These little guys are mammals but are not rodents, as many people think. They are insectivores, which pretty much means they eat bugs. There are several varieties of Hedgehogs, from European to African, with the most common in the pet trade being the African Pygmy Hedgehog or the African Whitebellied. They average about 8 oz. to 14 oz. for an Adult, and live about 4-6 years.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and have special care needs, as such they may not be enjoyable to a child looking for a first easy pet. The biggest advantage to them is they cause less odor concerns than rodents do, and are relatively disease resistant.
Pet European Hedgehog, photo from Wikimedia.
Selection and Purchase
As with most animals, you are best to buy a pet hedgehog from a breeder rather than from a store. A breeder will have animals who are use to being handled and will be honest about the care required. A pet store will likely get from a “producer” who will have hundreds of breeding animals and the young will not socialized before they go to the store. An other option is to adopt from an animal shelter.
Pet hedgehogs come in a wide variety of colors. Check to see that they have clean bottoms and their tails are dry. If there are any droppings in the cage they should be dark and dry, not runny or greenish. Generally speaking they are solitary animals and after they reach maturity they prefer to be kept alone. Do not get more than one Hedgehog unless you are prepared to house them separately. On rare occasions it is possible to house two same sex animals together but there is always a risk of one killing the other so it should be avoided.
When choosing your Hedgehogs cage, the bigger the better. The minimum space requirement is 3 square feet. In the wild these little guys are very active, they need room to run and stretch their legs or will become fat, lethargic, and bored. Some hedgehogs will run on wheels, or they can be put in exercise balls for ferrets.
The cage must be sturdy and not allow escape, Rabbit or Ferret cages are suitable. The bedding should be Aspen or Pine shavings (never use Cedar) or a recycled newspaper product. You can buy small litter boxes and may have some luck getting your pet to use one. Otherwise plan on scooping out the corners daily and a have larger cleaning once weekly. Hedgehogs do like to have a “den” this can be either a shoe box with the end cut off of it or a purchased pet home.
A young African Pygmy Hedgehog. http://www.flickr.com/photos/j_gresham/2530421487/
Feeding and Care
There are some specialty Hedgehog foods but often these are hard to find. A good option is to feed a top quality dry kitten or cat food. As a general rule you will not find good cat food in a grocery store, you need to go to a independent pet supply store, or livestock feed store. Look for a food with no filler (corn or by-products). It should be mostly meat. Select one that has at least 30% protein (kitten foods usually) and 15%-20% fat content. Do not feed food that contains lots of color dyes.
Because Hedgehogs are insectivores they will be thrilled with the offering of insects, such as crickets. You can buy these alive or dead, if you prefer, but your pet will enjoy catching the live ones. You can give them grasshoppers from your yard ONLY if you know they have not been sprayed with pesticide. Additionally you can give them some fruit and vegetables, making sure they are washed first. Do not give them any dairy products or you may cause tummy upset.
Some hedgehogs like water bottles, others prefer bowls, if you know what your pet was using prior to your getting it, stick with that, but make sure your pet always has lots of fresh water.
Make sure your Hedgehog gets plenty of time out of the cage (ideally 2 hours later at night), holding it regularly helps it to be more tame. Support them from underneath. You can also experiment with offering it different cat toys to see what it likes. They can roll around in large balls or can have exercise wheels, however these should be selected so they are solid where the animal runs to avoid its feet being pinched. Older animals who have not been earlier exposed to such wheels may not use them.
The African Hedgehogs are particularly not fond of cold houses. You should keep them at no less than 68 degrees F. Any colder and they may try to go into a Hibernation, which is not natural for African Hedgehogs, and can kill them.
Hedgehogs are illegal to keep as pets in many places, before you consider getting one this is something you should check. Also if you own one and are planning on moving, you should check ahead to see if they are legal.
Unlike porcupines, the quills of a Hedgehog are not barbed. The quills are actually specialized hairs.
A Hedgehog will roll into a little ball as a form of defense, do not pry it open, but rather simply allow it to relax and uncurl itself.
Hedgehogs are not the perfect pet for everyone. They are gaining popularity as an exotic pet, but you should do more research before you buy one.
A good alternative to a Hedgehog is an exotic Rabbit, Sugar Glider, or Guinea Pig.
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