What to Know About Pygmy Hedgehogs
Need-to-Know Information About These Beautiful Little Creatures and How to Take Care of Them
Pygmy Hedgehogs are so cute, right? I think everyone can agree on that. But how difficult are they to have as a pet? Well, from personal experience, I can answer with an affirmative "extremely difficult"! Correct information on them can also be very hard to find as they're such an exotic pet; however, here I will outline the main things to consider when owning one of these little cuties.
Firstly, they need ATTENTION! And lots of it! No matter what kind of enclosure you keep them in, these little creatures are dependant on daily interaction and handling to keep them happy and tame. They are actually extremely social creatures, and love being around people, although this bond can take time to build up. When you first bring home your hedgehog, you may find that it curls up into a spiked ball and hisses (this is called "huffing"). To conquer this and get them to be more tame, all you have to do is spend time with them and let them get used to you. My hedgehog personally loved curling up in my hair or my pockets and falling asleep, which yes, was as adorable as it sounds. They require very GENTLE handling—this cannot be stressed enough! Pick them up underneath, cradling them in your hand, and put them down as soon as possible. Often a good way to get your hedgehog to exercise if they don't like being handled is to buy a child's playpen and put toys in there for them, or place them on a puppy pad and let them run around. You can buy specialist toys for them at specialist websites. Be careful though, a lot of these websites may not be specific to hedgehogs, so make sure that the toys you are buying are safe. Alternatively, things such as a toilet roll cardboard tube cut along the length so they don't get stuck is a great toy they will play with, along with small balls they can push around with their noses.
When a hedgehog is young, about 8-12 weeks old, they will go through Quilling. This means their baby quills will be pushed out by their adult quills coming through. This can be very uncomfortable for the hedgehog and may last a couple of months, so they will probably be uncharacteristically grumpy! Don't let this deter you from spending time with them each evening though, as you need to maintain your bond with them. However, an oatmeal bath once a week (no more or their skin will dry out) will help to soothe them. This is described later in the article in the section on bathing.
Next up is their home; they are solitary animals so they have to live alone. DO NOT BUY A CAGE WITH BARS. This is so important as hedgehogs are proficient climbers, and will climb the bars, potentially (probably) getting their leg stuck and breaking it. A vivarium is your best option, or a Zoozone 2 "cage"—this is what I had for my hedgehog and she seemed happy with it. Do not make the mistake in thinking that they need the same cage as a hamster or other small rodent; they need a much larger home as they are naturally wanderers with a certain amount of territory needed. It's best to line their home with a fleece liner as it is soft on their feet and there is no danger of it becoming entangled with their legs or nails as straw or hay would be. This can become dangerous as it can wind around their legs and cut off the blood supply. Fleece liners are also really easy to wash, making cleaning out their home much easier and quicker. They also need a place to hide. I had a fleece bag thing for my hedgehog to crawl into and make cosy, and she loved it! Their home needs cleaning out every week (with pet-safe cleaner or just a wet cloth) and to have the soiled areas cleaned every day. They also need a litter tray lined with a puppy pad—this will make the daily cleaning much easier as they tend to use it quite well.
Hedgehogs also need some form of heat in the winter or colder summer nights; I used a Pet Pad, which you put in the microwave, cover with the fleece cover, and put into their cage. My hedgehog used to sleep on hers every night and, in winter, during the day. If they get too hot they will simply move away from it.
When your hedgehog gets older, they will need a wheel to run in. This must be one without bars that has a solid base as they run quite fast! Try to get one that is quiet as they run in the night as they are naturally nocturnal. This wheel will get extremely dirty as they excrete as they run, so you may find yourself cleaning their feet and the wheel rather often!
DO NOT FEED THEM MILK. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. These hedgehogs need a staple diet of dry cat food that does not contain fish. They often need a mixture of two or three different types. This should be given to them in a small ceramic bowl which can also be specially bought. They should also have a bowl for water, not a bottle, as their tongue can get stuck in it and the bowl is more natural for them. Another bowl is also needed, this one for other food items such as broccoli, scrambled egg, or something they love—mealworms. It's recommended that you give them three pinches of dried mealworms, or a few live ones. Live are better as they provide more protein but personally I couldn't deal with that so I stuck with the dried ones!
Bathing is extremely important as it is the most high maintenance part of taking care of your Hedgehog. Your hedgehog will need occasional baths, but not too often as it can dry out their skin. Bath them in a shallow bath with oatmeal in it—you can buy oatmeal bags for this which you put into a cup of warm water and strain like a teabag, then pour the water into the main bath. Hedgehogs can't swim, so don't make the bath any deeper than an inch so they can keep their little noses above the water. I got special vitamin E drops for my hedgehog to put three drops on her quills to prevent dry skin. My hedgehog absolutely hated the bath and would try to climb out constantly until it was over, so be as quick as possible. A soft toothbrush can be gently brushed over their back in the direction of the quills. The temperature should be the same as if you were bathing a baby. They then need to dry in a towel; my hedgehog could curl up and fall asleep while drying off.
As your hedgehog is being kept on soft material for their feet, their nails will grow long and quickly. As the soft material is essential for their feet, the only solution is to buy a baby nail clipper and clip their nails or they will get curved and cut into the underside of their foot, which would be very painful. Just check each evening how long their nails are and clip as appropriate, about a millimetre away from the quick (the pink bit of the nail). If you do accidentally cut into the quick a bit, stem the blood with tissue or a towel until it stops bleeding. Nail clipping is very tricky, as my hedgehog hates having hers done and would squirm around, making it difficult to clip them, and with their legs being so small it was a battle as I couldn't hold her leg still without fear of breaking it, it's a fine art!
A funny quirk you may notice your hedgehog doing is something called "anointing" where they twist around and lick foamy saliva onto their quills. This is when they experience a new smell or taste. It's not really known why they do this, but it is a cute quirk.
Sometimes your hedgehog may feel like it is biting you—it's not, but when they lick you after a while it may feel like biting. As they aren't really doing anything wrong you can't attempt to discipline them as you would with a dog, but simply move your hand away if they start licking it, and introduce them to something new, such as a small cat toy they can play with.
While this is a good start on how to care for your hedgehog, it's not an exhaustive list and is based off of knowledge given to me by the breeder of my hedgehog, my own research, and my own personal experiences with my Pygmy Hedgehog. While they are undoubtedly adorable pets with huge amounts of personality, they are extremely difficult to keep, and take up a huge amount of time and commitment, so be prepared for this before getting one.