Hedgehogs are cute and small mammals belonging to the Erinaceidae family, subfamily Erinaceinae. They are the oldest living insectivores, having been present on this planet since the age of dinosaurs. Its subfamily contains 15 species in four genera from Europe, Asia, and Africa.
European hedgehogs and African pygmy hedgehogs are commonly kept as pets, the latter being the most popular choice.
In captivity, hedgehogs live 4-6 years (and sometimes up to the age of 8).
Almost all hedgehogs have a similar body shape: short and covered with dense spines (feathers).
The only parts of the body covered in the skin are the lower part, the legs, the face, and the ears. The front legs are short and slender, while the hind legs are larger, longer, and have curved claws.
Feathers are a hedgehog’s most important line of defense. The feathers are actually hairs modified with air chambers; they are light, strong and have a high impact resistance.
They are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. A hedgehog generally has 5 to 7 thousand feathers on its body. Hedgehogs have a highly developed smell with very good hearing. However, their vision is poor and is only used to prevent danger.
Domesticated hedgehogs are small animals. They measure no more than 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) and weigh between 0.5 to 2 pounds. The spines represent about a third of their weight. Hedgies have a short tail that is difficult to see because of the spines.
There are fifteen main colors used to describe hedgehogs. Most variations are black and apricot or intermediate, and the International Hedgehog Association recognizes 92 official colors. These colors are the result of breeding specific males and females based on their genes.
Hedgehogs are divided into two groups:
These groups are named after two different species of which pet hedgehogs are believed to be hybrids.
Most hedgehog colors are classified as either a white-bellied or an Algerian color. In addition to these two classes, hedgehogs can also be Albino or have a Pinto pattern.
To make things even more confusing, there are snowflakes and white variations that exist in both the white-bellied and Algerian color classes.
Snowflake hedgies have banded and banded spines and are a recessive variation. White hedgies have almost all of their spines in solid white.
White-bellied Colors Include:
- Salt and pepper: almost all feathers are white, with black bands, and the eyes and nose are black
- Dark gray: feathers are white, with black bands with very narrow brown outer edges
- Gray: Similar to dark gray, but the skin on the shoulders is gray instead of black
- Chocolate: white feathers, with dark brown bands and a black nose.
- Brown: the feathers are white, with light oak brown bands, and the skin of the shoulders is
- Cinnamon: white feathers, with bands of light tan, without a mask on its face
- Champagne: feathers are white, mostly pale orange, some with cinnamon, red eyes
- Apricot: the feathers are white, with pale orange bands, the eyes are red).
In this category, there are 15 different names for white hedgehogs.
The main difference between a WhiteBellied and an Algerian is that the latter has cheek patches.
Some Algerian Colors Are:
- Algerian black: cream-colored feathers, strongly marked by black and rust
- Algerian Gray: Same as Algerian Black, with golden brown cheek patches
- Algerian brown: feathers are cream-colored, with light brown bands
- Algerian apricot: the feathers are white and the cheeks are pale orange-brown
- Algerian White: 10 Different Names for white hedgehogs in this category
Albino does not actually have a color or pattern, but rather an absence of pigmentation. All feathers and fur are white, with red eyes, a pink nose, and pink fur.
Pinto is more of a pattern than a color. Pinto hedgehogs have colorless fur spots and feathers on their backs.
What Do Hedgehogs Eat
In the wild, hedgehogs are insectivores. This means that their diet is based mainly on small invertebrates, frequently beetles and earthworms, but also on snails, small spiders, bees, flies and even snakes.
They also eat small vertebrates like mice and small chicks, and sometimes bird’s nest eggs.
In captivity, hedgehogs don’t seem to be as opportunistic and can sometimes be difficult to please. Little research has been done on the hedgehog diet, so there are many different opinions on what a tamed hedgie should eat.
Dr. Graffam (Bronx Zoo) researched this topic and said that a hedgehog needs a diet that includes 20% protein, 5-15% fat, 15% fiber, vitamins, minerals, and fresh water. Some breeders believe that hedgehogs should have a diet of up to 35% protein.
With little data on the correct nutrients, it is best to offer a varied diet that can meet most of a hedgehog’s needs. Food should be offered in small ceramic or glass bowls. Hedgehogs should receive the most food at night, as they are nocturnal animals.
It is also important to note that hedgehogs are lactose intolerant.
Foods Made Only For Hedgehogs
In recent years, a special good has been created for insectivores and there is even a granulated formula for hedgehogs. These are difficult to find in pet stores, so most owners don’t use this as daily food.
Since the dietary requirements of hedgehogs are not yet well researched, commercial hedgehog feeds alone may not be well balanced and may not have enough nutrients to keep a pet healthy.
As such, it is advisable to add other types of protein-rich foods to your hedgie’s diet if you are using a commercial granule.
The best option for feeding a hedgehog is dry cat food, which is rich in protein. Canned food can work, too, but dry food should still be predominant.
Some hedgehogs prefer dog food, which is also recommended by some owners as it is less salty. This should be chosen carefully, as the dog kibble is generally harder and larger than that of cats and can damage the hedgehog’s teeth (it is better to break them into smaller pieces).
A smart choice could be an alternative food for cats and dogs to get more nutrients.
The amount of dry food a hedgehog should receive is 2 tablespoons a day. The hedgehog should eat high-meat, low-fat protein.
Therefore, the main ingredient for dog/cat food should be chicken or fish. Too much fat can cause obesity and/or liver conditions.
Some owners report that fish-based foods produce odorous feces from their urchins. If this happens to you, you may want to switch to chicken-based foods.
Fresh Foods And Treats
Since a hedgehog’s diet must be varied, they should receive additional foods such as:
- Cooked meat (boiled chicken) and cooked fish (prefer tuna and salmon). This can be combined with small amounts of baby food.
- Insects: 2 to 3 mealworms a week (no more than that because they have a high-fat content), beetles or crickets (rich in chitin, important for the digestion of hedgie). It is best to buy insects from safe sources, such as a pet store since insects from unknown sources (such as the ones you catch) can be poisoned by pesticides and harm your pet.
- Fruits and vegetables are important to the hedgehog diet since they increase the amount of fiber taken from food. Some of the recommended vegetables are cherries, small apple or pear slices, chopped pumpkin, squash, plum, banana, grated carrot, steamed beans and peas, and sweet corn. Hedgehogs should not eat spinach, grapes, raisins, pineapples, citrus, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes (the effect of these foods on the stomach has not been sufficiently researched yet).
- Boiled eggs can be given hard-boiled or scrambled (not seasoned) but not more than half an egg once a week due to high cholesterol content.
The amounts of treats given should be small (one teaspoon) each time because the pet’s stomach is no bigger than a grape. All new foods should be introduced gradually in small portions, with intervals of three or even four days that will allow the owner to notice possible changes.
Herbs (parsley, coriander, basil) are not considered safe foods, even if the hedgehog is attracted to the powerful flavor. Hedgies are not recommended to eat chocolate, peanuts, junk food, or avocado.
While dry food can be left in the cage, the treats should be removed after a while if the hedgehog stops eating them. Otherwise, they can become a source of dirt and bacteria.
Water The hedgehog needs permanent access to clean, freshwater. Some of the owners recommend using a bowl because the pet can drink naturally and has the possibility to clean itself.
The second option is the sipper bottle with supports that will prevent water from getting dirty. The downside of the latter is that it can be uncomfortable for the hedgehog if it is not positioned correctly.
These small pets do not have a neck as flexible as rodents and this can prevent them from drinking.
There have also been very rare cases of hedgies who have broken their teeth or stuck their tongues in the pipe.
If you change the accessories, it is better to use them for a couple of weeks, so that the hedgehog has enough time to understand how the new water source works.
Housing For Hedgehog
A good home makes your hedgehog happy, so much attention needs to be paid when creating the pet’s environment. Hedgehogs need a warm place, with a temperature between 73 to 78 ° F (23 to 25 ° C).
There should be air circulation, but without drafts and without direct sunlight. Warming up the hedgehog can be a problem during winter because 78 ° F is generally uncomfortable for most people and also because of the high costs.
It is best to have some appropriate equipment, such as ceramic heaters or heat emitters, and a thermostat to control the temperature.
A hedgehog needs a cage with a strong bottom. Another important criterion when obtaining the cage is size.
These pets need a lot of space because they are very active animals, so bigger is better. The cage must be at least 11×23 inches (30x60cm). A guinea pig cage can be a smart choice if it is large enough.
Aquariums can be considered “acceptable” homes for a hedgehog, but indoor airflow is poor. An aquarium that can offer enough space should have a capacity of 26 gallons (100 liters) or more.
Therefore, it will be heavy and difficult to move and clean.
A cheaper and more comfortable solution is to build a cage at home. One or more large attached plastic containers can be used to make a beautiful hedgehog cage.
They are relatively easy to build and can be cleaned with little effort. If you are going for this type of cage, the construction must allow air circulation and at the same time be a safe area, so that the hedgehog cannot escape.
A children’s wading pool can also become a nice and comfortable cage for a hedgehog.
Bedding must be chosen carefully. It seems that wood shavings are not very good and can harm small pets.
Wood shavings can contain mites and create dust in the cage and can damage your hedgie’s eyes and ears.
Another safe bedding is one that is made from recycled paper, is comfortable for the pet and also allows easy cleaning of the cage.
Cleaning The Cage
For the pet to be happy and healthy, a clean cage is needed. A cage with less airflow will need to be cleaned more frequently to make sure you don’t smell bad inside. The hedgehog has a powerful sense of smell, and a bad smell can be very disturbing.
Spot cleaning should be done every day. The rest of the food and dirt in the litter box should also be removed daily. The wheel must also always be clean.
During the night, hedgehogs do a lot of exercises and most of them defecate directly on the wheel, so it should be carefully cleaned every day to prevent the pet from getting dirty.
When necessary, bedding should be changed. This should happen at least once a week and is a good opportunity to thoroughly clean the bottom of the cage.
A solution made from vinegar and water (half and a half) can clean well and also eliminates bad odor. If special detergents or bleach are used, all washed products should be rinsed well.
Once a week, or even more often if necessary, bowls and water bottles should be thoroughly washed and disinfected in the dishwasher if possible. All accessories should be placed back in the cage only after they have dried well.
A place to sleep
This is also called a hiding area or hideout and is necessary for the hedgehog to feel safe. It can be a small wooden box, a pet igloo, or even a tunnel. It seems that because they like to dig, hedgies love to sleep in sleeping bags. These keep the pet warm, comfortable and easy to clean.
The owner should only be careful that the fabric does not have holes or small cables that can damage the pet’s paws.
Hedgehogs are active all night and need to run a lot. A wheel is a must for hedgehogs; they can run several kilometers in just one night.
The diameter of the wheel must be at least 12 inches (30 cm) and the running surface must be solid. This should be placed in the cage a few days after arrival after the pet has already got used to the place.
Small plastic balls are frequently used to entertain hedgies, but this may not work for all pets. Some alternatives might be rolls of toilet paper, small plastic bowls, or a small section of a large plumbing pipe at least 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter.
Hedgehogs also need to play outside the cage. When supervised, they can be given more toys to play with, such as shoe boxes, small paper bags, plastic toy cars, and small plush toys.
Your hedgehog may not like every new thing from the beginning, but with patience, it will learn to play.
Hedgehogs need to spend time outside their cage, as they need to exercise. It is safer to use a playpen instead of letting the pet run around the room where there is a risk of escaping and hiding in small places.
A playpen gives the hedgehog enough freedom and extra space to play while its owner watches. It can also be a good option to keep the pet while cleaning its cage.
The simplest solution to having a safe playpen is to use a pen made of panels that is easy to build and remove after the hedgehog returns to the cage.
Inside the playpen, there should be toys, its wheel, and some other things from its cage that will entertain the pet and help it feel at home. The playpen must be cleaned frequently.
Bathing Your Hedgehog
As they have different personalities, there are hedgehogs who like to swim and enjoy the water and others who hate being washed.
Because they move around a lot in the water, hedgehogs often urinate or defecate during bathing. Washing them in a sink might work well since it is easier to change the water. The sink can also be easily cleaned and disinfected after being used as a bathtub.
The water should be warm (98.6-100 ° F / 37-38 ° C). A simple way to verify this is to use your elbow (the water should not feel hot or cold). The water level should be kept low, about 2-5 cm (1-2 inches) for the hedgehog to feel safe. Even if it appears to be enjoying the water, the owner should not leave the pet unsupervised.
The hedgehog should be gently put into the water. The feathers will be carefully rubbed with a soft toothbrush in the direction of growth.
Baby shampoos or special shampoos for small cats are best suited for this job. Shampoo should not have a strong fragrance.
All shampoo must be rinsed from the pet’s body with clean water. Using a small cup to pour water can help. A trick to keeping your skin in good shape is to add a few drops of olive oil to the rinse water.
After being washed, the hedgehog should be gently dried with soft, warm towels. It should not be placed back in the cage before it dries completely, as it is very sensitive to changes in temperature.
Baths should be given as often as necessary; How often the hedgehog needs a bath depends on how quickly it gets dirty.
Some experts recommend not bathing a hedgehog more than a few times a year, as excessive bathing can cause dry skin.
To avoid needing too many baths, you should keep a clean cage so the hedgehog doesn’t get too dirty or smell bad.
When washing, special care must be taken to prevent water from entering the pet’s eyes and ears. It is best to always keep one hand under your belly.
In this way, you know how hot the water is and the hedgehog’s face remains out of the water.