Hedgehog Species Overview
Hedgehogs are small nocturnal mammals that are blanketed with spikes along their backs. Similar to porcupines, hedgehogs have these quills for protections against predators. However, unlike porcupines, hedgehog quills are not barbed and do not puncture the skin, but they can still hurt if handled improperly. Hedgehogs are not ideal for young children due to their quills.
These spiny friends require daily socialization in the evenings from their pet parents. Hedgehogs can thrive living alone and do not need to be kept with other hedgehogs. Occasionally, two females may be housed together but it is generally recommended for hedgehogs to live alone.They should not be housed with any other animals, except other hedgehogs, in their enclosure.
Hedgehogs can be extremely shy at first but are social animals at heart. They like to "ball up" in a natural defense position, but with patience and daily social interaction your hedgehog will start to feel safe and content with you. When hedgehogs chirp, whistle, or purr that indicates they feel safe and content with you. Snorting, clicking, or hissing indicates fear or aggression.
|Difficulty of Care||Intermediate|
|Average Lifespan||5–6 years|
|Average Adult Size||24–35 centimeters|
|Minimum Enclosure Requirements||2' x 3' floor space|
Hedgehogs have prickly quills along their back to protect them from predators. They are shy animals and will roll up into a tight ball and hide their face if they are frightened. Always approach a hedgehog slowly and handle them with a small towel so you don’t prick yourself on one of their quills. It’s important to include daily socializing time outside of the cage to help them get used to you and get comfortable with being handled.
Hedgehogs require an enclosure that is at minimum 3 x 2 feet for floor dimensions. The ideal habitat has wire sides–no more than 1 inch apart with a flat bottom such as plastic to prevent pressure sores on their feet. Wire sides provides adequate ventilation. The habitat should have a secure lid because hedgehogs like to climb.
House your hedgehog in an area that you spend the most amount of time in–like your living room or bedroom so that they can spend time with you. Their home should not be in direct sunlight or in a drafty area. Optimal temperature is between 70–85 F; hedgehogs can overheat over 85 F.
If the temperature falls below 65 F hedgehogs will become less active and this can cause a compromised immune system. Humidity in their room should be low–at less than 40%. A heating pad can be placed under part of the enclosure or a ceramic heat emitter may be used to provide more heat as needed. It is ideal to have a temperature gradient in the enclosure, with one area warmer and the other cooler.
Provide at least 3-4 inches deep of high-quality paper bedding or crumbled paper. Hedgehogs like to burrow so the more bedding the better for them. Recycled paper bedding and towels or blankets are often used inside the enclosure. Remove any strings from the towels or blankets because these pieces could wrap around a hedgehog’s legs or feet. Avoid clay or clumping litter and wood shavings as it can be ingested by the hedgehog and cause medical issues.
A heavy bowl for food and water should be provided. Some hedgehogs will drink from a water bottle and some prefer a bowl.
Hedgehogs can be litterbox trained. Make sure the box has an opening low enough for them to climb in easily. Place it in the corner of the cage with paper-based litter inside. You can also add hide boxes, fleece sleep sacks, PVC tubing, and cardboard boxes to the enclosure.
Hedgehogs are insectivores and omnivores. This means they eat insects, plant material and on occasional baby mammals, mollusks, snails, and worms. Domesticated hedgehogs should be fed a hedgehog pelleted diet every day.
Fresh water should always be available in a water bottle or shallow bowl and changed daily.
Mealworms, crickets, earthworms, and waxworms can be fed up to three times per week. Offer fresh fruit and vegetables such as peas, corn, carrots, apples, and bananas weekly. The vegetables should be cooked to prevent them from getting stuck on the roof of the mouth.
Hedgehogs do not require vitamins or supplements unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian.
Foods to Avoid
Do not feed your hedgehog:
Celery or lettuce (low nutritional value)
Hard raw foods such as carrots
Do not offer any other items without confirming it is safe to do so with your veterinarian.
Grooming and Care for Hedgehogs
Depending on your hedgehog’s weight and activity level, feed 3–4 teaspoons of hedgehog pellets per day. Since hedgehogs are nocturnal it is best to feed them at night. Gut-loaded insects (i.e., 5 mealworms, 1 cricket) can be offered a few times a week. One to two teaspoons of fresh produce can be offered daily to every other day.
Bathe your hedgehog to remove any fecal material using a mild pet shampoo free of fragrance.
In their native habitat hedgehogs travel long distances so exercise is important in captivity. A flat exercise wheel is a great way for them to exercise as well as supervised roaming sessions outside of their enclosure.
Cages should be emptied and cleaned at least once a week with soap and water. Bedding should be replaced weekly. Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily with soap and water. The cage should be spot cleaned once a day to remove and feces, wet/soiled bedding, and leftover food.
Enrichment and Training
When a hedgehog is presented with a new object or smell, they will lick, bite, or hold material in their mouth, and make a frothy saliva. They will then apply the saliva to their spine with their tongue. This behavior can last minutes or up to one hour, and helps the hedgehog become better acquainted and comfortable.
In addition to exercise wheels you can also provide them with swimming tubs outside their enclosure. Hedgehogs like to climb, dig, swim, and jog on ramps, structures, and cardboard tubes inside their enclosure.
Veterinary Care for Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs require annual checkups with your primary veterinarian. In addition to physical exam, bloodwork or x-rays may be recommended.
Signs of a Healthy Pet
Signs of a healthy hedgehog include:
Eating and drinking well
Walking and climbing without limping
Breathing comfortably without eye or nose discharge
Being active and playful at night
When to Call the Vet
Signs that you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian include:
Not eating or drinking well
Eye or nose discharge
Overall decreased activity
If you have any concerns about your hedgehog, consult with your veterinarian immediately.
Common Illnesses in Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs commonly suffer from:
Wobbly hedgehog syndrome
Are hedgehogs good pets?
Hedgehogs make wonderful pets. Keep in mind, they are shy and require lots of patience and time invested in daily socializing.
Are hedgehogs poisonous?
Hedgehogs are not poisonous. And they cannot shoot their quills like other quilled animals such as porcupines.
Can hedgehogs bite?
Hedgehogs are not known to bite—only on rare occasions if they are afraid or feel threatened.
Are hedgehogs legal as pets everywhere?
In most of the United States it is legal to have a hedgehog. It is important to check with your county and state laws before obtaining a hedgehog to ensure it is legal to own and if a permit is required.
Why do hedgehogs curl themselves into a ball?
When hedgehogs feel threatened they will curl up into a tight ball, extend their spines, puff up, and hiss. They can remain rolled up for hours.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Bilanol
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