Hedgehog Care Guide
Basically EVERYTHING you need to know about hedgehogs is on this page.
Handling and Bonding:
Hedgehogs have very poor eyesight, so they can naturally be very defensive little spiky balls of hate. I tell everyone not to think of them as "scared" or "mean" though, but rather as defensive and reactive. Your hedgehog does NOT hate you, they are just reacting to you in a negative way because they are not comfortable around you quite yet and they are not sure if you are SAFE. Hedgehogs use their amazing sense of smell to compensate for their poor vision. It's suggested to sleep with your hedgehog's cuddle sacks or fleece (or a T-shirt worn by you) to get them accustomed to your scent and recognize it as safe. When you bring your new baby home, they may be a lot more defensive the first few days or weeks because everything smells new to them and they don't recognize all the new smells (including you and your family) as “safe”. Your hedgehog may ball up and take a long time to unball or it may be huffier and pricklier then it was when you first met your hedgehog. Don't panic! The best thing you can do is stay calm and ride out the storm! Your new pet does NOT need adjustment time alone in his new cage. Get right in there from the start and spend time with your new pet! Though let the first few days be calm and quiet, try not to do too many stressful new things all at once. Let them sleep in a large pocket or curled up in a blanket or cuddle sack on your lap if they are tired (or frightened). Being close to you and able to hear and smell you will help familiarize your hedgehog with you and your family. Handle your new hedgehog as often as possible to get him/her used to you! Try not to be hesitant when handling! Be as firm and confident as possible with your handling, even if your hedgehog is acting defensive or snarky towards you! Just ignore it and don't let it bother you! The more you man-handle the better! We recommend at least 30 minutes of HANDS ON handling every day. The more confident you feel while handling, the more relaxed your hedgehog is going to feel around you and the less quilly/ defensive it will be (remember, animals are excellent at picking up on our emotions). If YOU are nervous or scared your hedgehog will become nervous or scared and will act more defensive towards you. It's all about TRUST. You need to trust your hedgehog and your hedgehog needs to trust you. We would like to note that gloves should never be used while you are trying to bond with your new baby, because your hedgehog won't be able to smell you and realize your scent is harmless. The best method to pick up your hedgehog is place both your hands, palms up, on each side of your hedgehog and carefully (sometimes going very slowly helps too) scoop him/her up from underneath. After your hedgehog is more accustomed to you, they generally will not raise their quills up when you go to handle them, and will be much easier to pick up. Or they may only do it once you first wake them up.
Babies do go through a quilling process (losing baby quills and replacing them with new adult quills). This can be VERY uncomfortable for them, which can sometimes result in them being a lot grumpier with you. Ignore it, and keep up the handling! If they are quilling badly, handle them gingerly as quilling can be painful for some babies. Imagine growing needles out of your skin. It is similar to a baby teething, but all over your body. OUCH. Some babies have a harder time quilling than others, and some you never even realize they are quilling except for the quill loss. You will find LOTS of loose quills and quills will fall out, but your baby should never be bare or have ANY bald spots. Babies are constantly quilling. Quilling normally is at it's worst between 6-8 weeks old and normally lasts a couple of weeks, on again and off again. They should be done quilling by around 6 months old. Quilling is different for each baby and not every hedgehog follows the time frames for quilling. Sometimes you can part the quills and see if there are any new quills poking though their skin, that is a good way to see if they are currently quilling.
Hedgehogs should have yearly routine health check ups to make sure everything is going well. Nationwide Pet Insurance covers hedgehogs for $9 per month. It is great to have pet insurance for them, especially in case of emergencies! Emergency visits can cost hundreds! You will absolutely need to find a good vet that is well versed in hedgehogs. There are a lot of vets that DON'T know proper care and nutrition for hedgehogs. NEVER listen to your vet if they suggest you feed your hedgehog a commercially made hedgehog specific diet, as they are all crap quality! Vets are NOT nutritionists, and most are NOT well informed on hedgehog diet specifics!!! I normally use Electric City Animal Clinic, Dr. Tope is awesome. Please contact me if your vet gives you any advice you aren't sure about! And PLEASE remember your breeder sometimes knows best, as we see these animals every single day and RAISE them from birth. I've worked with hedgehogs for years! Breeders see a lot of different issues and have succesfully treated hedgehogs for many different types of illnesses or we know another breeder that HAS if we haven't!!!
The most common medical ailments that effect hedgehogs: MITES! Hedgehogs typically get mites from wood type shavings and paper bedding. Mites can infest almost any type of bedding. So it is best to freeze any type of bedding for 48 hours to kills mites! OR you can do a topical monthly mite preventative called Revolution (the kitten one) which you can get from the vet! Hedgehogs only need 1 drop per month, or 2 drops if they are over 400 grams in weight. Revolution works just like how Frontline products work on dogs and cats for fleas. We use Revolution on babies before they go home as a preventative! Hedgehogs can also be prone to dry skin issues, flakey skin, and bacterial and fungal skin infections. If you noticed anything that looks odd, be sure to make a vet appointment to have it looked at! You can always ask for my advice as well! You would want the vet to do a skin scraping and a fungal culture to rule both of those out if you notice any weird skin issues going on, like severe crusty skin or major quill loss.
Hedgehogs can be good climbers, which is why wire cages are NOT recommended for them. They can get legs caught between the wire, resulting in serious injury. Wire cages can be used if you use plexi-glass or coroplast lining the inside of the cage about 10 inches if your hedgehog is a climber! I have personally had a baby get it's leg stuck in the gap between wire cages and luckily she only ended up with a badly bruised leg. This is why I don't recommend them and I will never use them again. Your hedgehog can get seriously hurt if it decides to climb the wire. THEY ARE NOT NATURALLY CLIMBING ANIMALS. A 105 qt plastic tote cage is what we use at Fur and Quills, and is what we highly recommend. This is what our cage sets are made with, you can view our cage sets we have available. Glass cages/tanks can be used, but they can retain too much moisture/humidity and can result in your hedgehog getting sick with an upper respiratory infection. So if you use any type of glass cage make sure it has good ventilation and keep an eye on the humidity level. As far as cages go, bigger is always better! But make sure there is lots of clutter and places to hide!
Hedgehogs are generally not social with their own kind and should be housed alone. Males especially will fight with each other, and can fight to the death. Females can SOMETIMES be housed together if introduced correctly, or if they are litter mates or have been together since a very young age. NEVER house a male and female together, or you will end up with babies! If left together when babies are born the male will eat them. Typically sisters, or mother & daughter pairs. Most do really well together and seem to enjoy each other's company. We have seen issues with two sisters fighting though. So, it is your hedgehog and completely your decision if you want to take that risk. If you house two females together, be sure to keep a close eye on their behavior towards each other. Sometimes one of them will bully the other and dominate the other. So if you co-house it is a good idea to get a night camera to be able to monitor their behavior towards each other in case it ever changes. A lot can happen during the night if your hedgehogs are housed together and you don't see what is happening!
Keeping your hedgehog at the right temperature is crucial! I can't stress this enough! At Fur and Quills, we keep a portable heater in the hedgehog room to keep the rooms between 72-85 degrees Fahrenheit at ALL times! If you can not use a space heater to keep the room at the appropriate temperature, it is highly recommended to use a ceramic heat emitter on a thermostat. I would also strongly recommend keeping a thermometer in the cage at all times to make sure your cage is at the correct temperature. The cage should never get below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If their cage is under 72 for prolonged periods of time it can be fatal if they attempt hibernation. African Pygmy Hedgehogs die if hibernation is attempted and is not reversed quickly! If you find that your hedgehog is trying to hibernate they will usually be rolled into a ball and unresponsive, and if trying to walk they may be wobbly, and their belly will be very cold to the touch. Skin to skin contact is needed ASAP to warm them up SLOWLY. You can also put a blanket or towel in the dryer and wrap them in it. If warmed up too fast they can go into shock which is often fatal. If they don't start coming out of it within an hour or two, a trip to the nearest exotic or emergency vet is absolutely required or your hedgehog may not make it. NEVER GIVE THEM A BATH OF ANY KIND IF YOU SUSPECT HIBERNATION.
A bath can shock their system if they are trying to hibernate.
Exercise & Enrichment:
Hedgehogs absolutely NEED daily exercise and enrichment. A proper wheel needs to be available to them, in their cage, at all times. Unless they are sick or injured they should always have a wheel. The wheel should be a SOLID plastic type wheel. Wire wheels are not recommended because your hedgehog may get his toes/feet or nails caught between the spacing of the wires and suffer a ripped nail, or broken foot or toe. If your hedgehog is not provided a wheel it will be stressed and bored and will likely exhibit neurotic behavior such as pacing back and forth super fast. This is not normal and it is not a cute behavior. That behavior shows that your hedgehog is extremely stressed and bored and has no outlet for that stress and boredom!!! Acceptable brands of wheels are: Kaytee Comfort Wheels & Bucket Wheels. Both cost only around $20-$30. You can make a simple bucket type wheel yourself. It is SUPER easy to do and more cost effective than buying a pre-made one. Just Google "How to make a hedgehog wheel" and you will find good video tutorials.
Hedgehogs should also be provided with other enrichment, not just wheels. Though most hedgehogs seem like all they do is wheel, you still want to provide other things to keep them occupied for the times they are not wheeling. Because they are nocturnal, you won't always see what they are up to 100% of the time during the night. So other forms of enrichment are important too. Dig boxes are a great foraging option. Dig boxes are exactly like what they sound like. A box your hedgehog digs around in. Get any kind of box, and make a hole or cut part of it down so your hedgehog can get into it easily. Fill it up with fun stuff like giant soft Pom Pom craft balls, and giant marbles, maybe even some other soft toys or fleece vines. Then you add other toys and lots of treats. You can even add live bugs to the dig box to encourage your hedgehog to forage and "hunt"!
Something similar to a dig box that can be offered once in a while, but not all the time, is a sand bathing box. There are lots of hedgehogs that LOVE to take a "dust" bath in the sand. They will roll around in it and have a grand old time. It very much reminds me of a pig sloshing around in the mud. They love it! But be mindful! Watch for sand getting stuck to the genitals. It might be a good idea to rinse your hedgehog with water after letting them have a sand bath. We have a few hedgehogs that absolutely LOVE sand bathing. But it is not something that should be left in their cage. This is a once in a while thing, or can be offered whenever you have them out of their cage. As long as they aren't allowed to have sand 24/7. You don't want them eating it or it getting caught in their gentials.
Other forms of enrichment are different toys, treats, and foraging. So get creative! We use finger puppets as hedgehog "kongs" and fill them up with different treats! It's important to mix it up and offer lots of different kinds of treats and insects so your hedgehog doesn't get bored. Our hedgehogs love mini squeaky toys and anything that makes noise. Think rubber bath toys for kids, mini maracas, cat toys, crinkle balls. Things that are plastic and easy to clean are best!
Another extremely important form of enrichment is your hedgehogs HIDE!!! Hedgehogs absolutely need places to hide and feel safe. That is extremely important, otherwise you will have a very stressed out hedgie. We provide a igloo type igloo to every single one of our hedgehogs. Adding multiple different places to hide and seek shelter is another great form of enrichment that is often overlooked. If there are not enough hiding places and too much open space, that can also cause a stressed out hedgie! So that is another thing to keep in mind.
At Fur and Quills we use KILN DRIED pine shavings and Aspien shavings. Pine is fine as long as it is kiln dried (which most bags are)! Hedgehogs can be litter trained, and it is usually easy to do so. Pick up their poop and place it in the litter pan to teach them where to go. Though some hedgehogs will NEVER litter train. Each hedgehog is different so keep that in mind! Never use clay litter or anything that clumps! It can get stuck to their genitals and cause infections. And if your hedgehog eats it, it can cause an impaction in their intestinal tract. NEVER use anything with cedar in it. Cedar oil is toxic to hedeghogs! If you aren't sure about a specific type of bedding, ask! I do not recommend paper bedding, as some hedgehogs like to taste or eat it and if they eat too much of it, it can cause an impaction! We used to use paper bedding but I noticed babies eating it and pooping it out. If they ate too much they could have gotten an intestinal blockage, so we do not use paper types of bedding any more. We recommend either pine pellets, pine shavings, aspen shavings, pelleted newspaper like yesterday news, or fleece. Any type of wood shavings or pellets should be frozen for 48 hours to kill any potential mites! OR you can do a topical monthly mite preventative called Revolution (the kitten one) which you can get from the vet! Hedgehogs only need 1 drop per month, or 2 drops if they are over 400 grams in weight. Revolution works just like how Frontline products work on dogs and cats for fleas.
Bathing your hedgehog:
Keep the water level low enough so they can stand and walk around easily. A toothbrush can be used to scrub the quills. Aveeno oatmeal baby wash (or any other type of unscented baby wash) is the only OTC wash I recommend for bath time. There are other home-made hedgehog washes available on Etsy. We also have bath kits available.
Hedgehogs have extremely sensitive skin that is prone to drying out, so baby wash or a home made wash is best! Most shampoos are too harsh on their skin, and will dry it out too much so do NOT use dog/cat shampoo. You should bathe your hedgehog as little as possible. A full bath should be done once a month or less. If they are dirty or have poopy feet you can always just "wash" them with plain water with no added soap/shampoo. That way their skin will not get dried out and you won't strip their natural oils.
Oatmeal baths are also GREAT for quilling or dry skin! Get a sock or cheesecloth, add your dry plain oatmeal and let the cheesecloth soak with the oats for about 5-10 minutes in hot water until the water is a milky color. Let the water cool until it is only warm and then let your hedgehog soak for about 10-15 minutes. The oatmeal will soothe and soften the skin and will help those new quills to poke through easier too. You can also squeeze the cheesecloth to make the water more milky for a better application/effect.
Food & nutrition:
ABOUT HEDGEHOG DIET & NUTRITION!
The diet you choose to feed your hedgehog is EXTREMELY important! A sub-par diet can lead to an early death, health issues like fatty liver disease, kidney damage, or even improper calcium absorption causing weak and frail bones (metabolic bone disease). Their main diet should consist of a high quality cat food with more than one protein source. Most commercially made diets specifically formulated for hedgehogs are, to put it nicely, complete crap. A high quality cat kibble is more nutritionally balanced. So, why exactly is cat kibble better for hedgehogs? Well, take a look at the ingredients. If you compare a bag of "hedgehog food" to a bag of cat kibble you will find that the ingredients are similar. But the ingredients in commercially made hedeghog food are usually very poor quality ingredients with tons of fillers like corn, wheat, soy, beet pulp, peas, etc. All of these ingredients are things that hedgehogs can not digest well, or get no nutritional value from. There is even a food called Mazuri Insectivore that is recommended by a lot of vets, that has ground aspen in the ingredients. That's right, ground up wood shavings! And not to mention hedgehogs are opportunistic omnivores, they are not strictly insectivores. They have a very simple digestive tract, and can not digest some things as well some other animals can. Commercially made hedgehog foods are also usually not correctly balanced with the correct amount of protein and fat that a hedgehog should have in their diet!
Okay, so you do need to follow some guidelines when feeding cat kibble to your hedgehog! Note that dog kibbles can be used as well but it is hard to find dog kibbles that are small enough for hedgehogs. The cat/dog kibble you decide to feed should contain about 14-16% fat (note that more active hedgehogs can have slightly higher fat contents in their food) and should be between 30-35% protein and no more than 36% protein (TOO much protein from plants and other sources can damage kidneys and liver over time)! Most higher protein foods are not appropriate for hedgehogs because they have too much protein from plant or other sources and not enough meat protein. The only higher protein foods (foods over 40% protein) I have found to be appropriate for hedgehogs are Farmina, Orijen, Go! Fit + Free, and Young Again. So if you are feeding one of these higher protein foods, you do not need to worry too much about too high of a protein content... Hedgehogs being fed a higher protein biologically appropriate diet will typically eat less because they are getting fuller on a smaller portion since the food is richer in both protein and fat. A growing hedgie (under 4 months old) should definitely be free fed in my opinion. An adult hedgehog will typically eat 1-2 tablespoons per night. Some may need 2-4 tablespoons, depending on their activity level and their overall size and weight.
I recommend to NOT feed any kibbles containing peas, pea protein, pea fiber, or other pea ingredients in the first FIVE ingredients. I also would HIGHLY recommend staying away from corn, lentils, chickpeas, and wheat if they are listed in the first FIVE ingredients as well. I also recommend sticking to grain free foods. But be careful because a lot of grain free foods have a ton of peas, lentils, or chickpeas in them...
Pea, corn, lentil, chickpeas, and wheat ingredients can increase the phosphorous levels in your hedgehog's diet. Excess amounts or unbalanced amounts of phosphorous in your hedgehog's diet can inhibit calcium absorption in their bones, as well as cause kidney damage over time. Both peas and corn are very common "fillers" in pet foods and have VERY little, if any, nutritional value. I also highly recommend staying away from lentils, chickpeas, and wheat, as those also have very high phosphorous levels (even higher than peas and corn) and are becoming a more common "filler" as well. Lentils and chickpeas are not as common as peas and corn but they are just as bad. Hedgehogs also simply do not digest plant matter very well, so this is also why I recommend staying away from those ingredients if they are listed in the first five ingredients. Most foods will claim to have balance calcium and phosphorous ratios, but still contain too much phosphorous. If you don't see the calcium phosphorous ratios listed on the bag of food you can contact the company and ask them. An ideal calcium phosphorous ratio is 2:1. A lot of foods only have about 1:1. NOT all foods are created equally!!! Some are better than others. Remember that when picking your food.
At Fur and Quills, our hedgehogs get a variety of different treats. Some of their absolute favorites are live superworms, live dubia roaches, mashed up hard boiled eggs, cooked unseasoned meats such as chicken, turkey, duck, lamb, and fish. Pork and beef can also be fed, but not often due to its high fat content. Never feed any raw meat/fish because of possible bacterial and parasitic infections. There are frozen raw diets made for cats and dogs however, that is fine to use as an occassional treat. Cooked veggies can be fed as treats (make sure they are soft), and soft fruits. But I recommend very small tiny amounts because hedgehogs do not digest most vegetables and fruits very well and it will usually result in constipation or diarrhea if you feed it too much or too often. Hedgehogs do not have a CECUM which is part of the digestive tract that helps to digest and pull nutrients from plants/vegetables/fruits. Some favorites include butternut squash cooked and mashed, pureed pumpkin, mashed sweet potato, carrot baby food, watermelon, banana, pear, and strawberries. All of these can usually be found as mashed up baby food options, which hedgehogs usually love to slurp up and anoint with. Just make sure the baby food doesn't contain anything harmful in the ingredient list (like garlic or onions). You can also feed meat baby foods as a treat. Those are better options and hedgehogs typically love those! I sometimes also feed freeze dried insects such as mealworms, crickets, and black fly larvae as very occasional treats. Only a few per day is recommended. Too much freeze dried insects can be too fattening, can cause bloating, and can cause constipation because they have no moisture in them at all. Freeze dried chicken liver, duck, beef, etc, are also a favorite (just give very limited quantities because of the high fat and protein content). Dairy products such as cottage cheese and yogurt are okay to give in VERY small quantities. Hedgehogs can not digest lactose well and will most likely get diarrhea or upset stomach/bloating if fed too much of any type of dairy product. But a tiny taste won't hurt! I don't recommend dairy products but like I said, a tiny taste won't kill you hedgehog!
Treats to NEVER feed are:
Any dried fruits or anything excessively sticky (choking hazard), raisins & grapes (toxic), citrus fruits, pineapple, raw hard vegetables, onions, chives, garlic, mushrooms, nuts or seeds (choking hazard), avocados (toxicity unknown), chocolate or other types of candy, caffeine/ caffeine filled products.. PLEASE DO RESEARCH BEFORE FEEDING ANYTHING YOU DON'T KNOW IS SAFE! ASK ME IF YOU AREN'T SURE!
Other Things That are Toxic To Hedgehogs Are:
Tea tree oil: Extremely toxic to hedgehogs! Can cause renal, liver, and/or complete organ failure.
Eucalyptus - Toxic.
Ivermectin: In these forms (injection or oral)! NEVER let your vet prescribe it! Vets often want to use Ivermectin injections to treat mites in hedgehogs, but the risks are much too high! Ivermectin can be fatal in as little as one dose. Don't risk it. If mites are ever suspected ask for Revolution (a topical mite treatment). If your vet EVER insists on Ivermectin injections for anything, FIND A NEW VET! Ivermectin in topical form is okay, but can still be risky so I wouldn't risk it...
Certain food preservatives: Ethoxyquin, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) -"Toxic" may not be the right word here, but the following artificial preservatives in pet food are suspected to cause serious health issues in animals including cancer, kidney disease, birth defects, liver disease, and so on. Read the labels on the food and avoid them..
If you have any questions AT ALL, please get in contact with me! Fur and Quills offers lifetime breeder support, and will always be willing to chat with you about questions or concerns that pop up during the coarse of hedgehog ownership.