Hedgehogs are native through most of Africa and southern Europe. They primarily eat insects, but can eat a variety of different animals and plants. They are nocturnal animals that spend most of the day sleeping. They have long quills that are used as a protection mechanism. Hedgehogs will roll up into a ball and extend their quills when they feel threatened. They typically live four to six years, though some hedgehogs have lived up to 10 years as pets.
Hedgehogs can have a range of personalities. Some enjoy attention and handling, many are indifferent, and a few dislike it. They will rarely seek attention, but that does not mean you should not handle them since we want your hedgehog to be used to your smell and comfortable around you.
Like with any person or pet, you do have to monitor a hedgehog’s health. There are some things you can do at home to help keep your pet healthy. Avoid wire bottoms to cages or exercise wheels and be sure bedding stays dry. This will keep your hedgehog’s feet healthy. Be sure their housing area stays warm to avoid respiratory disease. Hedgehogs will eat things they should not and can get obstructions. Be very aware of what you leave lying around. Interestingly, foaming at the mouth is a normal thing for hedgehogs that is triggered by strange or unusual smells. In the wild hedgehogs do hibernate, but should not when kept as pets. Keeping them warm will help avoid this. As with all pets, if you have any questions or concerns about your hedgehog’s health, please contact your veterinarian.
Dry food should be the majority of your hedgehog’s diet. There is commercial hedgehog food available. If you cannot get it, a good alternative is dry cat food that is high in protein and primarily chicken or another meat. Canned food should also be fed in smaller amounts. Canned dog or cat food that is once again high in protein and primarily chicken or another meat is a good option. Treats should not be a big part of your hedgehog’s diet, but can definitely be offered. Treats would include fruits and vegetables like beans, peas, corn, apples, and carrots or insects like crickets and mealworms.
Fresh water is very important and can be provided through a hanging bottle or a heavy bowl they cannot tip. Water should be available at all times and changed daily.
Hedgehogs may be small, but they will be active in their cages. A larger cage is recommended, ideally 2 feet by 4 feet or bigger, for their long term housing. The floor should be solid, not mesh or wire, and hedgehogs do like multiple levels to explore. They do best in a warm environment around 75° F, and since they are nocturnal, should be in an area where they can experience regular periods of light and dark.
Bedding is needed for the bottom layer of the cage: paper works best as a substrate and wood shavings should be avoided. A covered hide area should be available for the hedgehog to rest in. They will use a small litter box or area, though clay or clumping cat litter should not be used, instead recycled paper litter is best. Toys like bells, balls, and chew toys will help enrich your hedgehog’s environment along with an exercise wheel (solid, not wired) and even tubing to explore. Hedgehogs are generally clean and not smelly. Any waste should be removed daily, and the bedding should be changed every week.
Toenails require regular trimming. They can grow long and sharp and cause problems for you and your hedgehog. A regular human nail trimmer or cat nail trimmer can be used. Gently grab one foot, wait for your pet to relax, and then trim the nail. Patience really is required. Trim only a small amount at a time and don’t cut too deep. There is a blood vessel called the quick in the nail. If the nail does bleed, styptic powder or pens, corn starch or flour can be used to help stop the bleeding. If you have questions or issues with nail trimming, please contact your veterinarian.
To pick up a hedgehog, gently scoop them up under the belly. You should avoid the quills and be able to feel fur. Gloves do not need to be worn; their quills are not sharp and rarely cause any problems. You also want your hedgehog to be used to your smell, so even though they may not seek attention, some handling is recommended and the frequency depends on your hedgehog’s individual personality.