Two Hedgehogs in hands

Hedgehog Care Basics

Natural History

Hedgehogs are nocturnal insectivores (insect eating). There are a several species of hedgehog. The African Pygmy Hedgehog is the most popular pet in the United States and is smaller than the European Hedgehog. The  European Hedgehog is commonly seen in gardens in Europe and the Egyptian long eared hedgehog is bred and sold as pets in the UK. There are many differences between the species including size and personality.

Biological Facts

  • Life Span: Up to 10 years
  • Sexual Maturity: As early as 2 months
  • Principal Breeding Period: African Pygmy Hedgehogs breed year round. The European species generally breed May-July.
  • Gestation Period: 30-40 days.
  • Litter Size: 1-7 pups with an average of 3

Environment

As with any pet, their natural environment and daily activities need to be considered. A hedgehog in its natural environment will forage and hunt for food all day so before bringing one into your home it is best to have a minimum space of 18″ X 24″.  Without exercise, hedgehogs tend to become obese which leads to serious health problems therefore a solid bottom wheel, a safe space outside of its cage or a much larger cage should be provided. The hedgehog will need stimulus and places to dig for food, climbing opportunities and hiding. This can be accomplished by providing various tubes, boxes, untreated fruit tree logs, flower pots, cat toys, and ferret toys.There are also a variety of grass based balls and tubes now available for these and other small mammals. The material in the bottom of the cage should be absorbable and nontoxic such as processed paper products at a depth of several inches, be kept dry and changed frequently. Do not use a clay cat litter product in the litter boxes as they can ingest it and become impacted. Your hedgehog should be maintained at a temperature of 75-85 F.

They should also be provided with a shallow pan or tub of ambient temperature water for swimming, as well as smooth clean rocks that they can lay on, or rub and scratch on.

Diet

They should be provided with clean fresh water daily from a sipper bottle or crock. Hedgehogs are omnivorous therefore their diet should be high in protein and low in fat. A high fat diet can lead to obesity and will decrease your pets health and longevity. They should be fed once a day, preferably in late afternoon or evening as that is when they are most active. This portion of food should be mostly consumed by morning. A small snack can be provided during the day. They should be provided with 2-3 Tbsp of a dry food that is approximately 30% protein and 15% fat, 1-2 Tbsp of a variety of vegetables a day, and 3-5 insects 3-4 times a week. The insects are important and may include mealworms, earthworms,  and crickets. Evaluate the dry diet carefully and understand the protein and fat content. The diet should not include peanuts as these can get caught in the mouths of the hedgehog and cause serious problems. Peanuts are also too high in fat for the pet.

Unusual Characteristics

Hedgehogs exhibit some unique behaviors that should not be mistaken for abnormalities. A self anointing behavior called “anting”  or “anointing” has been seen when the hedgehog encounters something new in the environment and they “taste” it and then begin salivating excessively, creating a foam which they will spit onto their spines. They are solitary by nature and therefore care must be taken if you are to try housing the hedgehog with another hedghog. Many times they will fight very aggressively potentially leading to serious injury. In general it is best to house them separately.

Hedgehogs are susceptable to obesity, dermatitis/mange mites, pneumonia, tumors (especially over 3yr of age), enteritis, fatty liver, dental problems, internal parasites and are potential carriers of Salmonella. Many of the common conditions are the result of malnutrition. By visiting your exotic animal veterinarian for routine health checks, they can help prevent many problems with your hedgehog and support you with a long and happy relationship with your hedgehog.