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Tips On Hedgehog Care

February 01, 2024

Each month has its own distinct associations. February is no exception: it’s mostly known for Valentine’s Day and the beloved Groundhog Day tradition. (Note: Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this year, which is only the 21st time that has happened in 138 years.) While pretty much everyone knows about Groundhog Day, what some may not be aware of is the fact that this day also holds significance for hedgehogs. In fact, the Romans used to observe Hedgie to determine if he would notice his shadow under the moonlight! Of course, these days we don’t really rely upon hedgehogs for weather forecasts, but instead often keep them as pets. In this article, a local Greater Cincinnati vet will offer some helpful tips about caring for hedgehogs.


Hedgehog basics


Hedgehogs live in woodlands, parks, and hedgerows in the wild. Although there are 14 varieties of hedgehogs in the world, only two are commonly kept as pets: European hedgehogs and African pygmy hedgehogs.

The African pygmy is the most popular here in America. These little guys do make fun pets. Hedgie is cute, charming, quiet, and playful, so it’s easy to see why this quilled critter has gained so much attention recently. He’s even becoming a social media star! It’s not hard to see why hedgehogs are becoming so popular. They’re not only extremely adorable, they are also small, quiet, and easy to care for. 


However, there are some things to consider before adopting one. Hedgie may not be a good match for a house with a dog that has strong prey drive. And while these guys are suitable for mature kids, a toddler may inadvertently frighten or even accidentally hurt them. It’s all about finding the right fit. Before moving forward, do lots of research and consult your veterinarian.


Bonding With A Hedgehog


Hedgehogs are quite timid by nature. it may take your new buddy some time to warm up to you. This is normal. 


Don’t force things! To help your prickly buddy form positive associations with you, try putting a worn t-shirt in his cage for him to snuggle up in. This will help him get used to your scent and hopefully start associating it with feeling safe and comfortable. (Note: During this stage, do not change your soap, lotion, detergent, or scents.)


It’s very important to avoid scaring your hedgehog. These guys are very timid and can easily get scared. They’re also wired to run rather than fight, which is why they curl up to protect themselves. If Hedgie gets scared, he may roll himself up into a ball. Don’t try to force him to unroll. Just let him be until he feels safe enough to unfurl himself.


Hedgehogs do not have good eyesight, so they rely more on their cute noses, rather than their eyes, to get information about their surroundings. Shadows can be very scary to them. Keep this in mind whenever you approach your pet. Also, don’t pick him up from behind or while he is sleeping. That can (understandably) be very scary for the little guy!


How Do I House A Hedgehog?


Hedgie should have a cage that is at least 4 x 2, though bigger is better. Make sure it has a solid bottom: mesh and wire floors don’t hold bedding, and can even hurt your little buddy’s feet or legs.


You’ll need to add some bedding. You can use paper bedding, kiln-dried shavings, or a soft blanket, such as a fleece blanket. If you want to add a litter box, use soft pellets or paper towels. Avoid clay and clumping litters. If swallowed, these can cause intestinal blockages. You’ll also need to avoid pine and cedar products, as they can cause respiratory issues.


Your hedgehog will also appreciate having an exercise wheel to run and play on. Wire wheels aren’t safe, so be sure to get a solid one.


You’ll also need to provide a place for your pet to hide or rest. There are many cute options, such as pouches or igloos. Or, you can look for habitats made specifically for reptiles: many of these will work for hedgehogs as well.


Toys are also a must! Many toys made for cats and small dogs will do just fine. Look for brightly colored ones.


Ask your Greater Cincinnati veterinarians for specific advice.


Choosing A Spot For Your Hedgehog Cage


It’s all about location, location, location. Hedgie should be in a room that always stays between 70 and 80 degrees. Avoid direct sunlight and drafty areas. Loud noises may scare the little guy, so don’t put him near speakers or your teenager’s drum kit.


If you have a dog or cat, put the hedgehog habitat on something, so it isn’t at floor level. Your hedgehog won’t feel safe with Fido and Fluffy staring at him. Just make sure he can’t fall or jump out!


Hedgehog  Quills


As you probably know, hedgehogs, like porcupines, are covered in quills. These are made of keratin, the same substance found in human hair and nails. (Fun fact: keratin also makes up snake scales.) Though Hedgie’s quills are not as sharp as porcupine quills, they can still prick a bit. These quills are cute, but they’re there for a reason: they serve as a form of protection. However, while your pet can shed its quills, it can’t shoot them. If feeling threatened, a hedgehog will roll into a ball for defense. This makes it harder for predators to pick them up. 


Feeding A Pet Hedgehog


Wild hedgehogs eat mostly bugs, so their digestive systems are suited to insects. Hedgie will need a high-protein, low fat menu.


You can give the little guy hedgehog kibble for his main meals. High-protein cat or dog food may also work, though you’ll of course want to ask your vet for specific advice. Salmon, chicken, turkey, and eggs are also suitable additions to your little buddy’s meal plan. You can also give your pet certain fruits and veggies, such as bananas, peas, apples, beans, corn, and carrots. Watermelon is also safe, as are pears, papaya, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Just be sure to remove the skins, seeds, and pits first.


For insects, you can give Hedgie gut loaded insects, such as earthworms, waxworms, silkworms, or crickets. Use store-bought varieties, as wild insects can carry parasites or diseases.


It’s also important to know what isn’t safe for your prickly pal. 


Avoid the following foods:


  • Nuts
  • Hard/Raw Vegetables
  • Raisins  
  • Grapes
  • Seeds
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Avocado
  • Raw Meats
  • Bread
  • Tomatoes
  • Honey
  • Junk Food
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Dried Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Garlic 
  • Onion

Do some research, and never give your pet anything unless you are sure it’s safe. Also, ask your veterinarian about specific feeding advice.


You’ll also need to provide plenty of fresh water. Some hedgehogs may not be used to drinking from bottles, so consider getting your cute little pet a sturdy bowl if they aren’t getting the hang of it. Contact your Greater Cincinnati veterinary clinic for more information.


Conclusion: Hedgehogs have become quite popular pets in recent years, and with good reason. Just do plenty of research before purchasing a hedgehog, and talk to your Greater Cincinnati veterinarian if you have any questions.


Have you recently adopted a hedgehog? Congratulations! As your local Greater Cincinnati pet hospital, we are always here to help. Please reach out to us for all of your pet hedgehog’s care needs.


Posted in Exotic Care

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Batavia, OH 45103
(513) 732-1730
Also serving Clermont County, OH and surrounding areas.

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