Hedgehogs are amazingly cute and quite peculiar animals, and in recent decades, more people are choosing to them in as pets. These are not the regular hedgehogs which you will find roaming freely outside in the backyard or garden when you are touring Europe though. The domesticated hedgehogs in the US are known as African pygmy hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris).
When taken care of properly, these prickly but charming little animals can become perfect pets and companions.
People with dog or cat allergies are taking in hedgehog pets instead, and also the growing numbers of fanciers of this species are claiming that hedgehog pets are actually much better than other pets.
On the other hand, opponents of the idea of having a wild animal as a pet claim that it is unnatural to take in a wild animal at home, especially if you are not ready to accommodate their living space, diet, and environment to that in the wild.
Moreover, having such an unusual pet needs some serious research and more understanding about the requirements, and specifics of these animals beforehand.
Even though the wild African hedgehogs have been living freely for ages, the American pet hedgehogs also known as African Pigmy Hedgehogs were bred from several wild African species and have become domesticated animals.
The hedgehogs are spiny, small and insect-eating mammals which live in the wild in Europe, Africa, Asia, and New Zealand. They do not exist naturally in the wild in North America, but more people are adopting African Pigmy Hedgehogs as pets here.
They shouldn’t be mistaken for porcupines which are dangerous predators with sharp bristles. Unlike them, they have smoother quills which resemble brush bristles and are nice little lovable animals.
The African Pigmy Hedgehog is the smallest of all types and has been used for breeding domesticated hedgehogs by numerous breeders. They are incredibly cute mammals which come in different colors including snowflake, cinnamon or salt, and pepper.
Scientific Latin Name: Atelerix Albiventris
Lifespan: 3 – 6 years
Size and weight: 5 to 8 inches long and 0.5 to 1.5 lbs.
Difficulty of Care: Intermediary
Behavior and personality of the African Pygmy Hedgehog
Domesticated hedgehogs are pretty entertaining pets to have, and they require little maintenance. They are quite active and yet quiet animals. The fact that they are mostly active at night makes them excellent pets for people who are out of home all day.
They prefer to be housed alone and may get into fights if put together with other hedgehogs.
They are not the most cuddly of pets, but some of these pet hedgehogs which have been hand tamed by breeders will enjoy gentle handling and will be tamer.
But even if adopt a tame African Pygmy Hedgehog, it will take some time in order for it to get used to you and start trusting you. So, you shouldn’t be surprised if your new hedgehog pet curls up in a spiky little ball when you first try to handle it. You will need to be patient and let the little one uncurl itself slowly and start exploring its new environment. As soon as it realizes that you are not a threat it will allow you to pick it up and it will become more active, fun and with flatter spines.
Keep in mind, that these small animals have a self-anointing habit which shouldn’t startle you. They may start to salivate and then spread their saliva on their backs when faced with unknown smells or when under stress. Some believe that this is a self-protective action, and it is actually pretty normal with these animals.
Housing and nutrition for the pet hedgehogs
When in the wild, these small mammals eat a wide variety of different bugs, roots, plants and even things like eggs, snakes, fish, and lizards. This can be a bit of a challenge to provide for your pet hedgehog. The best diet for an animal like this is any one of the insectivore or hedgehog diets, which are available commercially. You can add some special treats like crickets, mealworms, veggies, and fruits as well.
Prior to the popularity of hedgehog pets, people who adopted them fed them with cat food supplemented with mealworms or crickets, but today there are many readily available hedgehog diet preparations you can give your pet.
If you decide to feed your pet hedgehog with cat food, make sure you pick a grain-free premium quality one.
African Pygmy Hedgehogs love eating mealworms but make sure that you have fed your pet with a portion of balanced and high-quality food and then give them their favorite snacks. This will ensure that the hedgehog gets the proper nutrition and not just what it craves eating the most.
Hedgehogs also enjoy chasing and eating crickets, but this too should be provided to them only after they have had a properly balanced meal made for hedgehogs. If you provide your pet with live crickets you will make it feel more like in the wild, and is good mental stimulation for these animals when in captivity.
You can also give your hedgehog pet small amounts of fruit, hard-boiled eggs or even baby food occasionally as delicious snacks.
You will need to ensure that your pet always has access to fresh water. This can be done via a water bottle with a drinking tip or in a bowl. Some hedgehogs may need both a bowl and a bottle until they get used to using the bottle. Check and refresh the water on a daily basis.
Although it sounds quite unlikely, hedgehogs are pretty active and athletic animals. When in the wilderness they can run, climb or swim for miles. In order to meet these needs for exercise, you will need to provide them with sufficient space for walking and foraging, as well as an exercise wheel.
Make sure the enclosure you choose has smooth sides to prevent the creature from climbing out of it. Also, ensure that your hedgehog pet has a hidden place where it can sleep during the day.
The minimum recommended size for a pet African Pygmy Hedgehog is 3 x 2 feet. You can use large Tupperware containers as an enclosure as well.
Since these hedgehogs come from Africa, they thrive in temperatures from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you place a heater or heat bulb in the enclosure as well as a reliable thermometer which will allow you to monitor the temperature levels.
If the temperature becomes too hot or too cold, the hedgehog can go into a torpor state which is similar to the state of hibernation.
If you will be using a cage for housing, choose one which doesn’t have wired floors and also ensure that the wires on the side are close enough to prevent the animal from squeezing out and escaping. You can also use a large aquarium or a storage bin with holes for ventilation as housing for your pet hedgehog.
You can use recycled paper, kiln-dried pine or Aspen shavings as bedding for your pet. Avoid cedar shavings as their strong smell can be toxic to the animals.
If you are going to use fleece or carpeting as bedding make sure you cut out any longer loose parts to avoid their little feet getting tangled in it. Also, make sure you have a backup for replacement and for cleaning the bedding.
Just like cats, pet hedgehogs need litter pans for toilets. Use a small shallow pan with non-clumping and dust free cat litter.
As for the sleeping or hiding place, you can use a small cardboard box or other enclosure where the hedgehog can feel safe and rest or sleep.
Make sure you clean your pet’s enclosure regularly and keep it out of the draft to prevent health problems for your animal.
Pet Hedgehog Activity
The hedgehog is a nocturnal animal. This means that it will prefer to sleep throughout the day and be active at night time. If you provide your pet with an exercise wheel it may make considerable noise during the night so you may consider placing its housing somewhere away from your bedroom if you are a light sleeper. You can still interact with your pet after dinner and before bedtime, as it gets up and gets ready for its “day”.
If you decide to buy an exercise wheel for your hedgehog, make sure you choose one which has a solid surface wheel and an open size. The recommended size of the running surface is 10 inches or larger and that it doesn’t have a wire bottom. A wheel like this will keep the hedgehog active and happy. It will also help prevent it from becoming overweight.
You can also provide your hedgehog with some active time out of the enclosure several times a week and if possible an opportunity to swim several times a week too. Of course, these should be done under your supervision.
Pet hedgehog social interactions
Since these animals are solitary, even if you decide to have more than one hedgehog as a pet, you should house them separately. When in the wild, the only time they become social is during the breeding season.
Due to this solitary nature, it may be difficult to get your pet hedgehog to warm up to you. You will need to be patient and work with your pet in order to earn its trust.
There are some hedgies which are hand tamed by the breeders, but with the proper gentle handling and patience from your side, you should be able to get your pet to gradually learn to trust you and open up to you.
When you first bring your pet hedgehog home, leave it in its enclosure for several days without attempting to handle it, so that it gets used to its new environment. Once it has settled down, you can try handling your pet in the late evening or at night when it is active and awake. The handling will get the hedgehog to get used to the smell of your hands. Be careful, because these tiny and cute animals can bite when they are startled!
Pet Hedgehog Health Care
As with any other pet, you will need to take your hedgehog to the vet every year for prophylactics and for an annual checkup. This will help identify any health issues as early as possible.
As soon as you adopt a hedgie, make sure you bring it for an examination to the vet. They will check your pet for parasites – internal and external.
Hedgehogs are also prone to certain cardiac and cancerous conditions, so regular checkups at least once a year are a must.
It is recommended that the female hedgehogs are spayed in order to prevent the development of uterine tumors later on.
With proper care, the pet hedgehog can live up to 5 or even up to 8 years and more.
Most of the common health problems affecting African Pigmy Hedgehogs are avoidable with regular checkups and proper care. It is essential to feed your pet hedgehog with the appropriate food and in the recommended quantities, if you want it to be healthy, well and to live longer.
You should also clean the enclosure of your pet regularly in order to avoid mites on the skin or ears.
A drafty or dirty living space can also cause respiratory problems in hedgehogs.
These animals are also prone to Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome which is a progressive paralysis which exhibits itself with a wobbly rear.
Also, since the eyes of the African Pigmy hedgehogs are protruding, they are prone to injury, infection and other problems. Make sure you take your hedgie to the vet if you notice that it is pawing its eyes or that its eyelids are closed.
Always ask your veterinarian for advice if you have worries or questions about your pet hedgehog.
Choose a Responsible Breeder
Instead of getting your hedgehog from a pet store, do some research and find a responsible breeder. Look for a reputable breeder who produces hedgehogs with good temperaments and who handles the young on a regular basis. The best time to adopt an African Pygmy hedgehog is at the age of 6-8 weeks because you will be able to teach it to get accustomed to handling much easier.
Both male and female hedgehogs make good pets, so sex doesn’t really matter. Choose a baby hedgehog which is not as resistant to handling and doesn’t roll up in a tight ball in your hand immediately.
Also, inspect it for healthy skin fur and quills, bright eyes and clear nostrils. If you notice any missing quills, a discharge from the nose or flaky skin you should probably choose another one.
Look at the overall condition of the body of your future pet. It shouldn’t be too heavy or too thin. Make sure it doesn’t show signs of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome by watching its hind as it is walking or moving. Also, beware of any signs of diarrhea.
Choose a breeder who handles the hedgehogs as pets and not as products, and make sure you spend time with the parents of your future pet to make sure they have good temperaments.
Always research as much as you can before adopting a pet hedgehog. Keep in mind that they have particular dietary needs, they are nocturnal and solitary, and that they live to an age of about 5 years. Also, check with your local veterinarians if they are specialized in handling and treating hedgehogs beforehand.
Some specifics to be aware of before taking in a pet hedgehog
As mentioned previously, it is essential that you learn as much as you can about these animals before adopting one. The reason is that African Pigmy Hedgehogs have not been tame for many generations, and they are not as popular as cats and dogs so finding the appropriate food and veterinary care can be more difficult. There are some other facts future hedgehog owners should be aware of:
They are prickly
Even though unlike porcupines, hedgehogs cannot shoot out their sharp quills, they still can roll up and twitch and jump so as to prick the suspected aggressor. Make certain that you handle your hedgie with care and give it time to get used to you before handling it and interacting with it. If it happens to get frightened and aggressive, use soft towels to handle it safely. You should not try to uncurl your little prickly ball by force, and let it relax and uncurl on its own instead. When startled these cute mammals can bite so do not attempt to handle your pet when it is sleeping.
New scents make them act strange
Smells such as tobacco smoke or turpentine may cause your hedgie to start trying to collect the new scent by licking or biting and then spitting it all over its spines. This is thought to be a sort of defense mechanism which it uses to camouflage itself from dangers.
They are insectivores but can eat a lot of other stuff too
While porcupines are considered as rodents, hedgehogs are classified as insectivores. But apart from eating insects in the wild, they also resort to eating berries, melons, mushrooms, roots and bird’s eggs, lizards and snakes and fish. Pet hedgehogs should be fed with balanced food for hedgehogs and can be given mealworms, crickets, some vegetables, fruits, and boiled eggs as treats after that. You should limit the number of insects you provide for your hedgehog, and also be careful with the quantity of the treats you feed it. Always make sure that it has eaten its main meal before you offer it a treat.
They are nocturnal animals
You should be prepared for the fact that your pet will be hiding away and sleeping throughout most of the day and running around on its wheel or foraging and enjoying itself in the night. If you are a light sleeper you may not want to have the enclosure of your hedgehog near your bed.
They are little “hogs”
Both in the wild and when domesticated, hedgehogs love to eat. Obesity is a common problem among pet hedgehogs, so make sure you are careful about the quantities of food you feed your pet, as well as the treats you provide for it. Also, ensure that it has sufficient living space to move, a running wheel to spend that extra energy and also that you provide it with opportunities to roam around or swim outside of its enclosure from time to time.
Obese hedgehogs can develop numerous health problems, so make sure that you restrict the food and provide your hedgehog with the exercise it needs.
Hedgehogs can be noisy
While overall, hedgehogs are pretty quiet animals, they can make some specific noises like snuffling, squealing, grunting or snorting in certain situations. They are usually vocal when they are in new environments and are exploring. When they are nervous, hedgehogs can make clicking, puffing or hissing sounds, and when they are happy they can purr and even whistle.
Hedgehogs scream loudly when they are in pain, so make sure you pay attention to the sound your pet is making.
Heat and cold can cause torpor
If you allow for the temperature in the enclosure of your pet hedgehog to go lower or higher than 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit, the animal may go into a hibernation state. This causes a reduction of their body temperature, a slowing down or stopping of any activity and an increase of sleep. Hedgehogs in the wild go into this state when the weather is too hot or too cold to find food. In order to prevent your pet hedgehog from going into this state which can cause it to become sick and even die, make sure you keep the temperature in the enclosure in the recommended temperature ranges with the help of a heater or a heat bulb. Place a thermometer in it, so you can always keep an eye on the temperature levels.
They can be loving and adorable pets
Once your hedgehog gets to know the scent of your hands and begins to trust you and allows you to handle it, you will see just how lovable and adorable it can be. You need to be patient and carefully teach your pet to trust you, but once it does you will have a lovely pet to enjoy spending time with.