Congratulations on your new baby! It is important to read the following information carefully and direct any questions towards your breeder.
Hedgehogs need a lot of exercise so their cage needs to be large enough to accommodate toys, solid surface wheel, food bowl, and water bottle. Space should also be made for a place to hide but still have adequate room to run and play. The cage should have a flat non-wire bottom and be at least 18″ x 24″.
A large clear plastic Sterlite® storage container of at least 90 quarts is an affordable alternative to a regular cage. It should be noted that some hedgehogs can escape from these containers by climbing their huts or play items. If a lid is used to prevent escape be sure to drill or punch several holes no larger than a dime in both the container and lid.
Hedgehogs have almost no odor if their cages are cleaned regularly; routine spot cleaning can ensure that the enclosure remains clean. There are many good types of bedding on the market including kiln dried pine, aspen, CareFRESH® Bedding, and Purina® Yesterday’s News®. Cedar bedding should never be used with small pets as it can cause respiratory distress and skin burns.
Be aware that small pieces of litter can become lodged in a male hedgehog’s penile shaft. If this happens a moistened cotton swab and one’s finger may be used to remove the obstruction. If the obstruction can not be removed a veterinarian or local breeder should be contacted for assistance.
Food and Water
Hedgehogs must have fresh water available at all times. Water bottles are preferred over bowls both for convenience and sanitary reasons. Active playful hedgehogs tend to fill their water bowls with shavings which soaks up the water and creates a haven for bacteria. Although water bottles stay cleaner longer they should still be scrubbed bi-weekly to prevent bacteria growth. Also, monitor your hedgehog carefully to be sure that they are able to drink from their water bottle.
A heavy shallow food dish that cannot be tipped over will help prevent spillage and wasted food. Most hedgehogs can be free-fed, or have food available at all times. but some may develop a tendency to overeat. If a hedgehog becomes overweight and is subsequently unable to completely ball up and hide its face then it may be necessary to monitor and limit its food intake.
A diet that is high in good quality protein and low in fat is ideal. In the wild hedgehogs eat numerous insects and, in captivity, they need a diet higher in fiber to make up for this loss. While meal worms, crickets, wax worms, and other insects can be given to hedgehogs as treats they are too high in fat to be their primary diet.
Be wary of most commercial foods allegedly produced for hedgehogs as they contain mostly filler and are of inadequate nutrition. Commercial hedgehog foods are usually mixes imported from Europe originally intended as a treat for wild European hedgehogs and not suitable as a primary diet. Most breeders feed their herd a good quality cat food or a mixture of cat and dog foods chosen for their ingredients.
Hedgehogs have a very low tolerance for cold or drafts and need to be kept between 70° F and 80° F. If they get too cold they wil enter a false hibernation which is very dangerous for them; domesticated pet hedgehogs are not a species that can safely hibernate. If a hedgehog gets too cold or starts to enter a false hibernation then they should be gradually warmed up immediately by holding them close to the body or by placing them on a heating pad. The hedgehog should warm up and start moving around within a few minutes. A warm bath is not recommended as damp fur will cause the hedgehog to become chilled and potentially sick.
A small reptile heating pad available from most pet stores for $10–$15 is recommended if the household room temperature dips below 73° F. The pad sticks to the underside of the enclosure and should be about the size of the hedgehog. It is important to provide ample space away from the heating pad should the hedgehog decide to cool off. Be careful the temperature does not rise above 80° F as excessive heat can be equally as dangerous as the cold.
Hedgehogs need a solid surface wheel to run on; it is very important that a wire wheel not be used as hedgehogs are not properly equipped to handle the gaps between the wires and can easily break a leg. A wheel less than 11″ in diameter should not be used.
Cat balls with bells, pompoms, and tubes are all favorite toys. Hedgehogs are extremely curious and love to explore new things. Baby toys such as small stackers, rattles, and trucks can provide hours of amusement. In order to enrich the hedgehog’s environment they should be provided with toys that have new smells, shapes, and colors. All toys should be checked to make sure there aren’t any small pieces that could become a choking hazard.
Hedgehogs need a place to hide where they are out of view. There are several different types of guinea pig-sized huts available in various shapes and sizes. Hedgiebags, or miniature sleeping bags, are an alternative option and one is usually supplied by a breeder when a hedgehog is purchased.
Some hedgehogs will use a litterbox but most will never fully litter train. If a favorite corner has been chosen to evacuate in then the litterbox should be placed there. Using a different substrate than the rest of the cage and placing dried excrement in the litterbox during spot cleaning will assist the hedgehog in associating the litterbox with going to the bathroom. Neither clay nor clumping kitty litter should be used if litter training is attempted as it may stick to the make genitals or cause sickness if ingested.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal by nature so they may not come out on their own during daylight hours. It is fine to wake them during the day and they will happily come out to play but their nocturnal routine should not be altered so they are awake all day. If a daytime pet is desired then the purchase of a hedgehog should be reconsidered. It is also important that hedgehogs be exposed to a regular light and dark cycle; lights shouldn’t be left on all night.
It is very important to see a veterinarian that either specializes in exotics or has previous hedgehog experience. A relationship should be established with the veterinarian early on; preferably within the first two weeks of acquiring a hedgehog. A fecal float, urinalysis, and a physical exam should be done annually as a preventative measure.
Hedgehogs need their toenails trimmed on a regular basis. Frequent checks are very important as different animals’ nails will grow at different rates. Long toenails can get caught on things and potentially rip out or curl over themselves and grow into the pad of the foot. Should any toenail problems develop a veterinarian should be seen immediately to prevent the area from becoming infected.
Although trimming a hedgehog’s toenails may seem intimidating it isn’t terribly difficult. A breeder or veterinarian can demonstrate proper nail trimming techniques. A small nail clipper should be used to trim the white tip of the toenail and care should be taken not to nip the kwik (pink fleshy cuticle). If bleeding does occur one shouldn’t panic. Hedgehogs have thin blood and a minor nip can seem worse than it actually is.
If the bleeding doesn’t stop immediately then a dab of cornstarch or styptic powder such as Kwik Stop® or Safe Stop® may be used before applying pressure. If the bleeding persists a veterinarian should be seen.
First-time hedgehog owners are advised to wait before considering breeding. Hedgehogs are difficult animals to breed and the survival rate of young averages about 69% for experienced breeders. High veterinary bills for emergency C-sections and other care, cannibalism of babies, mothers rejecting or mutilating babies, 24/7 hand feeding, and even the loss of a mother are all things a breeder may deal with on a regular basis.
If a period of time has been spent as a hedgehog owner, and one still wants to pursue breeding, an established USDA-licensed breeder should be consulted to discuss the decision. The difficulty of hand feeding babies should be witnessed firsthand and, if possible, one should view photographs of destroyed litters. Breeding requires a strong stomach and it’s better to find out ahead of time if one isn’t up to the task.
It should also be noted that a pregnant hedgehog should not be disturbed from a week before birth until the babies are at least 14 days old. Disturbing the nest could agitate the mother and lead to a destroyed litter.
Links and Information
- Hedgehog World
- New York Worms
Growers of life meal worms, wax worms, crickets, and butter worms. Live bugs are an excellent source of hedgehog nutrition. Please note that it is unsafe to feed super worms to hedgehogs because the worms are carnivorous and cause serious injury.
- Quality Cage Metal Exercise Wheels
- Hamor Hollow Hedgehogs
- Terrapin Hedgehogs