Leslie's Hedgies

Hedgehog Care

 

Hedgehog Care

Most of the hedgehogs that are kept as pets are originally from Africa. Their natural habitat is the African Savannah, though none are brought in from the wild anymore. Most African pygmy hedgehogs (Atelerix spp.) available are bred locally. These cute little creatures are fun and fascinating. They live an average of 6 years, up to 10 years in great conditions.

They are nocturnal, so you will notice they are active mostly after dark. They sometimes get up during the day for food and water, but will go back to sleep until night time.

The following paragraphs have some quick helpful hints on basic care.

Housing

A wire cage, aquarium, or a rabbit hutch can be used to house your pet. A heavy food dish and water bowl or a sipper water bottle attached to the side of the cage should be provided. Make sure it's something they can't tip over!

Hedgies like to hide in burrows therefore a den is needed.Something not much bigger than the hedgie, and placed in a quiet and dark corner preferably.

Some hedgies will use a shallow litter box or pan. Just place the litter tray in the place you notice they prefer for their business. Do not use clumping litter, some special litter is available in pet shops, or you can use aspen/hemp shavings.

Make sure the hedgehog’s habitat is kept between 17 and 25 degrees (see hibernation dangers further). A heat lamp or mat is a great way to ensure that the correct temperature is kept, but your hedgie must also have space to cool off if these get too hot for him.

Bedding should consist of hay, dried grass, aspen/hemp shavings or recycled newspaper bedding. Do not use cedar or pine shavings, as they contain aromatic oils that cause irritation to the eyes, mucous membranes and respiratory tract. You can also just use a fleece liner.

An exercise wheel is also recommended. It should have a solid cylinder so that the hedgies feet don’t get caught (no wire wheels!). Hedgehogs tend to be surprisingly energetic, and need the chance to use up some of this energy. They also love to play with toilet paper cardboard tubes, but make sure to cut these lengthwise so they do not get stuck in it. The way they play will look like they are trying to get inside the tube, and they may run around with the tube on their head, but should be able to get out after a couple of minutes.

Hedgehogs are naturally solitary animals, so don’t get your hedgie a little friend, or that is likely to end up in fights.

Diet

Hedgehogs are insectivores, and as a result are essentially carnivorous like cats, as opposed to guinea pigs, rabbits, and most small rodents, which are generally vegetarian. High quality cat or kitten food such as Royal Canin, Hill's Science Diet or Iams, hedgehog maintenance diet (multiple sources) or ferret food (Marshall Farms). Both dry and canned food can be provided, the dry food also helps keep their teeth clean, about a handful a day should be sufficient. They also eat mealworms as treats. Small amounts of beta-carotene rich veggies and some fruit can also be provided (no citrus). Avoid dairy products and fish, which do not agree with their digestive system. Provide clean water at all times.

Handling your Hedgehog

You may be lucky enough to acquire a very friendly outgoing baby who accepts you almost instantly. Not all new hedgehogs are so adaptable. Getting your hedgehog to become familiar with you will take a bit of patience; usually it takes about a month for a hedgehog to be comfortable with a new owner. Spend time holding him: he will get used to you and begin to relax. Hedgehogs have poor eyesight and use smell as their primary sense. Your hedgie will learn to identify you by smell, so try to avoid changing perfume or washing your hands with strongly scented soap before handling him. The best way to get him used to you is to spend time with your pet several times a day just gently holding him to allow him to adjust to you and learn to recognize your scent. He might try to hide in your hair or clothes and have a nap there if he feels comfortable.

Picking up a hedgehog is not easy, until he gets to know your smell: let him get used to your hand in front of his nose first. Never wear gloves when handling your pet. This blocks your scent and confuses him. The best way to pick up a hedgehog is with one hand at each side of him, then bring your hands gently together to cup him. Most hedgies can be trained to climb in your hands by using mealworms as an encouragement.

Never grasp a hedgehog in a way that could allow any of your fingers to be caught in the middle, should he decide to roll into a ball. As your hedgehog adjusts to being held, it will come to you with his quills lying flat, allowing you to play with, and pet him.

Bathing

Your hedgehog may need a bath from time to time, about once a month is usually ok. Make sure that the water is not too hot, and  not too deep, although most hedgies can swim quite well, but you don’t want him to tire and drown. You can use an old toothbrush to clean the quills. Unless the hedgie is very dirty, there shouldn’t be any need for soap, but if soap is needed, use gentle tear-free baby shower gel, preferably unscented.

Make sure to dry your hedgehog thoroughly after his bath, he could get cold if left wet. Use an old towel and wrap him up for a few minutes, gently stroking him with the towel.

Behaviour

If a hedgehog smells something interesting, it will often begin to contort itself, start foaming at the mouth and lick the foam onto its spines. This behaviour is referred to as self-anointing and is normal.

The snuffling or snorting while having the head tucked down is a defence mechanism. It leaves them with their quills protecting every bit of visible surface, but still allows the hedgehog to move. This behaviour is usually accompanied by sudden lurches in the direction the hedgehog believes its potential enemy is in, to try and give it a good warning prickle. The more your hedgehog comes to know you, the less defensive it will become.


Understanding Huffing, Puffing, and Popping

• When you first pick up your hedgehog, it may have its spines erect, and it may make some defensive noises.
• Huffing and puffing is a way for a hedgehog to say, “I’m big and bad”.
• It is a sign that your hedgehog is threatened and scared, nervous, or possibly unhappy.
• When a hedgehog huffs and puffs, it is trying to intimidate whatever is making it feel defensive.

Big Scaredy Cats

• Hedgehogs are usually shy when introduced to something new.
• They are often born like scared cats and need to learn that they are safe.
• So, it is quite natural for the hedgehog to be scared or nervous; the huffing and puffing noises are an attempt to scare you away.
• Hedgehogs still have many of their wild instincts - including a fear of potential predators (and this includes humans!) due to the fact that they have a limited defense system and poor eyesight.
• Until your hedgehog knows who you are and that you have good intentions, it is simply trying to communicate its uncertainty with you.
• When you take your hedgehog from its home and move it to a new environment, it has to relearn that it is safe in the new surroundings.

Bed Heads

• Keep in mind that your hedgehog may have woken up and therefore be uncertain of its surroundings.
• Daytime for us is actually the middle of the night for your hedgehog.
• Not too many people enjoy being woken up from a sound sleep, so your hedgehog may be telling you “Hey, I just woke up. Give me some space.”
• Once your hedgehog has its proverbial “cup of coffee” and gets the “sleepiness” out of its eyes, it is likely to be eager to play and explore.

What to Do About Huffing, Puffing, and Popping

• Listen to your hedgehog’s “language” and watch the way you handle your hedgehog to see what causes it to increase its shyness.
• Picking up your hedgehog properly is the first step in minimizing huffing, puffing, and popping.
• Breeders don’t encourage glove use, but if you need gloves to pick up your hedgehog with confidence, it is better to use gloves rather than making both of you more nervous.
• Once you have your hedgehog out of its cage, the best thing to do is nothing! Simply hold your hedgehog in your hands, away from your body (explore mode), and wait.
• Don’t attempt to pet your hedgehog, rather allow it to come out of its ball and begin to explore on its own. Once your hedgehog relaxes it will begin to lay down its spines and move around on your hands.
• When you hold your hedgehog near your body, it will sense your clothing and it may try to burrow into your clothes. Your hedgehog is more likely to lay down its spines when it is close to your body.

Avoid Provocation

• DO NOT provoke your hedgehog to huff or hiss by touching its spines while it is in its cage or on the floor. This encourages the hedgehog to react this way every time a human hand comes near it.
• Always pet your hedgehog while it is in your hand. Never reach into the cage to pet your hedgehog unless your hedgehog is completely comfortable with you.

Hibernation

A common concern is whether or not pet hedgehogs hibernate – especially as winter starts to arrive. They are able to do so, but it is not a natural thing for African Pygmy Hedgehogs due to their warm natural habitat, and can be lethal (their heart rate slows down so much that it may stop, and they can become malnourished). If the temperature where they are kept drops too low, they can start preparing for hibernation, or may hibernate for brief periods. A hedgehog that doesn’t respond to stimulation needs to be warmed up. Another sign of a hedgehog that is too cool is going off its food. A chilled hedgehog will walk as if it is drunk. If your hedgehog isn't eating, and is walking a bit funny, it may be because he is too cold. These signs may also indicate serious illness. If these signs do not resolve when your hog is warmed up, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Breeding

Hedgehogs as young as 6 weeks old can physically mate. If you do have young hogs, remember to separate them before this age as it is not good them to breed until they are fully grown (about 6 months old is ok). Also, the parents will be a danger to young hoglets if kept together, so make sure not to keep the dad around for longer than a week for mating.

Make sure to do a lot of research before breeding hedgehogs, as it can be quite tricky in general. I found a good detailed article on this subject here.

Health Concerns

Sarcoptic mange: Mites are fairly common skin parasites of hedgehogs in the wild. Signs of mite infestation include loss of quills, crusty deposits around the eyes, ears, and base of the quills. Treatment of the mites involves both injectable medication that kills the mites as they feed on the skin of the hedgehog and medicated baths performed once a week that kill the mites on the surface of the skin. While mites are not particularly difficult to treat, the problem causes discomfort to the pet and can become serious if left untreated.

Obesity: Hedgehogs can easily become overweight, partially due to their potential for hibernation. They often gain weight in preparation for a lengthy hibernation that never comes. Letting them hibernate is NOT the answer - diet and exercise are. If your hedgehog is overweight, consult your veterinarian. Decrease in food intake, switching the diet to a light formula and increased exercise may be recommended. This is usually not an issue as long as a running wheel is available.

Diarrhea: Normal hedgehog droppings can range from almost pellet-like to quite soft and sticky. Color is usually very dark brown. Depending on diet, especially treats, they can vary quite a bit. If your hedgehog is having unusual droppings after having had a treat or change in diet a day or so before, then it is probably related to what he ate. If the problem continues (assuming the hedgehog is back on his normal diet), or if your hedgehog is suffering from severe diarrhea, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Anorexia (not eating): Loss of appetite is often the sign of either a sick, depressed, or especially a chilled hedgehog. They can also have severe periodontal disease. Remember, given a hedgehog's small size, not eating can become deadly in very short period of time. If the situation persists for more than a couple of days, contact your veterinarian.