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How to Take Care of a Hedgehog (Care Sheet & Guide 2021)

Nicole Cosgrove

If you are looking to adopt a fun and unconventional pet, consider a hedgehog if they are legal in your state. While hedgehogs can be aloof at first, they are incredibly charming pets once you earn their trust. Additionally, they are pretty easy to care for, as they do not require a lot to be happy and healthy.

However, hedgehogs might not be a good fit for everyone. For starters, they are nocturnal critters, meaning you might have to alter your schedule to accommodate the hedgehog’s needs. Secondly, they are notorious nippers, making them unideal for small children.

If you do not mind those stipulations, then this cutie will make a good buddy. Here is everything you need to know about caring for hedgehogs.

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Hedgehog Facts

hedgehog eye_Alexas Fotos_Pixabay
Image Credit: Alexas Fotos, Pixabay

Hedgehogs are found all over Africa, Asia, and Europe. They love hanging out around the hedges of shrubs and trees, and their noses resemble those of hog—hence their name.

One misconception about hedgehogs is they are distant relatives of porcupines since both animals have spiny armor. However, they are not; hedgehogs belong to the Erinaceidae subfamily, while porcupines are rodents.

Ancient Romans were the first people to domesticate hedgehogs. However, the modern domestication of these spiny critters began as recently as the 1980s. While there are numerous hedgehog species, the most popular one is the African pygmy hedgehog. This particular species measures between 6 and 8 inches long and has a 4-6 years lifespan.

Other popular pet hedgehog species include the long-eared hedgehog.

Do Hedgehogs Make Good Pets?

Whether hedgehogs make good pets or not is a matter of subjective opinion. Therefore, we shall provide you with the pros and cons of keeping this small animal so you can determine whether it would make a good pet for you.

Hedgehogs as pets are easy to care for, allergy-friendly, and are fun once they trust you. On the other hand, they might be unappealing to some due to their tendency to bite, in addition to not having long lifespans.

Additionally, their nocturnal nature might not be ideal for some people.

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Where Can I Get a Hedgehog?

hedgehog pet_Alexas Fotos_Pixabay
Image Credit: Alexas Fotos_Pixabay

Since some jurisdictions do not allow you to keep hedgehogs as pets, you will have to check first whether it is legal to keep hedgehogs in your area.

You can buy a hedgehog from a pet store or a breeder. We recommend purchasing from a breeder since they are experts on hedgehogs.

Before you buy a hedgehog, you want to be sure that it is healthy. A healthy hedgehog typically has bright eyes, moves around a lot, and displays signs of curiosity. As such, avoid choosing a lethargic hedgehog, as chances are it is ill.

What Kind of Home Does My Hedgehog Need?

In the wild, hedgehogs are active critters. They are constantly climbing, digging, swimming, or looking for food. That means their territories are large. As such, a pet hedgehog’s enclosure should be big enough to accommodate the animal’s natural tendencies. The minimum size of a hedgehog’s cage should be 6 square feet. However, the larger the space, the better it will be for the hedgehog. Since hedgehogs are natural escape artists, a cage with high, smooth walls is the best option.

Hedgehogs are solitary in the wild, except during the breeding season. That means they are inclined to fight when housed together. As such, if you want to keep more than one hedgehog, ensure that each animal has its own cage.

Please remember to keep the enclosure away from direct sunlight. As mentioned, hedgehogs sleep during the day, meaning direct sunlight prevents them from getting quality sleep. However, you do not want to keep the cage in a cold area, as these critters are susceptible to respiratory illnesses. In the same light, only use odorless cleaning products whenever you clean the hedgehog’s cage.

Consider lining the bottom of the enclosure with a towel or fleece for bedding, as they are easy to wash. For litter, consider placing shredded paper towels or recycled paper over the bedding.

You will also need to accessorize the cage to make it a complete home for your hedgie. First off, your pet needs an exercise wheel to help them stay in shape. As mentioned, hedgehogs are tremendously active critters in the wild. As such, without exercise, they are highly susceptible to becoming overweight.

That explains why most pet hedgehogs are fat. Unfortunately, obesity is one of the leading causes of death in pet hedgehogs due to the toll the excess weight has on their bodies, in addition to increasing their risk for life-threatening conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Avoid exercise wheels made of wire, as these can trap the hedgehog’s tiny feet, injuring the animal. Instead, go for solid wheels.

Your pet will also require toys to keep him/her busy when you are not around. Some of the best toys for hedgehogs include tubes and balls.

Since hedgehogs are shy animals, ensure they have a hideout inside their enclosure where they can retreat when they are feeling anxious. An anxious hedgehog is not a good pet since it is more likely to bite.

Related Read: How Much Does It Cost to Own a Hedgehog? (Updated in 2021)

hedgehog_Nishant Vaze, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Nishant Vaze, Shutterstock

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What Should I Feed My Hedgehog?

For a long time, hedgehogs have been considered insectivorous critters, meaning their diet consists of insects. While that is partly true, it turns out that hedgies are omnivores, as they also eat fruits and roots.

At home, your hedgie can do well on a diet consisting of worms, crickets, and the occasional fruit. However, some pet owners have found high-protein, low-fat cat food to be suitable for hedgehogs as well.

Ensure that fresh water is available to your pet at all times. While hedgehogs can drink from a water bowl, you will have to keep replacing the water due to the animal stepping on it. That is why we recommend installing a bottle with a straw from where your hedgie can drink from.

How Do I Take Care of My Hedgehog?

As mentioned, hedgehogs do not require much to be happy. Therefore, as long as you provide your pet with a nice enclosure, a proper diet, and a couple of toys, they should be content. If you have that aspect of hedgehog care down pat, the remaining aspect is forming a bond with your spiny friend.

Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

How to Handle a Hedgehog

As mentioned, hedgehogs have a nervous disposition, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings. Therefore, avoid handling your pet during the first few days of bringing them home. Simply bring them food and observe them from a distance. Doing that will allow the animal to become more comfortable in its new environment.

Nonetheless, you will need to handle them eventually. The best way of picking up a hedgehog is by scooping it up gently from the belly using both hands. That is because the belly does not have quills. After picking the hedgie up, you can hold him in the palm of one hand while the other protects its back.

Remember to stay calm and allow the hedgie to relax. There is a chance it might roll up into a ball due to fear, as that is what hedgehogs do when a predator confronts them. If your hedgehog does that, be patient. When they eventually realize you are not an enemy, they will relax and might even begin sniffing and exploring you.

Understandably, you might want to wear gloves, thinking the hedgehog’s quills might hurt you. However, we recommend handling your pet using bare hands. For starters, the quills are not sharp enough to injure you. Most importantly, you want your hedgie to get accustomed to your scent and become comfortable around you.

As mentioned, hedgehogs are notorious nippers. Therefore, there is no assurance that your cute little friend will not bite you occasionally as you try to handle them. Nevertheless, that will depend on your hedgehog’s personality; some do not mind handling; others tolerate it, while some do not like it.

hedgehog_ilegalni, Pixabay
Image Credit: ilegalni, Pixabay

Grooming

Like cats, hedgehogs work hard to keep themselves clean. Therefore, as long as you keep the animal’s cage clean, you might not have to groom them.

How Do I Know If My Hedgehog Is Sick?

The following signs indicate that your pet hedgehog might be sick. If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with the vet as soon as you can:

  • Lethargy/weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of spikes
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in feces
  • Discharge from nose and ears
  • Squealing during urination

Fortunately, hedgehogs are hardy critters. In fact, the only health condition likely to afflict pet hedgehogs is obesity, which is something that is within your control. Therefore, as long as you provide your pet with proper care, they will likely live out their lifespan without falling ill. Nonetheless, scheduling annual checkups with an exotic pet vet is critical to ensuring a healthy life for your hedgehog.

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Conclusion

Hedgehogs are excellent starter pets. Even though they might take some time to warm up to you, they make up for it once they know they can trust you. This goofy critter is an excellent fit for those looking for an unusual pet to care for.


Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.