Hedgehogs are cute, but they’re nocturnal and require a lot of care. Some places have restricted them as pets due to contagious diseases.
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Hedgehogs are small and spiny nocturnal mammals. They’ve lived in the wild in Europe, Asia, and Africa. However, they’ve become pets in North America.
The most common pet hedgehogs are the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) and the smaller African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) or the four-toed hedgehog.
Typically, they range from 5 to 12 inches tall and weigh between 0.5 to 3 pounds. For lifespan in captivity, hedgehogs can live between 2 and 6 years.
Before getting a pet hedgehog, there are many things to consider and understand. While they’re cute and unique, hedgehogs aren’t the right fit for everyone. Learn everything you need to know about getting and caring for a hedgehog.
Nocturnal and solitary
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and have a solitary nature. They sleep during the day and are most active at night.
When they’re awake, they like to explore, run, eat, dig, and play. Since it doesn’t crave human interaction, give it enough space and things to play with to keep its life fun.
While hedgehogs naturally prefer solitude, you can earn your hedgehog’s trust and hold it. It’s rare to find an affectionate hedgehog. So, don’t expect to be cuddling with one.
The process of training a hedgehog to relax and trust you takes time. Once or twice per week, you can try gently handling.
Move slow and gradually to avoid scaring it. The goal is to introduce it to your scent.
Initially, it’ll be scared of your touch and see it as potential harm. It may roll into a spiky ball. While its quills aren’t poisonous, they’re sharp and can be painful to touch.
Over time, your hedgehog will recognize that you’re not a threat and feel more secure with you.
Housing with ample space
As solitary animals, only keep one hedgehog per cage or tank. In the wild, they only interact with other hedgehogs when they’re breeding. Other times, they like to explore and be alone.
When you’re looking for a cage, make sure there’s enough room to explore and move around. One that’s 2 feet by 3 feet with high walls is ideal.
If you get a cage, make sure the spacing between the wires is as tight as possible. Your hedgehog may be able to escape with anything more than an inch.
Also, be sure to get a cage with a plastic and smooth bottom. One with a wire bottom can lead to an injury.
Another option is a glass aquarium that’s at least 30 gallons in volume. Glass is great because there’s no chance of escaping or getting injured.
If you’re unsure about the size, go bigger. With hedgehogs, bigger cages or tanks are better.
The Midwest Deluxe Critter Nation from Amazon is an excellent choice because it provides ample space and two levels for your hedgehog to enjoy. For placement, keep the cage away from bright light because they’re nocturnal.
Hedgehogs also thrive with temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. You can get an under-tank heater to provide the optimal temperatures.
Hedgehogs love to run, as they can run for miles every night. Get a running wheel designed for them.
The Exotic Nutrition Silent Runner from Amazon is quiet and durable. You don’t need to worry about toys because they won’t play with them.
In the cage, provide your hedgehog with a hiding place, such as a cardboard box. For bedding, Aspen shavings, shredded paper, and newspapers work well. Avoid dusty shavings and cedar shavings because they can be irritating and toxic.
You’ll also need to clean the cage at least once per week with soap and water. Each day, you must clean up feces, urine, and leftover food. It’s also important to note that hedgehogs don’t use litter boxes or pans.
Feeding is straightforward
Wild hedgehogs eat insects, plants, and small mammals, such as pinkie mice. As a pet, you can feed your hedgehog worms and crickets. You can also give them small amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits.
At pet stores, you may also find high-quality hedgehog food. It ensures your hedgehog gets the proper nutrients. Make sure you avoid any with fillers.
For water, make fresh water available at all times. You must also replace the water every day.
Not legal everywhere
Even if you like the temperament of a hedgehog and can provide a good home for it, check local laws and regulations.
Some states don’t allow you to have them as pets because of the risks to public health, safety, agriculture, and wildlife.
In the United States, you can’t have a hedgehog in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New York City, and Washington, DC.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contact with hedgehogs can be a source of Salmonella infections.
Even if the hedgehog appears healthy, clean, and shows no signs of illness, it can be carrying Salmonella bacteria in its droppings. It can contaminate their bodies and anything they touch.
Children younger than five years old and elderly adults are most at risk for illness because their immune systems aren’t as strong. Hedgehogs aren’t a good fit for them or anyone with weakened immune systems.
Before you pick up a hedgehog, understand that it requires patience. If you’re nervous, it’s normal to feel that way.
Hedgehogs have soft fur on their belly and between 3,000 to 5,000 quills covering their backs. The quills feel like a bristled brush.
The great news is that, unlike a porcupine’s quills, they don’t have barbs. While they’re spiky, they’re defense mechanisms in the wild and when it gets scared.
If you’re ready to handle your hedgehog, do it in the evening and start by allowing it to sniff your hand. Knowing your scent, it’ll feel more relaxed and comfortable with you.
Then, gently scoop it into your hands from its sides. If your hedgehog gets upset and rolls into a ball, stop and wait for it to relax. You can also gently rub its back in a circular motion to help it calm down.
If you hear puffing noises, it’s normal. That’s what the hedgehog will do when it’s scared.
Over time, your hedgehog will become more comfortable with you. Then, you can hold it without it rolling into a ball each time.
Are hedgehogs good pets?
The bottom line is that hedgehogs can be excellent pets if you’re able to provide them a happy home, satisfy their needs, and don’t mind having a pet that isn’t affectionate.
If the schedule of a hedgehog doesn’t work with yours and you’re not able to care for it properly, it’s not the right pet for you.
While there’s a debate about whether or not hedgehogs should be pets, it’s ultimately up to you and if it’s legal where you live.
If you decide that a hedgehog is a good fit, buy one from a reputable breeder. Make sure the source is trustworthy, ethical, local, and has a USDA license.
Once you have a hedgehog, make sure you see a veterinarian and schedule annual visits to make sure it’s healthy or identify health issues early on. They’re susceptible to cancer and heart issues, which means preventative care is crucial.
Featured image courtesy of Canva.
About David Em
David Em is the founder of Nola & Luna Pets, a leading resource for everything you need to know about pets and adorable pet accessories.