Hedgehogs share many traits in common with hamsters. For example, both species are nocturnal, prefer to live alone, run long distances at night and, they are very cute!
However, when taking care of a hedgehog you will have to take into account all the different traits that they have. For example, hedgehogs are carnivorous animals, they need to do much more exercise than a hamster, and in addition, you will have to provide a home with adequate heating.
Basic biology of a hedgehog
The most common species of the hedgehog as a pet is the African pygmy hedgehog ( Atelerix albiventris x Atelerix algirus ). This is a tropical species, which comes from Africa and has a life expectancy of 3 to 5 years. They mature at a relatively early age of five months, which is when they can begin to reproduce. Of course, you must make sure to separate the brothers and the sisters before this age. And, a pregnancy of these urchins lasts from 32 to 50 days and usually give birth litters of three to four urchins.
In their natural habitat in Africa, these animals eat mainly insects. This makes them officially carnivorous, but they can eat some types of herbs. Also, like hamsters, they are nocturnal animals. Its period of activity begins once the sun sets and, during a single night, a wild hedgehog can reach up to 5 miles. This means that raised in captivity, you must provide a wheel where they can exercise. Of course, this also involves the risk that it may disturb your sleep, so make sure that this sweet little animal fits your way of life before acquiring it as a pet.
And last but not least, these hedgehogs come from a tropical environment and need to live in hot environments. While in the wild they hibernate, in captivity it is generally recommended to provide artificial heating and keep them awake throughout the year.
What accessories does a hedgehog need in order to live healthy and happy
In order to take care of a hedgehog as it deserves, you will need a number of accessories. Some of them will not only make life easier for your hedgehog but also reduce the frequency of visits to the veterinarian.
Accessories you will need:
1: A cage or terrarium where your hedgehog can live comfortably and safely
Hedgehogs are solitary creatures and prefer to live alone. Males that live in the company of other males, and even paired females, tend to fight each other. On the other hand, pairs of mixed sexes will mate.
Like all animals, hedgehogs require sufficient space to exhibit a wide range of natural behaviors. When choosing the cage of your hedgehog, everything comes down to “The bigger, the better”. Ideally, it should be at least three feet long and have a wheel so that your hedgehog can exercise.
Look for a cage with a solid bottom, avoiding bottoms that consist of wires in parallel, since these damages the legs of the hedgehogs. There is a wide variety of cages suitable for urchins, from cages made especially for them to cages for rabbits or guinea pigs and even nurseries. The factors that you must take into account to choose the definitive one are:
- Space: it is necessary that there is enough space for the hedgehog to move and have separate areas to sleep, eat, drink, exercise and relieve themselves.
- Warm, but well ventilated: the nurseries are excellent for keeping warm, but it is very common that they are poorly ventilated. You may need to make additional ventilation holes if you use a nursery. On the other hand, almost any cage for rodents suitable for hedgehogs and that you can find in the market has enough ventilation that you need.
- Single level: Although the hedgehogs can climb, they are quite clumsy and often fall down. Avoid using cages with several floors, opting for a cage with only one floor and as large as possible.
- Flat bottom: As we mentioned before, the wire bottoms in parallel cause damage to the hedgehog’s legs, use only cages with flat and simple backgrounds. Although cleaning may require more work, in the end, you will save yourself problems and visits to the vet.
2. Choose a good bed for your hedgehog’s cage
The best options for a hedgehog, are shredded paper or wood shavings. Each bed for cages has its good and bad points, so it’s a matter of finding what works best for you and your hedgehog.
In addition, regarding cleaning, you should clean the litter areas every day and change the bed completely at least once a week.
3: A heat lamp or thermal blanket will provide your hedgehog with all the heat it needs
Your hedgehog needs to live at a stable temperature between 75ºF in the coldest area of the cage and 85ºF in the hottest zone. You must use a thermometer to control the temperature and, if it is too low, you will have to provide your hedgehog with a heating lamp or a heating mantle. However, be careful that your hedgehog cannot get too close to the lamp or lie directly on the blanket to prevent it from burning.
In addition, you should avoid at all times that the temperature drops below 72ºF, as it could cause your hedgehog to go into hibernation.
4. Feeders and drinking fountains for hedgehogs
For urchins the ideal is to use ceramic bowls as feeders and drinkers, since being heavier, it is difficult to overturn. They also have the advantage of being easy to clean and difficult to scratch because of the spines of your hedgehog.
Avoid using bottle waterers, since the tongue of the hedgehogs is surprisingly long and can be injured by drinking from them.
5. The best feeding for a hedgehog
Variety, as the saying goes, is the salt of life. With regard to the food for urchins, the variety helps ensure a balanced diet. In the wild, hedgehogs eat insects and feed on grasshoppers or flies. To mimic this, you must include insects in their diets, such as crickets, mealworms, silkworms and wax worms. These you can buy easily by looking for them as reptile foods.
You can also feed him with a feed for cats that is of high quality, referring to the high quality that is rich in meats and not content cereals. An example would be Orijen for cats, kittens, and ferrets. However, even if you feed it with cat food, you must add some extra components in your diet that will
- Boiled or scrambled egg
- Lean and cooked chicken, lamb or turkey
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
In the mornings, try to remove any food that your hedgehog has not eaten during the night to avoid mold. Also, never give milk to your hedgehog. Everything that contains lactose causes diarrhea to ferrets.
6. Toys for hedgehogs
Wild hedgehogs do a lot of exercises. To mimic this in captive-bred hedgehogs, you will need to provide cardboard tunnels where there can walk and explore. In addition, it is absolutely essential to providing an exercise wheel for hedgehogs. Any model suitable for ferrets should be enough, just make sure it is large enough so that the back of your hedgehog does not curl into a “U” shape when it is running inside.
In addition, it is recommended that from time to time you release it in a room so that your hedgehog can stretch his legs and pry as much as he wants. Yes, secure your dog or cat before releasing your hedgehog. These moments of freedom are ideal for you to play your pet, to interact and to get to know each other. Even if your hedgehog is somewhat fearful and distrustful at first, with a little interaction with him you will see how he follows you at home and asks you to play.
During the night it is recommended that you leave toys for it to play. The most common are toys for cats, such as balls, but the interest shown by your hedgehog for one type of toy or another depends on their personality.
Diseases that urchins can suffer
Keeping your hedgehog in good hygienic conditions and providing a balanced diet can help them stay healthy. However, they are prone to certain health problems, such as:
- Respiratory diseases: The delicate lungs of a hedgehog are easily damaged by ammonia. If their cage bed becomes too dirty, the high levels of ammonia in the droppings will predispose them to pneumonia. Some of the symptoms of your hedgehog suffering from pneumonia are rapid breathing, lack of appetite and staying in one place.
- Intestinal obstructions: Hedgehogs, like any pet, can eat things that should not. This causes that on many occasions they suffer from intestinal obstructions. Generally, the most common symptoms are lack of appetite and extreme discomfort. However, unfortunately, the symptoms depend completely on what your hedgehog ate, so there is no exact formula to be able to detect it.
- Swelling of the belly: Certain vegetables, such as those of the cabbage family, encourage the formation of gas in the intestine, which causes your hedgehog to inflate. Some hedgehogs are “deflated” on their own, others need veterinary help.
- Wobbling hedgehog syndrome: This syndrome causes the nervous system of your hedgehog to degenerate and affects its balance. It is believed to be genetic and affects about 10% of domesticated urchins. There is no known cure.
To finish, it is necessary that you assume that a hedgehog is a commitment for the next five years. Before obtaining a hedgehog, make sure that this is a challenge for which you are prepared and that you can meet the needs of your prickly friend for years to come. Only then your hedgehog can have a happy home and lead the healthy life it deserves.