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Bloomin Hedgehogs

HEDGEHOG CARE INFORMATION SHEET

 

We get a lot of questions from people about how hedgehogs should be cared for properly. With over fifteen years experience, we've figured out a few tips and tricks that we are always happy to share.
Want more information? Buy the book:
THE PYGMY HEDGEHOG - A PERFECT PET
co-written by Sharon Massena and myself.
If you would like to purchase this book, it can be ordered over the web from the
Exclusively Hedgehogs homepage
Although I may be somewhat biased, I highly recommend this book for newcomers and experienced hedgie fanciers alike

I also recommend you join the HEDGEHOG HELP mail-list.
You'll be able to ask experts and hedgehog owners alike questions related to the proper care and keeping of hedgehogs

What is a Hedgehog?

Where is the Best Place to Buy a Pet Hedgehog?

If There are Several to Choose From, Which Hedgehog Should I Select?

Choosing a Healthy Hedgehog

How do I Tell the Boys from the Girls?

How Old Should My Hedgehog be Before I Take it Home?

What Kind of Housing Will He Require?

Where to Place the Cage

What Should I Feed Him and How Much?

Accessories

Care and Management

Obesity

What is a Hedgehog? Hedgehogs are a small, insectivorous (insect eating) mammal that can be found throughout the world. They are native to England, Europe, Africa and Asia. The hedgehog that is now kept as a pet in North America is the four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) from Central Africa.

Since there are no native species of hedgehog in either Canada or the United States, many people still mistake the domestic hedgehog for the porcupine - an entirely different and unrelated animal. While porcupine quills are extremely sharp, barbed and very dangerous, the hedgehog quill is smooth and will not lodge in skin, though it is still sharp at the point. Petting a friendly hedgehog can be compared to petting a hairbrush - bristly, not prickly. When a hedgehog is balled up with quills erect, it can hurt to hold them, though your hands can adjust to it more over time.

The average African Pygmy Hedgehog weighs about half to 1 and a quarter pounds and is 5 to 8 inches long - about the size of a Guinea Pig. There are some that will grow to as much as 1 ¬ĺ to 2 pounds (without being fat) while others are as little as 6 or 7 ounces.

Your pet should be kept indoors at temperatures between 73 to 80*F, which usually requires additional heating for the cage. They can be fed a good quality dry cat or dog food.

Besides simply being enjoyed as pets, there is also an active hobby. Thanks to the International Hedgehog Association, (IHA) there is even a working show system and standard of perfection for African Pygmy Hedgehogs.

Where is the Best Place to Buy a Pet Hedgehog?

The answer to this question varies depending on many factors, but there are some basic guidelines. Generally, it is better to purchase your new pet from a breeder rather than a pet store, but unfortunately, this isn't always possible. No matter where you end up looking, though, make sure that the breeder or store has at least some information on the age and background of their hedgies. A responsible, ethical breeder can guarantee against genetic health issues such as Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, whereas backyard breeders and pet stores cannot. You can also check into the Hedgehog Welfare Society if you are interested in adopting a hedgehog that needs a forever home. 

If There are Several to Choose From, Which Hedgehog Should I Select?

You will want to choose a single hedgehog since they are solitary and donít normally like to share a cage. Never buy a male and female to be placed in the same cage unless you intend to breed! Hedgehogs are ready to breed as early as 8 weeks for females and 6 weeks for males, and females should never be bred before 5 months, so be careful! 
SEE SEXING HEDGEHOGS
You may decide to either go to a pet store or check ads and buy from a breeder. In either case, you are looking for a good healthy animal. 
Temperament - This is of major importance and should be a deciding factor as to whether you buy a particular animal or not. After picking a potential pet up, examine it closely. Does it unroll after a few seconds? Does he click, jump or hiss? Hissing is okay. It is simply frightened because it doesnít know you. Clicking, however, means that it's trying to threaten you. A hedgehog that is scared enough to click, growl, or try to bite is one that will need more time and patience to handle - not the best choice for a first-time owner. Every hedgehog is different and unique. Some like to play and explore, while others are more content to cuddle. You will be most satisfied with your new pet if you carefully choose the one that best suits your own personality and lifestyle. 

Choosing a Healthy Hedgehog

  • look at the hedgehogs face. Are his eyes nice, round, beady, wide open, and bright, without discharge? Is his nose clean and not running? Are his ears short, clean, with no discharge or crustiness behind them? Sometimes an ear has been chewed on by a sibling. As long as it has healed, this is not something to worry about.

  • Is his fur on his belly soft and not matted? 

  • Are the spines all there with no bare spots? Bare spots indicate an unhealthy animal. Is there any sign of mites, fleas, or crustiness on his back?

  • Check the pen, is there green droppings or diahhrea?

  • Is his body plump? (not fat)

  • Place him on a flat surface such as a table and watch him walk. Does he wobble or have difficulty staying upright? A healthy hedgehog should have a stride that is somewhere between a walk and a shuffle?

  • Can you here a rattle when he is breathing or does it seem okay? (do not mistake normal hedgehog "talk" such as chirping, purring or cheeping for a pneumonia-related rattle)

I realize that it will be very hard to check all these points but most of these things are very basic. In fact, you will probably notice many of these things without even realizing it. Most hedgehogs are healthy and they suffer very few serious ailments, so itís usually not a problem. But, if you do notice any of the problems listed here, have a qualified veterinarian check your choice before taking it home. 
By following these guidelines, you will be helping to ensure that the pet you choose will live a long and healthy life. 

Ask the person you are purchasing the hoglet from if they have any guarantees. They should at least guaranteed the hoglet from genetic defects that will show up in the next month. If something does go wrong with your new pet, have your vet check him so that you will have some proof of the problem to show to the person you bought him from.

Sexing Hedgehogs: 
Both male and female hedgehogs make equally good pets so this decision is entirely your own. The main difference is that male hedgehogs will often masturbate, and some are fine with doing so when being held or around visitors, which can be embarrassing. It's simple enough to set him down or put him in a hedgie bag until he's finished though, and it's not as big a deal as many people think!.

You can readily tell a boy from a girl. If the hedgehog is tame and friendly, gently roll it over and look at the area closest to the tail. A female's genitals are immediately next to the anus, while the male's penis sheath, or "belly button" is farther up the tummy. The distance between the anus and belly button will be approximately 1/2 inch on a six week old male hoglet. However, this distance can increase to as much as an inch or more once it fully matures. 


See Picture

How Old Should My Hedgehog be Before I Take it Home?
Never take a hedgehog home before it is at least six weeks of age. Older hedgehogs are OK too, but keep in mind that the younger the hedgehog, the better the odds of him bonding with you. 


What Kind of Housing Will He Require?
Your hedgehog will require a secure home since they are very good climbers and can easily escape from open-topped cages that are designed for animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits. Cages should always have a top on them, just in case. It must also have good circulation and be well lit but not exposed to direct sunlight during the daytime. The minimum recommended floor space for a hedgehog is 8 square feet. In general, the bigger cage you can provide, the better. The key to keeping a hedgehog comfortable with lots of open space is providing numerous hides & toys to help make the animal feel more hidden and protected. The addition of extra space and more hides gives the animal more choices in where they want to rest, and more space to move around and explore in. A larger cage also gives more options for including enrichment such as digging areas, food puzzle toys, etc.

Cage Placement
Place your hedgehogs new home in a comfortable, warm, well lit area that is free of drafts and direct sunlight. They are most comfortable at temperatures of between 73-80 degrees Fahrenheit. (23-27 degrees Celsius). Do not try to judge this by how it feels to you! It is very difficult to determine temperature by feel. You must have a thermometer in your hedgehog's cage to track the temperature. Most people also need to provide additional heating to keep their hedgehog warm enough. The best options are a ceramic heat emitter (CHE) lamp or a space heater. Both options must have a thermostat to regulate them and keep the temperature steady. Large temperature fluctuations can also cause hibernation attempts.

Accessories

Bedding Hiding Place
Food Bowl Litter Box
Water Bottle Toys Lighting

In addition to a cage, your hedgehog will require the following accessories:

BEDDING: Aspen or kiln-dried pine shavings (NOT CEDAR!) can be used for bedding. Wood bedding can harbor mites, and occasionally get caught in genitals, but allow for burrowing behavior. Place approximately two inches of bedding material evenly over the floor of the cage. The other loose bedding option is paper-based beddings such as Carefresh. These beddings can be dusty, but also allow for burrowing behavior and are unlikely to get stuck in genitals. Hedgehogs can sometimes try to eat these beddings though, so make sure this isn't happening. Many owners in the United States, Canada, and UK use fleece or fabric liners for bedding. These don't allow for burrowing, but are washable & re-usable, and won't harbor mites. Fleece can be used as is because the edges don't unravel once cut. Other fabrics must be sewn with the edges hidden to prevent threads from unravelling and wrapping around hedgehog feet and legs. If the owner has long hair, they should also check fabric liners for loose hair as long hairs can also wrap around feet and legs (and sometimes even penises of male hedgehogs) and cut off circulation.

FOOD BOWL: The food bowl needs to be fairly wide and heavy to prevent your pet from dumping out its contents and using it as a toy. Small ceramic crocks that are designed for small rodents are perfect food dishes for hedgehogs. The width or diameter of the dish can be 3 to 6 inches and it should be no more than 3 inches high.

WATER BOTTLE: There are positives and negatives to bowls and bottles. In general, bowls are preferred over bottles. Water bottles are not a natural drinking method for hedgehogs, and they can become dehydrated if they can't drink enough from the bottle. Hedgehogs can also chip or break teeth by chewing on metal bottle spouts. There have also been cases of hedgehogs getting tongues or quills caught between the ball & spout on water bottles. Water bottles must be emptied, washed, and refilled daily, which can be harder than cleaning bowls. However, if the owner is using loose bedding, it is easy for bedding to get into the water dish and dirty it, or soak up all of the water. Some hedgehogs also like to spill their water, which can be prevented by gluing the water dish to a ceramic tile to prevent tipping.

HIDING PLACE: This can be as simple as a piece of 4 inch PVC pipe, an old plastic pitcher, or an old shoe box with a hole cut in one end. (this should be replaced every 2 to 3 weeks). Many people use plastic igloos or modified food storage containers. You can also use blankets (check for loose strings daily), hedgie bags, and hedgie hats, both of which can be made or bought from sellers online (Etsy, Ebay, etc.).

LITTER BOX: Not all hedgehogs will litter train. Some are just messy and don't care where they pee or poop. The best placement for a litter box is under the wheel, since most hedgehogs will go on their wheel anyway. You can use anything from a store-bought ferret/rabbit litter box to a plastic or metal baking tray or plastic food storage tray. Whatever you use, just make sure your hedgehog can easily get in & out. In the litter box, there are a variety of options you can use. Wood shavings, Carefresh, and Yesterday's News are all popular loose options. Some people will just use paper towels or will make fleece/fabric pads to put in the litter box. It is best to avoid clay cat litter, clumping or non-clumping, as it's usually very dusty, which isn't good for lungs. If you use sand or another small-particle option like crushed walnut shells or non-clay cat litters, your hedgehog may use the box for sand baths instead of pottying in it (or both, which could get gross!). Additionally, if you use one of these small-particle options, you'll want to check your hedgehog's genitals daily to make sure there isn't anything stuck, especially males. If you use sand, use larger-particle options like children's play sand (you will likely need to wet it down first for dust) or riverbed sand sold for reptiles. Do not use chinchilla dust or reptile calcisand (which hardens when it gets wet and could be more risky if it sticks to a hedgehog's genitals).

TOYS: If you choose, you can also add a few toys for your hedgehog to play with. An exercise wheel is an excellent addition and will help him to stay healthy and trim. The only safe store-bought wheel options are the Comfort Wheel (the giant 12" size) and the 12" Flying Saucer. You can also make or buy bucket and cake cover wheels online, which are superior. These wheels are sturdy, run smoothly, and are easy to clean, as well as safe for your hedgehog. If the wheel is well-built, it will last for many years and is well worth the money. For other toys and enrichment ideas, look at this list: https://www.hedgehogcentral.com/forums/13-housing-accessories/157586-hedgehog-enrichment-master-list.html With any new toy, monitor your hedgehog when you first introduce it. Every hedgehog is different and what might be safe for one hedgehog may not be safe for another.

Lighting: Hedgehogs need to have 12-14 hours of light during the daytime hours to help avoid hibernation attempts. Supplemental lighting should be given rather than depending on daylight - it is not always bright enough and there is not enough daylight during the winter to prevent hibernation attempts. Lighting can be the room light being left on, a lamp near the cage, or a light specifically mounted on or in the cage. It does not need to be UVB or anything special - just a regular light bulb will work, or an LED light strip. You can also put your light on a timer (only $5-15 from Amazon, hardware stores, home improvement stores, etc.) so that the light schedule will be consistent and you won't run the risk of forgetting to turn it on or off. You must make sure your hedgehog does not have any light on at night (including red, black, or purple heating bulbs) as this will discourage them from going about their normal business. Only use heating elements that do not give off light, like ceramic heat emitter (CHE) bulbs.

What Should I Feed Him and How Much?
Although there are hedgehog foods available in stores, these foods are poor quality and should be avoided. High quality cat and dog foods are better options. If a hedgehog needs higher fat, kitten and puppy foods can be used as well, but weight should be carefully monitored. It's generally recommended to feed a mix of two or more foods as hedgehogs don't do well with sudden food changes. Having more than one food they are familiar with & will happily eat will guard against food strikes if a food is recalled or becomes unavailable. Whatever commercial food you choose should be supplemented by a variety of other foods such as safe insects & invertebrates, cooked meats, and fruit and vegetables. Fruit should be limited to a couple times a week due to the sugar content. Insects and invertebrates are the best treat for hedgehogs and should really be a part of their regular diet if at all possible. You can find more information about what treats are safe, what kinds of insects can be fed, and what to look for in a dry food in the Diet & Nutrition section of the HHC forums: https://www.hedgehogcentral.com/forums/12-diet-nutrition

Care and Management
When you bring your new hedgehog home, place them in their new cage and let them have absolute privacy for several hours or until the evening. Regular handling is the key to bonding, and you will want to hold your hedgehog for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. The more time and patience you put into your hedgehog, the more likely they will start to trust you and become more friendly. However, hedgehogs are shy animals by nature, and some will always stay somewhat defensive or grumpy. Do not set your expectations too high- most hedgehogs will take weeks or months to get used to a new caretaker, so this is a long-haul situation. If you don't have the patience to wait for these shy animals to learn to trust you, they may not be a good pet for you.
Baby hedgehogs need quite a bit of sleep the first month after they come home with you, so don't be too concerned if he sleeps a lot at first.


Obesity

Since a healthy hedgehog is a bit on the plump side naturally, determining the difference between a healthy animal's "chubby" condition and obesity can be somewhat difficult. Since there is such a wide variety of size in domestic stock these days, an obese hedgehog can be as little as 8 ounces to as much as 2 pounds in weight. While you should have a scale and weigh your hedgehog weekly to notice any sudden weight fluctuations, weight alone will not tell you whether your hedgehog is obese. You will need to look at your hedgehog's body shape.

While a hedgehog in its normal trim will be a bit chubby in these two locations, an obese animal will have a double chin and "ham-hocks" for legs and sometimes even rolls of fat under the arm-pits. They can also have a hump of fat on their back, between their front shoulders. A common myth is that obese hedgehogs cannot roll into a ball and while this can be true, plenty of overweight and obese hedgehogs can still roll into a ball, so this should not be the only judge.

If your pet should become overweight, eliminate all high-fat treats from their diet, such as mealworms, waxworms, and fatty meats. It can actually be helpful to increase low-fat treats such as crickets, cockroaches, low-fat meats, and healthy vegetables as these can help fill the hedgehog up & cause them to eat less carb-heavy kibble. You should also look at your hedgehog's kibble fat content. You may need to switch to a lower fat food that is below 12% fat. You can also increase your hedgehog's activity by scattering food around the cage or putting it in several different bowls around the cage so your hedgehog needs to move around more to eat, and encouraging more activity when out of the cage for bonding time. All of these methods should be attempted before limiting your hedgehog's food ‚Äď it should not ever be the first step to attempting to help a hedgehog lose weight.

The End


 

 

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