while and later in the water. Unlike Prickles, as long as he was feet down, he usually did not roll up. So, I could throw the towel over his head and grab a leg. Both of them pulled back and forth on the legs while I work edon them but I managed to get all nails done without much trouble and pretty quickly.
Hedgehogs do not require bathing unless they are severely soiled or have a parasite infestation. Set them in a few inches of warm (not hot) water. Splash water and shampoo (I suggest oatmeal shampoo or Bunny Bath shampoo which is safe for small animals. Do not use dog or people shampoos unless they are pure and no-tears. It is okay to use human baby and kitten shampoos.) over their quills. Use a toothbrush to clean between the quills. Towel dry as best you can. Blow dryers scare them too much but you may want to let them dry in a warm area or sitting on a heating pad so they do not catch a cold.
On 10/26/02, I bathed my hedgies to clean the white flakes from between their spines (dead mites and skin probably). I put about 1.5 inches of warm (about 90 degrees F) water and a squirt of bunny shampoo (I buy it at That Pet Place) and swished it around in a tub sink. I plopped a hedgie in (I did him and then her, separately). They immediately opened up and start walking around pretty fast. I scooped soapy water over their backs. Then, I used the toothbrush on their backs why they walked around. I could use my hands to wash their softer tummies as they stay opened up. After draining the water, I rinsed them with the faucet on warm water. Then, I put them on a towel and proceeded to towel dry them as any small animal. It worked with Sonic but Prickles rolled up and put her spines on defense. So, I could only blot her dry. Sonic let me rub his tummy to dry it. They are not very absorbent so after this, they were pretty dry. After putting them back, they went right back to sleep.
It is illegal to breed African pygmy hedgehogs without a USDA breeder's license. If by accident you end up with babies, it is illegal to sell or even give them away without the license as well. I got Sonic and Prickles after they had been together for a year so I did not know if she was expecting but if she did have babies, I would have been a criminal through no fault of my own. She did give birth to 3 babies, on 11/6/02 and killed them all by 11/8/02 because I looked into the cage a few times. If you get babies, do not even go in the room at all for two weeks (do not ask me how you can supply food and water then! You would have to sneak in once a day or two to do that.), or she will eat them almost certainly. No one had told me that (just do not touch or disturb them I had heard).
Hedgehog gestation is 35-37 days (sometimes up to 45 days even I have read). Females under stress will eat their hoglets. Litters are 1 to 7 (normally 3 to 5) with rarely up to 10 hoglets. Babies do not open their eyes for 2.5 to 3 weeks but are weaned by six weeks and should be then separated (it is ok to keep females together if they get along). Never breed a female hedgehog for the first time after she is 18 months old as by then, her pelvic bones will fuse. This means that if she needs to deliver, and her bones are fused, she will die without a Cesarean section as the babies will not fit to get out. The same thing happens with guinea pig sows. Also, female hedgehogs may develop infections after giving birth so if they do not seem well, take them to a qualified vet. Ill females usually kill the babies but so do healthy ones! Hedgehog sows lose interest (they do not get pregnant or eat the babies) in raising hoglets as they approach 3-4 years old. See the books and links for more information on breeding and raising babies. The second book listed has a large section on this.
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