Even as hedgehogs gain in popularity as pets, there is a surprising lack of information about their proper care. The Lowcountry Hedgehog Society hopes to help you have a better relationship with your happy, healthy hedgehog. This basic care guide is meant as a starting point only; we have included some suggested online reading at the end to help give you the big picture.
Is a hedgehog right for you?Hopper
Before you take on the responsibility of a pet, you need to consider if a hedgehog is right for you. Bear in mind that hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal animals and can take a long time to become accustomed to being handled. We do not recommend hedgehogs as pets for children. A hedgehog owner should be patient, gentle, and willing to accept that their hedgehog may not keep the same hours as they do.
Your hedgehog may live up to five or six years with a good diet and plenty of exercise. Having this naturally shy animal grow to trust you can be a very rewarding experience and one that makes having a hedgehog in your life worthwhile.
MurrayHome sweet home
The first thing any new hedgehog owner will need is a habitat for their pet. We suggest an absolute minimum of a twenty-gallon terrarium — always provide the largest possible living space for your hedgehog. In the wild, a hedgehog can cover a territory of a couple of square miles hunting for food nightly, so exercise is a definite factor in choosing the habitat. Multi-level ferret cages or rabbit cages can make an excellent home for a hedgehog; just be sure to line any mesh floors with commercial carpeting to avoid foot injuries.
Supplying an exercise wheel is an excellent idea. Be sure to line any mesh- or bar-lined wheel with craft foam or a similar substance so that the hedgehog’s feet do not slip between the bars and become injured. See our Shopping Guide for some recommended wheels for your hedgehog.
Your hedgehog, as a nocturnal animal, will probably spend most of the day asleep. Provide a place where your pet can feel secure, such as a nest box (even a cardboard one!).
Although hedgehogs can often be taught to use a litter box, most owners choose to use some variety of bedding in their habitat. We recommend aspen shavings or recycled newsprint bedding such as CareFresh. Do not use cedar or colored bedding for your pet! The aromatic oils in cedar have been known to cause respiratory distress and may prove fatal. Another popular option is to line the hedgehog habitat with a vellux blanket, cut to fit, and to add a litter box with shavings inside.
Diet plays an important role
Serious consideration should be given to proper diet for hedgehog, since they are prone to a variety of diet-related illnesses, usually related to an excess of fat in the diet. Unfortunately, some products labeled as “hedgehog food” are not nutritionally sound.
Some owners choose to feed cat food, but make sure that whatever food you choose to offer your pet is low in fat and iron and high in protein. There are a variety of quality hedgehog food products available on the Internet or through mail-order. This staple diet can be supplemented by lean cooked chicken, fruit and vegetables, and no more than one or two mealworms per day. See our Shopping Guide for some suggested staple hedgehog foods. Other treats can include cooked fish like salmon or tuna (fresh only since canned fish has too much salt for hedgehogs) or homemade delicacies like Miss Murray’s Marvelous Mash, a chicken-and-rice puree that is also good for feeding to hedgehogs who are having oral problems.
Remember also that hedgehogs may be resistant to sudden changes in diet. Even if you want to stop feeding a particular food to your pet, you will probably want to do it gradually, mixing a little more of the new food each day until the old food is completely gone.
International Hedgehog Registry
One of the most important steps you can take in ensuring the preservation and long-term health of the pet hedgehog population in North America is to register your hedgehog(s) with the International Hedgehog Registry. Similar to the AKC for dogs, the IHR seeks to track hedgehog population, genetics, and other factors to ensure that inbreeding and other negative practices are kept to a minimum. It’s easy and free, and you can even receive a certificate of registration for a small donation to commemorate the addition of your pet to your family.
Suggested online reading
The Hedgehog FAQ is the most comprehensive source of information on hedgehogs online, and is even better than most books on the market. We suggest bookmarking this site as it has lots of information that you may not need now but may need in the future.
Links from noted breeder Tig Means include basic hedgehog care, tips on handling hedgehogs, how to choose a hedgehog, when your new hedgehog comes home, hedgehog escape planning, housing your hedgehog and pros and cons of different cage types.
Bryan Smith’s Hedgehog Hobby Pages is a marvelous resource. Articles for hedgehog newbies are basic hedgehog care, litter training, bedding choices, daily care routine, grooming, and handling.
Dr. Kelly Brodnik on Basics of African Hedgehogs
Ideas for Hedgehog Housing and Accessories
How to Handle a Hedgehog