Things I learned owning a Hedgehog
exotic pets are a handful and more than just a cute picture.
Owning a hedgehog had always been a dream of mine. I had to learn a lot before I could take my little hedgy home, though and over the years that I had her I often answered many questions people had when ever they saw her. Here is some information I have gathered over the years for people looking to get their own or just have some curiosity about exotic pets.
First of all hedgehogs are NOT a rodent and are NOT related to porcupines. A hedgehog is a spiny mammal of the subfamily Erinaceinae. There are 17 species of hedgehog though the most common domesticated breed is the four-toed hedgehog or African pygmy hedgehog.
Hedgehogs have spines not quills. Spines are like hairs but have a solid structure. The spines can be shed like hairs but are not weaponized like quills. The spines themselves don't hurt unless you poke at them in the wrong direction.
The skin under the spines is somewhat baggy as it allows them to curl into a ball. Most hedgehogs have dry skin issues and it is recommended to not use mulch or other common bedding in their cages. My hedgehog was very happy with lots of fleece scraps that she could borrow around in.
Hedgehog life spans are relatively short, about 3-5 years. My hedgehog, Luna, was 3 years old when she got cancer and passed away. Another common disease in domesticated hedgehogs is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, a progressive, degenerative, neurological disease of the African pygmy hedgehog. The cause is believed to be genetic. Nearly 10 percent of pet African pygmy hedgehogs are affected, due to their limited bloodlines.
Domesticated hedgehogs are more prone to disease and illness than other caged pets, it's important to be sure there is a vet in the area that can treat hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and are very active at night. Having a wheel in their cage is a necessity as they can run upwards of 12 miles a night! Also keep in mind that hedgehogs have tiny toes and fragile nails so their wheel should be a flat surface, no metal grates.
It is also important to note that hedgehogs hibernate in nature. Breeders that sell hedgehogs will advise that they do not hibernate when domesticated. Hedgehogs need to stay at a fairly warm temperature or they will attempt to hibernate. If a domesticated hedgehog attempts to hibernate they may not wake up, so be sure to keep them at a toasty 74-76 F. Although an individual hedgehog may prefer it a little warmer or cooler than that.
What does a hedgehog eat? This was my most asked question. Hedgehogs usually eat small grubs in the wild, and why they get the nickname "gardener's best friend". These can be a great treat but can be pricey to feed for everyday meals. Most domestic hedgehogs actually eat high protein cat food. It's important to make sure it's of a high quality with little to no grains and fillers.
Hedgehogs also only have 4 front teeth, two atop and two bottom with some sharper molars in the back, so having softer foods is also ideal for their dental health. My hedgehog, along with many, will often have teeth problems and will likely need one removed at some point in their life.
On a good diet your hedgehog should not be fat. Many videos and pictures of hedgehogs depict large round hedgehogs which can lead to problems in their joints and legs. Typical adult hedgehogs weigh between 350 and 450 grams (12 and 16 ounces).
When considering getting a hedgehog it is good to make sure you do lots of research. As I learned, some states and countries do not allow for domestic hedgehogs as pets. If your state allows hedgehogs be sure to look into reputable breeders. Hedgehogs are popular and I was on a waiting list for 6 months before I got my baby hog. When you get your hedgehog know that it is a baby and needs a lot of extra care.
Though even in the wild hedgehogs do tend to keep to themselves and are left to survive on their own at an early age. Never house two hedgehogs in the same space! They are not pack animals and enjoy their personal space.
When I got my hedgehog she needed time to bond with me and I needed to spend a few hours with her every day. Though as previously mentioned hedgehogs are nocturnal. This meant that I kept her in a warm pouch with me as I was in classes or sitting at home as she slept all cuddled up in some blankets. This allows for them to get extra body warmth and adjust to your smells. Hedgehogs have limited vision and rely heavily on smell.
I took my hedgehog everywhere because she was discreet and slept in her pouch all day. As hidden away as they can be it is important to take them out every once and a while and make sure they are doing okay. Just because they are nocturnal does not mean they can not be awake during the day, just means they won't be staying up for very long.
It's pretty easy to take them with you where ever, although there is still a lot of challenges getting them onto a plane as most airlines recognize them as rodents and will not allow them in the cabin.
Hedgehogs can have a lot of personality and preferences. My hedgehog was not too comfortable laying on her back, unlike what the popular internet pictures show, though she did enjoy belly rubs. It takes time to find the best way to keep them happy. Regardless they can be pretty well tempered. Though I have heard that male hedgehogs tend to have more behavior problems with biting and spiking up.
Hedgehogs will "huff" when they are upset and puff up into a ball. It is important to make sure you don't let them control you with this behavior as it can lead to an angsty hedgehog. When they get huffy it is important to pick them up and lightly pet their spines back down. It may be tempting to do this with gloves but they need your skin contact to be familiar with your touch and your scent.
There are a few gross things to keep in mind when owning a hedgehog. Hedgehogs poop a lot, much more than I would have predicted. They will poop on you though it is unlikely that they will pee on you.
There are some tips to handling them so they don't poop on you. Right when you take them out of the cage for some cuddle time be sure to put them in some shallow warm water. I would fill my sink with some warm water just at the level of their legs. This wakes them up a bit and gets them to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately after a while they will need to go again and often will just go in their blankets or on your hand. Not to be too descriptive but they are not like small pellets, they are small soft turds that smell.
Hedgehogs will also run and use the restroom at the same time, so their wheel is very dirty and should be cleaned regularly as it is actively their bathroom. Hedgehogs themselves should get a quick rinse off every time you plan to handle them. Rarely do they need a soapy bath, somewhere around once a month, as they do have dry skin.
Hedgehogs will sometimes anoint, which is strange thing to see but is completely normal. This is when they are walking around and suddenly back up, contort their body, foam at the mouth and start licking the foam onto their spines. This is something that has to be seen to be believed. When hedgehogs encounter a new or unusual smell they may lather it up and start anointing. Young hedgehogs seem to do it more often than adults, possibly because more smells are new to them. No one knows exactly why they do this but it sure is interesting and a little gross.
Overall having a hedgehog was truly the best experience. Everyone was always so happy to see such a cute and exotic pet and were always excited to have a chance to hold her.
If you are looking to get more information on hedgehogs and what you need to own one I suggest hedgehogheadquarters.com or hedgehogcentral.com where they have lots of information.
Hedgehog ownership is no easy task and I do not recommend for children. They are technically an exotic pet and can be rather expensive to purchase and to provide healthcare for. My hedgehog was $600 plus about $100 for supplies. Each vet visit was about $400 to $800 depending on medications.
I hope this gives you some insight into the life of a hedgehog and answers some questions! In loving memory of my hedgehog, Luna.