Hedgehogs have become increasingly popular as exotic pets, particularly the African Pygmy hedgehogs. These tiny, endearing creatures make excellent pets for the right owner, and caring for them can be a fun and rewarding experience. In this comprehensive guide for hedgehog owners, we will discuss each and everything you need to know about daily hedgehog care, including their natural history, dietary needs, and how to provide an enriching environment for your pet hedgehog.
What it’s like living with a pet hedgehog
Living with a pet hedgehog can be a unique and rewarding experience. These small, nocturnal mammals are known for their cute appearance and interesting personalities. As with any pet, being prepared and knowledgeable about their care and needs is important to ensure a happy and healthy life together. Here are some insights into what it’s like living with a pet hedgehog:
- Enclosure: Hedgehogs require a spacious, well-ventilated enclosure with a solid floor, such as a large plastic tub or a glass aquarium. It should be equipped with bedding, a hiding place, and a wheel for exercise. Be prepared to clean the enclosure regularly to maintain a sanitary environment for your pet.
- Temperament: Hedgehogs are known to be shy and solitary creatures. When you first bring your hedgehog home, it may take some time for them to become comfortable around you. They can become more social and even enjoy being held with patience and gentle handling.
- Nocturnal habits: Hedgehogs are most active at night, so be prepared for your pet to sleep during the day and be active when you’re winding down for the evening. This may require adjusting your schedule to accommodate their needs, such as feeding and playtime.
- Diet: A balanced diet is essential for a healthy hedgehog. High-quality, commercially available hedgehog food is the best option, but you can supplement their diet with insects, fruits, and vegetables. Be sure to research which foods are safe and appropriate for hedgehogs.
- Healthcare: Hedgehogs can be prone to certain health issues, such as obesity, mites, and dental problems. Regular veterinary checkups are essential to ensure your hedgehog remains healthy. Additionally, monitoring their weight and maintaining a proper diet and exercise routine is important.
- Quirks: Hedgehogs have some unique and endearing qualities, such as their ability to roll into a ball when scared or threatened. They also have a behaviour called “anointing,” where they create a frothy saliva and spread it over their quills. While these behaviours may seem odd, they are a normal part of a hedgehog’s life.
- Legal restrictions: Before adopting a hedgehog, it’s important to check your local laws, as they are illegal to own as pets in some states and municipalities.
In short, living with a pet hedgehog can be a delightful experience, but it requires patience, understanding, and dedication to their needs. With proper care and attention, a hedgehog can become a cherished companion, offering other pets around you a glimpse into the fascinating life of these unique animals.
The Natural History of Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs, belonging to the subfamily Erinaceinae, are small, spiny mammals found in parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. These nocturnal creatures are basically known for their unique defence mechanism: curling into a tight ball with their spines pointing outward to deter predators. With over 17 species of hedgehogs, these fascinating animals have a rich natural history, including their evolution, habitat, behaviour, and role in ecosystems.
Evolution and Taxonomy
Hedgehogs are believed to have originated around 15 million years ago, evolving from insectivorous mammals that once roamed the earth. They belong to the family Erinaceidae, which is further divided into two subfamilies: Erinaceinae (hedgehogs) and Galericinae (gymnures or moonrats). The most well-known species of female hedgehog is the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), which can be found throughout Europe.
Hedgehogs are small mammals, typically 4 to 12 inches long and weighing between 0.5 and 2.5 pounds. Their most distinctive feature is their spines, modified hairs made of keratin. These spines are hollow, flexible, and not poisonous. A hedgehog’s body is covered with approximately 5,000 to 7,000 spines that protect predators.
Habitat and Distribution
Hedgehogs inhabit various ecosystems, including grasslands, forests, deserts, and urban areas. They are highly recommended for adaptability and can thrive in different environments with adequate shelter, water bowl and food. Hedgehogs are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, with different species occupying different geographic regions.
Diet and Foraging
Hedgehogs are primarily insectivores, feeding on insects, worms, snails, and slugs. They also consume small mammals, bird eggs, and carrion. Occasionally, they may eat fruit, fungi, and vegetation. Hedgehogs have a keen sense of smell, which aids them in locating food. They are also known for their unique self-anointing behaviour, in which they create a frothy saliva and spread it on their spines after encountering a new scent.
Reproduction and Lifespan
Hedgehogs are solitary animals except during the breeding season. Mating usually occurs from April to September, with females giving birth to litters of 1 to 11 hoglets after a gestation period of 30 to 40 days. Hoglets are born blind with soft spines that harden within a few hours. They become independent after 4 to 7 weeks.
The lifespan of hedgehogs varies depending on the species and environment. In the wild, they typically live for 2 to 5 years, whereas, in captivity, they can live up to 10 years.
Hedgehogs and Ecosystems
Hedgehogs play an essential role in their ecosystems by controlling insect populations, which helps maintain ecological balance. They are also prey for predators, such as birds of prey, foxes, and badgers. In some cultures, hedgehogs are considered beneficial to have in gardens due to their diet of pests.
Hedgehog populations have been declining in some regions, primarily due to habitat loss, road accidents, and the use of pesticides. Few organizations and initiatives are working to protect hedgehogs and their habitats, promoting awareness and offering guidelines for creating hedgehog-friendly environments.
Daily Hedgehog Care Routine
Caring for a hedgehog requires a consistent daily health routine to ensure its well-being. Here is a daily care routine to help you keep your pet happy, cheerful and healthy:
- Morning Health Check: Check on your hedgehog to make sure they are awake and active. Observe their behaviour and physical appearance for any signs of illness or injury.
- Clean and Refresh Water: Remove the old water from the dish, clean it, and fill it with fresh water. Ensure that the water dish is easily accessible to your hedgehog.
- Feeding: Provide a well-balanced diet of high-quality hedgehog food, insects, and fresh vegetables or fruits. Remove any uneaten food from the previous day to prevent spoilage.
- Spot Cleaning: Spot cleans the enclosure by removing soiled bedding, droppings, or leftover food. This helps maintain a clean environment and prevents odour buildup.
- Exercise and Enrichment: Allow your hedgehog some time outside of their enclosure to explore, exercise, and play with toys. This is important for their physical and mental well-being. Supervise them closely during this time to prevent injuries or escape attempts.
- Handling and Bonding: Spend time gently handling and interacting with your hedgehog to build trust and a strong bond. Handle them with care, supporting their body and avoiding sudden movements.
- Evening Health Check: Before your hedgehogs sleep, check on them again to ensure they are healthy and comfortable. Look for any signs of distress, illness, or injury.
- Nighttime Feeding (optional): Some hedgehogs may benefit from an additional feeding before bedtime, especially if they are young, pregnant, or nursing. Consult your veterinarian for guidance.
- Enclosure Maintenance: Regularly clean and maintain the enclosure, including changing the bedding, washing the wheel, and cleaning any other accessories. This should be done at least once or twice a week, but more frequent cleaning may be necessary depending on your hedgehog’s habits.
By following this daily routine, you can provide the best possible care for your hedgehog, ensuring they live a happy and healthy life. Always consult a veterinarian experienced in hedgehog care for any concerns or questions about your pet hedgehog’s feet or health.
How long do hedgehogs live
Hedgehogs typically live for around 3 to 5 years in the wild, although their life span can be shorter due to few various factors such as predators, diseases, or accidents. In captivity, under proper care, they can live up to 8 years or more. The African pygmy hedgehog, a common domesticated species, generally lives between 4 to 6 years as a pet.
How big are hedgehogs?
Hedgehog sizes vary depending on the species. The most common domesticated species, the African pygmy hedgehog, typically measures 5 to 8 inches (13 to 20 cm) in length and weighs between 300 to 700 grams (0.66 to 1.54 pounds). In contrast, wild European hedgehogs are larger, usually measuring 9 to 12 inches (23 to 30 cm) and weighing between 800 to 1200 grams (1.76 to 2.65 pounds). Other species may fall within or outside these ranges, but generally, hedgehogs are small, compact animals.
What do hedgehogs eat?
Hedgehogs are insectivores, which means their primary diet consists of insects. However, they also eat a variety of other foods. In the wild, hedgehogs eat insects, worms, snails, slugs, and other small creatures. In captivity, their diet must be supplemented with specially formulated hedgehog-only food and water, which can be found in most pet store.
Good Treats for Hedgehogs:
- Insects: Mealworms, crickets, and waxworms are all suitable insect treats for hedgehogs.
- Cooked meats: Small amounts of cooked chicken, turkey, or lean minced beef can be offered occasionally.
- Fruits: Hedgehogs enjoy small pieces of soft fruits like apples, bananas, berries, and melons. Be ensure to remove any seeds or pits.
- Vegetables: Small amounts of cooked vegetables like carrots, peas, or green beans can also be fed to hedgehogs.
- Wet cat food: High-quality wet cat food with high protein and low fat can be given as an occasional treat.
Bad Treats for Hedgehogs:
- Processed human foods: Avoid feeding your hedgehog processed foods, including chips, sweets, and fast food.
- Raw meats: Raw meats may carry bacteria and parasites that can harm hedgehogs.
- High fat foods: Foods high in fat, such as avocado, nuts, and seeds, should be avoided as they can lead to obesity in hedgehogs.
- Grapes and raisins: These fruits are toxic to hedgehogs and can cause kidney failure.
- Chocolate and caffeine: Both chocolate and caffeine are toxic to hedgehogs and should be avoided.
- Onions and garlic can be toxic to hedgehogs and cause gastrointestinal issues.
It’s important to provide a balanced diet for your hedgehog and to offer treats in moderation. Be sure to consult with a veterinarian familiar with hedgehogs to ensure your pet hedgehog’s diet and dietary needs are met.
How can I handle my pet hedgehog?
Handling your pet hedgehog can be tricky initially, as their spines can be sharp. However, with patience and regular interaction, most pet hedgehogs will become more comfortable with handling. When picking up your hedgehog, gently scoop them up from underneath, supporting their body with both hands. Avoid picking them up from the top or the sides, as this may cause them to curl up defensively.
How to Care for Your Pet Hedgehog
Proper care for your pet hedgehog involves:
- Maintaining a clean and comfortable environment.
- Providing a balanced diet.
- Ensuring they receive regular veterinary care.
What supplies do you need for a hedgehog?
To properly care proper food for your pet hedgehog, you will need the following supplies:
- A large, well-ventilated hedgehog’s cage or enclosure
- Bedding, such as fleece liners or paper-based products (avoid wood shavings or cedar, as these can be harmful to hedgehogs
- A hiding spot, such as a small igloo or a soft fleece pouch
- A food dish and water bottle
- A high-quality, low-fat, high-protein dry cat food
- Live insects for supplemental feeding
- A litter box filled with paper-based or pellet litter (avoid clumping cat litter)
- A solid-surface exercise wheel, preferably with a diameter of at least 12 inches
- Toys and other enrichment items
- Nail clippers and a soft toothbrush for grooming
Enrichment for Hedgehogs
Enrichment is essential for the mental and physical well-being of your pet hedgehog. Offer a variety of toys and activities, such as tunnels, climbing structures, junk food, and chew toys, to keep your hedgehog engaged and entertained. Rotate toys and rearrange the hedgehog’s enclosure regularly to prevent boredom.
Caring for a pet can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience as a hedgehog owner, as these unique animals have much to offer as companions. Proper care, a balanced diet and an enriching environment ensure your hedgehog lives a long, healthy, and happy life.
What is a good daily hedgehog care routine?
A daily routine with baby hedgehogs most typically involves:
- Feed them a balanced diet, with dry cat food in the morning and live insects in the evening.
- Changing their water daily ensures they always have clean, fresh water.
- Spot-cleaning the hedgehog’s cage to remove waste and changing the bedding as needed.
- Providing enrichment, such as new toys or rearranged cage accessories.
- Spending time interacting and handling your hedgehog, ideally in the evening when they are most active.
Do hedgehogs need daily care?
Yes, hedgehogs require daily care to maintain their health and well-being. This includes providing a balanced diet, maintaining a clean environment, and offering regular enrichment and social interaction. Also, take a look at the hedgehog’s nails.
Do hedgehogs have a routine?
Hedgehogs are creatures of habit and typically establish a routine in their daily activities. As nocturnal animals, they are most active during the night and will sleep during the day. A consistent daily routine will help keep your wobbly hedgehog syndrome healthy and happy.
Is a hedgehog bigger than guinea pigs?
Hedgehogs and guinea pigs differ in size, but their range may overlap depending on the specific breed or species. Generally, hedgehogs are smaller than guinea pigs. An adult hedgehog typically measures about 5 to 8 inches (13 to 20 cm) in length and weighs between 0.5 to 2 pounds (200 to 900 grams). The most common pet hedgehog, the African pygmy hedgehog, usually weighs between 0.5 to 1.5 pounds (200 to 700 grams). Guinea pigs, on the other hand, are usually larger than hedgehogs. Adult guinea pigs typically measure 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) in length and can weigh between 1.5 to 3 pounds (700 to 1,400 grams), depending on the breed.