African Pygmy Hedgehog Care
It is important for you to read the following information carefully and direct any questions to your breeder.
Hedgehogs need a lot of exercise, so their cage needs to be large enough to accommodate a solid surface wheel, a food bowl and water bottle, a place to hide, toys, and still have adequate space to run and play. The cage should have a flat (no wire) plastic bottom, and be at least 18 X 24 inches. A large clear plastic Sterilite storage container of at least 90 quarts is an affordable alternative to a regular cage. It should be noted that some hedgehogs can escape from these containers by climbing their huts. Be sure to drill 20 or more dime size holes in the container and lid, if you choose to use the lid.
There are many good types of bedding on the market, including:
Kiln dried pine, or aspen shavings:
This is a dryer pine that does not have as much in the way of harmful oils. The dust and lightweight shavings can be messy. but it’s a very economical bedding, and quite absorbent.
Fabric liners :
Although not commonly found in stores, they are easy to make and available from a number of sources online. Fabric liners are great for people with allergies, and can eliminate the messy bedding all over the floor. They are also an inexpensive bedding, once the initial investment is made.
Carefresh and off brands of this type:
Work VERY well for hedgehogs. They are absorbent, and keep odors to a minimum. If the white ultra Carefresh is used, you can spot clean very easily. It is made out of recycled paper, and should not harbor mites.
This is a pelleted recycled newspaper I find very useful in the litter box.
Carefresh is recommended, with Yesterdays News as litter.
You should never use cedar bedding with your pets as it can cause respiratory distress and skin burns.
Clumping litter and corn cob should also be avoided! Be aware that small pieces of litter can become lodged in the male’s penile shaft. If this happens, you can use a moist Q-tip and your finger to remove the litter. If this is not possible, contact your breeder or vet for further assistance.
Hedgehogs have almost no odor if their cages are cleaned regularly. You can also do some spot cleaning on a daily basis to ensure that your pet’s cage remains clean.
Hedgehogs have very little tolerance for cold, and need to be kept between 75 and 85 degrees. If your pet gets too cold, they will attempt to hibernate. Since the African pygmy hedgehog is not a subspecies that can safely do this, it is important that you warm your pet up immediately. If this happens, place the hedgehog directly on your stomach or a heating pad and the hedgehog should begin to warm up and move around within a few minutes. Do not place the hedgehog in the bath, as it will become chilled, damp, and potentially sick.
A human heating pad is recommended if the temperatures in your house dip below 70 degrees, but is still in the upper 60’s. A small reptile heating pad (available at most pet stores for $10- $15) is recommended if the temperatures in your house dip significantly below 70 degrees. This pad sticks to the underside of the cage and should be about the size of your hedgehog. It is important that your pet have ample space to get away from the heating pad, if they are too warm. Be careful that the temperature does not get too far above 80 degrees, as this can be equally dangerous. Hedgehogs become somewhat distressed at 85* and over.
Keep the cage out of drafty locations, and away from windows with any sort of sun exposure.
If your hedgehog gets too hot, a cold soda/water bottle in the cage can help them cool down.
Food and Water:
The best type of food dish is a heavy shallow one that cannot be tipped over. Most hedgehogs can be free fed (have food available at all times), however, if your hedgehog cannot ball up completely, then it is time for you to limit its food intake to 2 Tablespoons a day.
In an effort to keep your hedgehog’s water as clean as possible, water bottles are preferred over bowls. Be sure that the bottle is scrubbed bi-weekly to prevent bacteria growth. Monitor your pet carefully to be sure that they are able to drink from their bottle.
Make sure the bottle does not have a spring in the nozzle, but rather has ball bearings. (it should rattle when you invert the bottle. If once set up, it seems like your bottle is leaking excessively (emptying in less than a night), check to see if there’s a hole in the bottle, or something stuck in the nozzle.
A diet that is relatively high in broken down proteins and low in fat is ideal. We use a dry cat/dog food mix as our daily base food. Hedgehogs seem to prefer food derived primarily from chicken.
In the wild hedgehogs eat numerous insects, and in captivity they need a high fiber diet to make up for this loss. While you can give your hedgehog farm raised mealworms, crickets, wax worms, or other bugs as treats, they are too high in fat to be their primary diet.
Be wary of most commercial ‘hedgehogs’ foods, as they contain mostly filler and inadequate nutrition. Most breeders feed a mixture of cat and dog foods. A list of foods used in the breeders mix is typically available from your breeder.
Hedgehogs need to have fresh water available at all times. A bottle is preferred to a bowl as it is more sanitary. While some hedgehogs chew on the nozzle, it is not a concern, as I have never seen a hedgehog break his/her teeth on the bottle.
Treats should be given in moderation – he should not fill up on treats before eating his regular food. Your hedgehogs’ stomach is the size of a green grape. While some hedgehogs like table scraps, others can’t be bothered with them. Try different things and see what your pet likes. Some like cooked chicken, turkey and beef. Vegetables and fruit can also be given in small amounts. Scrambled or boiled eggs are also commonly enjoyed. Hedgehogs should not consume most dairy products. They can have yogurt (no sugar added!!) and cottage cheese.
Hedgehogs should not EVER eat nuts, raisins/chewy fruits, chocolate, or any raw meats or eggs.
Your pet needs a solid surface wheel to run on. It is very important that you do not use a wire wheel because hedgehogs are not equipped to properly run on those and can easily break a leg. Do not buy a wheel that is less then 11inches in diameter, as anything less is too small, and will injure the hedgehogs back. I highly recommend the Carolina Storm Wheel.
Ping pong balls, toilet paper tubes, plastic Easter eggs, toy cars, beanie babies are all enjoyable not common play things. Additionally, cat, and ferret toys with bells, pom poms, are great. You will find that your pet is extremely curious and loves to explore new things. Baby toys such as small stackers, rattles, and trucks can provide hours of amusement (make sure the pieces aren’t a choking hazard). In order to enrich your pet’s environment, be sure to provide them with toys that have new smells, shapes, and colors.
Hedgehogs need a place to hide where they can be out of view. The Cozy Hides are great, and are available in various shapes and sizes. Hedgebags, or miniature sleeping bags, are an alternative option and one is usually supplied by a breeder when you purchase your pet.
Many hedgehogs will use a litter box – as long as you acknowledge that the wheel is part of the potty area. Most hedgehogs will potty on their wheel. Putting the wheel either in the litter pan, or facing up against it is a great first step in litter training your hedgehog. If you choose to try this, and your hedgehog has a favorite corner to poop in, you’ll want to place the litter box there. Use a different substrate/litter than you would in the rest of the cage, and place some poops in the box to get your hedgehog started. Do not use clay or clumping litter as some hedgehogs will eat it, and it may stick to male genitals. I recommend Yesterday’s News for box litter.
By nature, hedgehogs are nocturnal, so your hedgehog may not come out on its own while you are awake, it is fine to wake them during the day, and they will happily play with you. Hedgehogs do need to be exposed to regular daylight. DO NOT place your hedgehog in a closet or other dark place.
Do not try to change your hedgehog’s natural routine so that they are awake all day. If you want a daytime pet, please reconsider your purchase. It is also important that your hedgehog be exposed to a regular light and dark cycle. Never keep the cage near an open window or in a drafty area.
Hedgehogs need their nails trimmed on a regular basis. Frequent checks are very important, as different pet’s nails will grow at different rates. A long nail could get caught on things (and potentially rip out) or curl and grow into the pad of the foot. If you have any nail problems, it is important that you see your vet immediately to prevent the area from becoming infected.
Trimming your hedgehog’s nails may seem intimidating, but it isn’t terribly difficult. Your breeder or vet can show you proper nail trimming techniques. Use a small nail clipper to trim the white part of the nail and be careful not to nip the kwik (pink fleshy part). If this happens, a little bit of septic powder (Stop-Quick or Kwik-Stop, available at pet stores) or cornstarch will quickly stop the bleeding. Don’t Panic. Hedgehogs have thin blood and the nip may seem worse then it actually is. If the bleeding does not stop within a few seconds, apply pressure, and if it continues,call your veterinarian.
It is very important for you to see a veterinarian that specializes in exotics, or at least has some hedgehog experience. Establish a relationship with your vet early on, preferably within the first 2 weeks of getting your pet. A fecal float and a physical exam, should be done annually as a preventative measure.
If this is your first experience with a hedgehog, it is highly recommended that you wait before considering breeding. Hedgehogs are difficult animals to breed and the average survival rate of the young is roughly 69% (for experienced breeders). High vet bills (for emergency C-sections and other care), cannibalism of babies, moms rejecting babies, 24/ 7 hand feeding, and even the loss of the mother, are all things a breeder deals with on a regular basis.
If, after you’ve spent some time as a hedgehog owner, you still want to breed, please visit a USDA licensed breeder to discuss your decision. If possible, you should view pictures of destroyed litters and witness the difficulty of hand feeding a baby to make sure you are ready for the bad parts of breeding. It should also be noted that a pregnant hedgehog should not be disturbed from about a week before she gives birth until the babies are at least 14 days old. Disturbing the nest could lead to mom destroying the babies.
Links and info:
Hedgehog World: HedgehogWorld.com – This site is developed and maintained by some of the top African Pygmy Hedgehog breeders in the U.S. Hedgehog World has articles, forums, photos, and fun and games. If your breeder cannot be reached in an emergency situation, any of the breeders listed on their ‘breeder’ link can advise you (If the situation needs medical care, please see your vet immediately. These breeders are not veterinarians, and cannot be substituted as such).
Carolina Storm Wheels – Carolinastormhedgehogs.com – These wheels are VERY quiet and easy to clean. Relatively ‘new on the block’, these are highly recommended, and our first choice here.
New York Super Worms: nyworms.com – Growers of live meal worms, wax worms, crickets, and butter worms. Live bugs are an excellent source of nutrition for your pet. **Please do not feed super worms because they are carnivorous and unsafe for hedgehogs**