When people think of hedgehogs, the first thing that comes to mind is spiny little creatures with sharp quills. The hedgehog is often confused with the porcupine, whose quills can cause severe harm, unlike the hedgehog’s quills, which are relatively soft.
So you know what that means, right? A hedgehog can be a pet!
Hedgehogs are commonly playful, cuddly and adaptive to anyone’s lifestyle and schedule.
- Hedgehogs’ average life span is 4–6 years (but some have lived to be 9).
- They enjoy warm temperatures (think 65–80 degrees Fahrenheit), but they avoid direct sunlight.
- The hedgehog was used before the groundhog to forecast the timing of spring.
- Consuming hedgehogs for food, medicinal purposes and rituals still occurs in some countries.
- Baby hedgehogs sleep a lot.
Hedgehogs are solitary creatures and prefer to be caged alone. When left to roam free, hedgehogs present other considerations for existing pets. Cats seem to take to hedgehogs quite well; once their paws meet the quills on the hedgehog’s back, they are more likely not to attack or show aggression.
Small dog breeds may acclimate to hedgehogs, while large breeds are not suitable. As with any new addition, supervise all interactions with your pets until you are confident that they can play together safely.
Outfitting the House
The ideal housing for a hedgehog should provide at least 4 square feet of ground area, have a solid bottom (no wired or fenced cage bottoms), a closed-footpath wheel for exercise and child-safe toys. Empty toilet tissue rolls can be given to hedgehogs older than 3 months.
Use wood shavings for bedding up to 2 inches thick inside the cage, but don’t use cedar chips, which are toxic to hedgehogs. If using a litter box, fill it with a non-clumping cat litter.
Hedgehogs also like to play with their water and dunk things in their water bowl, so it’s best to use a vertical water bottle. A heavy food bowl is also recommended to avoid having the hedgehog dump out its contents.
This video offers an example of a typical hedgehog habitat:
Hedgehogs can have dry and itchy skin. Bathe them a few times per month with unscented body wash in a sink or bathtub, but make sure the water doesn’t rise above the hedgehog’s legs.
Although hedgehogs eat insects mainly, they can eat other foods to maintain a healthy diet. Dry cat food, ferret or hedgehog food (affiliate link), cooked poultry and eggs, fruits and vegetables are also recommended, with dry cat food being a staple.
Hedgehogs are mildly lactose intolerant, so avoid dairy products. Also note that dry food can wear down hedgehogs’ teeth over time; alternating wet and dry foods can help.
Concerns and Oddities
- Keep male and female hedgehogs separate unless breeding them. Males and females are ready for breeding at different times; check the timing of their mating schedules before breeding.
- Housing hedgehogs together or having too many in close proximity can cause loss of eyes from quill pokes.
- Cancers and lesions are possible; hedgehogs’ risk is comparable with that of other species.
- Wobbly hedgehog syndrome, or WHS, is a genetic disorder that eventually paralyzes the hedgehog. This disorder is difficult to detect and eliminate, and there is no known cure.
- Hedgehogs froth at the mouth and lean their head upward so saliva coats their quills. There is no known reason for this behavior.
Choosing Your Hedgehog
Before getting your new friend, check your local wildlife laws. Several U.S. states and some countries have restrictions or complete bans on hedgehogs as pets. Ask for a guarantee regarding genetic defects when you’re adopting or purchasing, and inquire about any known WHS issues that have occurred.
Temperament is also something to consider; choose a hedgehog who unrolls without too much delay, doesn’t make a “clicking” sound (a threatening signal) and doesn’t appear aggressive. Hedgehogs may hiss, but that’s normal.
Confirm with the breeder that the hedgehog is over 6 weeks old. Review the face and head for any injuries, discharges or visible afflictions around the eyes, nose and ears. Check the hedgehog’s back for missing quill patches and the cage for green droppings; these are all signs of an unhealthy animal.
Allow your new pet a full day in her new environment without distractions to get acclimated. It may take about a week for her to get comfortable with you. But be patient, and she will warm up to you (and your existing pets) in no time.