Background Information on Hedgehogs
The African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris), also known as the 4-toed or white-bellied hedgehog, originates from central Africa. Hedgehogs are crepuscular creatures (active at dawn and dusk) that spend much of their daytime hours sleeping. Short spines cover the crown of their head and back, while coarse, dense fur covers the rest of the body. The average life span of the African pygmy hedgehog ranges from 5-8 years.
Diet Recommendations for Hedgehogs
- African hedgehogs are insectivorous mammals very prone to obesity in captivity. Commercial hedgehog food should make up the bulk of the adult diet (2-3 teaspoons daily).
- Many hedgehog websites/breeders/message boards will still recommend dry cat or dog food for feeding hedgehogs. While this used to be acceptable, there have been many dietary advancements in feeding hedgehogs in the last several years!
- **We recommend Spike’s Delight or Mazuri Insectivore Diet
- Supplement the diet daily with 1-2 teaspoons of chopped, mixed vegetables and/or fruit as well as insects. Three to four crickets or mealworms or one earthworm may be offered.
- Because of their crepuscular nature, feed hedgehogs during the evening. Make fresh water available at all times in a shallow ceramic dish or water bottle.
Caging Recommendations for Hedgehogs
- Cage Basics:
- Keep your hedgehog in a smooth-sided enclosure at least one foot high. Providing floor space of at least 16 x 24 in (40 x 60 cm) is recommended.
- Avoid wire cages as hedgehogs will frequently try to climb the walls and will get their toenails caught.
- Recommended beddings include recycled paper products or aspen shavings. **We recommend CareFresh products.
- Placement of Cage:
- Place your hedgehog’s home in a well-lit area free of drafts and direct sunlight. Hedgehogs are most comfortable at temperatures between 65-80°F (18-27°C).
- Cage Furniture and Toys:
- Provide a hiding place for your hedgehog. This can be as simple as a piece of 4 in (10 cm) PVC pipe or an old shoebox with a hole cut in one end. Replace cardboard boxes every 2-3 weeks.
- Your pet will use a litter pan if provided with one. Place a shallow box or tray 2-3 in (5-8 cm) deep should be low enough to allow your hedgehog to climb in with little or no effort. Half-fill the pan with dust-free, non-clumping cat litter. Some hedgehogs begin to use their litter pan very quickly, while others take more time. Be patient.
- An exercise wheel will help your hedgehog remain trim and healthy. A commercially available “Hedgehog Wheel” is safest since it has a solid or mesh-covered running surface to prevent toes or limbs from getting caught.
Hedgehog Behavior and Handling
- Hedgehogs startle easily, but they can be approached and slowly tamed when approached with care and patience.
- Start by looking and listening to your pet. Chirping, whistling, and purring sounds usually indicate your hedgehog feels safe and content. A snorting, hissing, or clicking animal is frightened or aggravated.
- Body language may also be used to evaluate your hedgehog. When frightened, hedgehogs will curl up into a ball with their quills erect to protect their face and soft, vulnerable bellies. Most hedgehogs slowly uncurl after a few minutes. If only the spines on the head are erect, this usually means the hedgehog is cautious and uncertain. When the spines lie flat on the body, your hedgehog is calm and comfortable.
- There are over 5,000 quills on the hedgehog. Quills are modified hairs that contain air chambers that make the quills light. Young hedgehogs will shed their quills starting at about 2-6 months of age. During “quilling” your hedgehog may roll into a ball for long periods of time. It may hiss and exhibit a poor appetite. It is acceptable to handle your hedgehog during “quilling”, just be careful and patient. “Quilling” usually takes about a month, and afterward your hedgehog will return to normal behavior.
- “Anting” is a normal behavior performed when a hedgehog is confronted by a new object or smell in its environment. The hedgehog will lick the new object repeatedly until it begins to drool, and then groom its skin and spines with frothy saliva. This behavior may go last for minutes or up to an hour.
Diseases of Hedgehogs
- The most common problems seen in pet hedgehogs include Wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS), obesity, dental disease (including tooth root abscesses), mites, and cancer. For these reasons, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s advice on diet/feeding and also visit your veterinarian at least yearly to make sure your hedgie stays happy and healthy!
Resources for Additional Information on Hedgies
For additional information on hedgehogs, please visit the following sites:
- Lafeber Vet: Hedgehog Basics; http://www.lafebervet.com/small-mammal-medicine/hedgehog/hedgehog
- International Hedgehog Association: http://www.hedgehogclub.com/
We hope this information helps you care for your hedgehog.