Care and Feeding of Hedgehogs

The pet or domesticated hedgehog, commonly referred to as the African Pygmy Hedgehog is an exceptional animals that is easy to care for and friendly if properly socialized. Not a wild species, the pet hedgehog is a hybrid of  two African species (Atelerix algirus) and (A. albiventris). Hedgehogs are classified as insectivorous and in the wild spend most of their time searching for food. In captivity, they prove to be curious animals who spend an abundance of time exploring their environment.

Housing

House your hedgehog in a large glass or plastic terrarium, or a tub type guinea pig cage. Choose a cage with smooth walls that are high enough to prevent the animal from climbing out. Wire bottomed cages should be avoided as they allow their feet and legs to slip through spaces between wires, causing injury. The cage must have ample floor space to encourage movement and prevent obesity in your little friend. Keep the cage in a warm room. A good range of temperature for a hedgehog is 72-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a heater, such as a stick on “under tank heater” available in the reptile department of most pet shops, on the cage in cool climates and cold months.  Cleaning the enclosure on a weekly basis helps control unwanted odors, making it a good pet to house indoors.

Accessories

Cage bedding should be nontoxic, absorbent, and relatively dust free. Avoid cedar or pine shavings as they cause respiratory problems in hedgehogs. Shredded paper works well and is cost efficient. Our hospital recommends Carefresh, a paper bedding that is soft, absorbent, and easy to clean. Hedgehogs need a shelter, or a hide box in their cage. Offering a PVC pipe, plastic pot on its side, a tissue or shoe box, or another form of shelter, will give your hedgehog a place of security and a place to sleep.

Hedgehogs require exercise to satisfy their desire to forage and to avoid obesity. This is easily achieved due to their curious and inquisitive nature. Hedgehogs love to push, chew, and manipulate toys, such as hard plastic balls, and paper towel rolls. An exercise wheel made for a hedgehog or chinchilla will be used. Again, be sure it has a solid walking surface so feet won’t get caught in any holes.

Feeding

Hedgehogs are classified as insectivorous (insect eaters) but appear to be very opportunistic eaters in the wild eating a wide variety of insects, mollusks (worms and snails) small animals and vegetation, fruits. and greens.  Using this information, commercial hedgehog diets have been created to adjust to their dietary needs in captivity. These diets may contain chitin, a material found in the exoskeleton of insects, that some feel is required in the hedgehog diet. If a commercial hedgehog diet is unavailable, it can be substituted with a high quality, high protein/low fat cat food. This can be offered with small amounts of mixed fruits and vegetables. As a treat, hedgehogs will go “hog wild” for live insects, like crickets, mealworms, or earthworms.If your hedgehog becomes overweight, limit the quantity of food and treats given, and increase exercise.

Handling

The quills on the hedgehog are stiff and sharp to the touch. The quills provide protection when the animal rolls up in a tight ball. When attempting to handle your pet, approach it slowly and quietly. Avoid the quills by lifting the animal from the underneath, where the fur is soft, and hold your pet cupped in both holds. Handle your pet every day for a few minutes and it will become socialized and  easier to handle.

Common Problems

Mites

Mites are an external parasite that feed off your hedgehog and burrow in the skin at the base of the spines. Mites can be extremely debilitating on your hedge if they go untreated. You will probably notice loss of quills, or dry patches of skin. Ask your vet to perform a skin scraping to determine if there are any signs of mites on your hedgehog.

Respiratory Infection

Respiratory infections are common and often associated with a too cold environment or stress. Discharge will be seen on the face or wrists of the front legs and respiration may sound wheezy or crackly.  Respiratory infections in hedgehogs are life threatening and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.  Treatment consists of antibiotics and supportive care and correcting the underlying environmental cause.

Diarrhea

There are several causes of diarrhea in hedgehogs ranging from dietary indiscretion to bacterial, viral and parasitic infections.  Dehydration associated with diarrhea is a major concern with these small patients.  Soft stool that lasts more than a day or diarrhea associated with other signs that your hedgehog is sick (not eating, inactivity or other change in behavior) should be brought to your veterinarian immediately.

Hibernation

Unlike wild hedgehogs from cooler climates, the pet hedgehog should not hibernate.  Cold temperatures will lead to hibernation behavior that all too often ends with pneumonia or other disease problems.

article by Christine Hancock

About Christine Hancock

Comments

  1. Some of the most common problems we see with Hedgehogs comes from being too cold!
    A good solution is to attach an “under tank heater” (from the reptile department of your local pet shop) to the underside and at one end of their cage as a heat source. (Be careful not to burn the furniture under the cage by placing a fireproof mat or pad under the cage.) This will allow your spiny friend to regulate it’s temperature by sitting on or moving away from the heat.

    • What is to cold? Like average minimum of 7.0 °C (45 °F). Is that fine for them?

      • The pet hedgehog does poorly at temperatures under 70*F. We recommend that they have access to a heated area year round. A stick-on “under tank heater” sold in the reptile department of most pet shops placed at one end of the cage works well.

  2. What is the cost of maintaining a hedgehog for a month!!!!!!

    • I would guess that it would be in the $10-$15 range.
      It depends on what you feed them. Mine ate Science Diet cat food and lived on CareFresh bedding.
      My pair ate ~1/4 cup of food a day and I changed their bedding weekly (about 1/2 a large CareFresh package in their 36″X20″ cage).
      I kept their cage heater on year round (a 8″x10″ under tank reptile heater). It only draws ~30-40 watts.

  3. Do you want to put the hedgehog in a tub?. We saw some swimming on a video. Does it matter what age you get your hhog at? Boy or girl? Will they shoot the quills if they get scared, we have cats and dogs. Letting them walk in the grass outside is ok? How much fruit do you give them and can you give them any fresh fruit or veggie that they will eat? We are thinking about getting one and really know nothing about them. Where can I get the CareFresh? Lastly…. do they need to have a partner or are they ok by themselves? Thank you for any advise you can give to me to make sure we are getting the right pet. Sorry one more, we have a 60 gallon aquarium is that enough for one or two if they need a friend?

    Lee

    • Hedgehogs can swim but do not seem to be drawn to the activity. I saw a video of an African Hedgehog eating a cobra, but I wouldn’t recommend that either! :)
      I’d recommend getting a “young” animal. I think it will be more likely to be gregarious and friendly if handled gently. The quills of hedgehogs are attached just like your hair, they cannot “shoot” them.
      They may go outside, but be careful not to lose them. They would not survive long on their own.
      The hedgehog needs a diet high in protein and low in fat. Fruit should not be a significant part of their diet. Most pet shops in the US carry CareFresh.
      Lastly. Hedgie’s are solitary animals. You can keep more than one if the cage is large enough that they can get away from each other. When I had a pair, the male annoyed the female and I had to sepparate them.

  4. Katy Ereman says:

    This is the type of food that I’m feeding my hedgehog right now : http://www.bluebuffalo.com/cat-food/basics-grain-free-turkey and I was wondering if that’s considered ok. I just switched her to it because she was on this hedgehog diet that had…about the same numbers of fat/protein/fiber as that food listed but it had a meat by-product as the first ingredient and also fish meal as the 4th or 5th ingredient. I had heard that they aren’t supposed to have fish meal so I switched her diet. Also, the food was given to the previous owner when she purchased her in a city about 5 hours from me and you can’t buy it online. I’m just not quite sure what to feed her because every website is different and though I have an exotic vet for her vet, he doesn’t work with hedgehogs very often.

    • I had a couple of hedgie’s that lived to ripe old ages. The female gave birth to two litters (before I split them up) and died of old age (organ failure) at just under 7 years. She ate Purina Cat Chow her whole life.
      A study that includes 2 animals is not conclusive, but I do not know of any formal study that has shown that fish protein is bad for your spiny friend. If I were going to choose a diet for a hedgehog today, I’d pick Mazuri Insectivore Diet

  5. Valerie P says:

    My new African Pygmy hedgehog (a few weeks old)has very bad dandruff and I noticed small amounts of puss at the base of some of her quills or where quills used to be. They don’t fall out unless Im really looking through them… I use care fresh bedding and feed her a “spikes delight” dry food. She doesn’t scratch a lot. I am a veterinary tech student and did a tape sample of her skin and also did a fecal…nothing! What’s going on with her??? Can I treat this at home? Or what type of anti biotic can I give her? (I work in a hospital, but only domestic animals) thank you!

  6. tanya N says:

    I just got my hedgehog few weeks ago. I changed her food recently and she’s been acting weird. she sleeps a lot and at random times she wont stop running. Some type of blue cloudy layer is starting up on her eyes. Today I came home and she was just sitting there for a while. I don’t know what is worng with her.

    • Doesn’t sound good Tanya. I think you need to find a veterinarian that sees exotics and have her seen.
      The change in her eyes sounds like she may have ulcers forming. That could be from exposure to a corrosive chemical (cleaner?). Other changes may be from her not eating her new diet. At their size, hedgehogs can only go a day or two without eating.

  7. Forrest says:

    I’m planning to got a African pygmy hedgehog, and my cage size is 60*40 cm. how big a under tank heater do i need?

  8. Dr. Jenkins,
    My hedgehog has a sore on the corner of its mouth…It kinda looks lilke a cold sore…common or not????

    • Dana
      Hedgehogs commonly have oral disease including some very common oral cancer.
      Please have it seen by your vet as soon as possible.
      Let us know what you find out.

      • I am sorry to say that when my daughter checked on him earlier this evening…He had died. Sad day…Thank you for getting back to us. It will help relieve some of her saddness to have some kind of answer.

  9. My hedgehog recently had ear mites, i had her treated at a vet and was prescribed antibiotics to put in her water. The ear mites went away but as i got her out today to bath her i noticed a clear/grey film over one of her eyes, what could this be?

  10. i would like to purchase a hedgehog, but my parents aren’t sure if they are good pets. Is there any way to change their mind?

    • I’d suggest showing your parents that you can be responsible and take care of all of your other chores. Then propose that you will show a similar level of responsibility in caring for a pet hedgehog.
      As far as being a “good pet,” that depends on you (or their) definition of “good pet.”
      Hedgehogs are easy to keep, they tend to be healthy (although, when old, they have a higher than expected potential for cancer). They need attention and kind handling if they are to be / stay friendly.
      More importantly, they have a special (what we call “second kind”) of cool! You’ll be the only one on your block who has one!

  11. victoria b says:

    What size cage do you recomend for one hedgehog?

    • I like using a large guinea pig cage (tub bottom and wire top) or a large glass aquarium. I recommend paper bedding (Care Fresh) and a under tank heater (reptile heater or section of Flex Watt) on one side of the cage.

  12. I am having a VERY difficult time finding a veterinarian that can really tell what is going on with our hedgehog. One month ago I noticed a bump on the side of her mouth that was soft, pinkish and bleeding (not excessively). It has since turned black, is no longer bleeding and is fairly hard. I have one veterinarian that has offered to do surgery that will cost a minimum of $450.00 (can be more, depends on what they find once they get in there) and then the biopsy will be an additional $100.00. He did not seem overly knowledgeable on hedgehogs to me. She is now having a difficult time eating and has lost some weight in the past few days. She wants to stay curled up at all times. She did try to eat a mealworm tonight and it seems to be stuck in her mouth. I am thinking I should have her euthanized, but I don’t want to cut her life short if it is not necessary. She is almost 5 years old. I have searched the internet for pictures of what the mouth cancer typically looks like, but have come up with nothing. Every vet’s office I call either says they will not see a hedgehog or that they are experienced in hedgehogs – then I get there and find out they are not really experienced. I can’t keep going from one vet to the next and pay their $85 to $100 visit fees just to find out that I seem to know more than them! Please point me in the right direction – as in a website with pictures of hedgehog mouth cancer, or a website with knowledgeable hedgehog veterinarians. Thank you for your time.

    • Kathy
      Oral cancer is a very common problem in hedgehogs. At 5 years of age, that is the most likely cause of the mass / swelling you are seeing. In many cases we can tell that a mass is bad by just looking at it but to know what it is for certain, we would want to biopsy it. Here the cost for an exam, brief anesthesia, punch biopsy and histopathology would be around $350-$400.
      If you are in Southern California, we would be happy to help you out.

  13. Hi,
    I have a pair of hedgehogs (m/f) who are both on “Meow Mix Original Choice” cat food (terrible quality, I know), but are in the process of switching over gradually to Iams (Proactive Health, Original with Chicken – better quality than the last brand).. I am planning to breed them eventually (the female will be 5 months late February, so I’m waiting)… Just wondering if I should be feeding the female anything extra to prepare her for pregnancy, and if the babies (when they become weaned) can eat the mother’s food?
    Thanks for your time!

    • Sorry for the slow reply. Again I’ve lost some questions in the workings of the web site.
      Back 20 years ago I was given a pair of hedgehogs. At the time there was little known about their nutrition and no commercial diets available. Mine ate Science Diet Feline Maintenance exclusively. They produced 3 litters (before I put an end to that) and produced beautiful healthy “hoglets.”
      Be sure to watch temperatures and (I’d recommend) provide a warm area for mom and the kids (but allow her to choose to use it).
      Good luck! Dr. J

  14. Emily Hamilton says:

    I have had my hedgehog (Fern, female) for about 2.5 years now. She has a wheel in her cage which she used to run on all of the time, but has stopped using it. She hasn’t used it for a while now. She is a healthy hog, and seems active when I take her out, but I wish she would run on her wheel so she could get more excercise. Why won’t she run? Also, what are some treats I can feed her? My last hedgehog loved waxworms, but Fern won’t have anything to do with them. She doesn’t seem to care for many fruits either. She also has bumpy, ruffly ears. My last hedgehog had that too, so is it common? I think Fern is fine, but I found your website and decided to ask a few questions, so thanks!

    -Emily

    • there are many reason Fern won’t run. She may be painful. Does she limp or favor a foot or leg any other time she walks?
      There may be something that has changed with your wheel or she may have grown too large for it. hedgehogs cannot arch their backs too far. If she has grown larger you may need a wheel with a larger diamter or a “flying saucer” type of wheel (my favorite) that are made for chinchillas. You can buy them here.
      Flying saucer wheel

  15. I am having a really hard time finding hedgehogs for sale in San Diego, Ca. Any suggestions?

    • That’s because they are not sold here. To own a hedgehog legally in California you need a permit from California Fish and Game (which is unobtainable by mortal humans). There are many hedgehogs here in California, however. Many come from Nevada or Arizona.

  16. Hi, my hedgehog has recently within the past two days stopped eating. I noticed when she left her bowl full of food multiple times. I gave her a piece of food by hand and she was willing to eat it, but once it was in her mouth she tried to chew it but didn’t seem to be able to. She chewed it until it got wet, but she wasn’t breaking and crunching it like she usually does. She ended up spitting it out. I feed her purina cat chow (which is what she’s always had) and there have been no environmental changes that should cause stress. I tried looking in her mouth to see if anything was stuck in there that would not allow her to eat, but she is squirmy and it was hard to tell. I tried crushing the food and mixing it with warm water to soften it, but she didn’t seem to want to eat it. She is starting to feel lighter. What should I do? If this problem doesn’t go away is there a long term softer food I could feed her? Thanks for your help!

    • Ilaina
      The most common cause of the signs you are seeing is “oral disease.” Dental and gum problems or oral cancer.
      I’d recommend that you get him in and have a good oral exam done under anesthesia. We’re happy to take care of her if you are close.
      With any luck, she has a cavity or a loose tooth.
      Best of luck, Dr. J

      • Earlier today I found a piece of bedding stuck in her mouth which she had to cough up. I pulled it out, but she is still showing the same signs. This could mean there’s still something in there that I haven’t found, but if that’s not the case, would gum or oral diseases cause such a fast “decline”? She literally was completely fine one day, then not eating the next. I’m hoping it’s not disease… but if it is, is there anything I can do for her before I can get her to a vet? Thanks so much!

        • It could be that she is getting bedding stuck in her mouth due to mucous or saliva. Or it could be that there is something in the back of her throat, an abscess, infection or even a tumor, that makes her gad / wretch as if she has bedding stuck there.
          Try rinsing her mouth with warm tap water from a syringe and see if it makes her feel any better. Then see if you can’t et a veterinarian to take a look at her. Good luck! Dr. J

          • Thanks! She coughed up another piece of bedding. Is there any reason she might want to eat bedding? It looks like there is food stuck to the roof of her mouth, which I don’t think was there earlier. If something is caught in her throat and making her unable to swallow (she can swallow water and breathe though) is it smart or possible to induce vomiting to get it out? Or some way to get her to cough it up?

          • Eating things that are not food is called “pica“. Pica may be associated with disease or demands on a person or animal. the cravings of pregnant women is a form of pica.
            By now you should know if your pointy friend has a problem (infection, dental disease or tumor) in her mouth. If not she may have a problem another problem that has led to the pica. Hope all turns out well!

  17. Olivia Potts says:

    I was at my local exotic pet shop speaking with a sales person who knows me well and knows that I have 2 hedgehogs. She told me how she bought 5 hoglets and that they were all “special.” Many were missing eyes and limbs. The girl I picked out to take care of is missing both of her ears (there are holes but no outer part of the ears). I know the hoglets belonged to a big breeder and they were picked on but my only concern is how am I going to give her a bath. Suggestions would be very much appreciated!

  18. I Have A two year old hedgie, She’s always been healthy, and she eats good (dry food, fruits, veggies, baby food, and meal worms). I noticed today, her right eye is grey. It’s not swollen and there isn’t any discharge. She seems to blink more with that eye. Any T
    thoughts?

    • The most likely cause is a cataract. They typically are not painful, but she may blink trying to see better from that eye. Have your vet take a look. We have a veterinary ophthalmologist that is willing to do cataracts on small animals like hedgehogs, however the price is pretty steep. We would not recommend surgery on one unless both eyes are effected.

  19. Okay so I’m curious about ways to keep my hedgie warm I have a heat pad BUT. I live off a generator so it can’t be on all the time. I also live in north Idaho. And in winter it gets rather cold anyone in north sand point Idaho will know. It’s almost summer now and I just got him. But I’m curious how can I keep his cage warmer than the house if the generator runs out of gas?

    • I’m thinking you could use a hot water bottle (or some other water container) heated prior to bed time. Another approach would be to use a stone, such as a soapstone bed warmer (here is one). You could heat it on a stove or near a fire (if you have one). Both of the above should be wrapped in a towel and placed at one end of the cage so your hedgie can choose to be close or move away.

      Soapstone bed warmer

  20. Can I feed my hedgehog Purina 1 Urinary Tract Health Formula? Is has 31% Protien, 12.5% fat and 2% fiber. This is what I currently feed my cats.

    • I would think it would be fine. That said, I don’t know of any studies on the finer points of hedgehog nutrition. That diet, however is well thought out and I’d assume would be a good (cat food) choice.

  21. Melissa and Hinkle says:

    I am a new hedgie owner and have a concern i hope you can help me with.
    Hinkle is approximately two yrs old and the person i got her from had some
    Type of stuff on the bottom of cage that resembled kitty litter. Before i got him
    I did many hours of research on care. One concern i have on his head his skin
    looks smooth and “clean” the further down his back his skin almost looks like
    The litter has attached itself to his skin. I have given him multiple toothbrush baths
    But it does not change his skin. Should his skin be smooth and soft all over? If not
    How do you suggest i clean it? I know the person did not take great care of Hinkle
    Because his nails were way too long, i have been trimming them regularly.
    And it maybe normal that his skin should be that way and i dont want to give
    Baths unnecessarily. I do not have an exotic vet nearby but i am trying to
    Locate one but until i do, i noticed him scratching around his ears, is there
    Something i can do or some home remedy i can give him if he has mites
    Until i can get to vet? You are a lifesaver in advance.
    Best regards Melissa and Hinkle

    • Melissa and Hinkle
      The changes you are seeing may be from “adornment,” the behavior of coating spines and skin with saliva. If so it shuld wash off with a warm bath and mild soap (I like Johnsons Baby Wash), or it may be from mites. Mites are common in hedgehogs and thought by some to be incurable (although we have done very well treating them with Revolution).
      Your vet should be able to look at a few spines under the microscope and make a diagnosis.
      Let us know what you find.

  22. Help please, my hedgehog not eating anything!

    • Max
      Hedgie’s can’t go long with out eating!
      If it has been cold, you can try warming him up (they do poorly in cool to cold temperatures). You can syringe feed him a soft or liquid diet if he will let you. We use Hill’s A/D (you can get it from a dog/cat veterinarian) or one of the liquid diets for people (Glucerna 1.2 is the one we use). If you don’t get a quick response, he needs to see a veterinarian.

  23. Bri laser says:

    I have a male African Pygmy hedgehog, and currently he is 1. He almost sufferd from hybernation last year, but luckly we saved him. But my consern about him now is that he hasn’t been eating. And when he does, the food comes out of his mouth chewed up. My hedgie eats when he is nervous, and last night their was a thunder storm so gladly he ate some. Please help me if you have experienced this or know much about it. Also. Don’t have a vet, so if anyone knows a good hedgehog vet in Wisconsin, please include that.

    • Hedgehogs are predisposed t mouth and teeth problems. Your 1 year old hedgie is likely too young to be having oral cancer problems but you do need to get him to a vet so they can do a good oral exam (typically under light sedation / anesthesia. Most likely he has a tooth that is bothering him.
      To find a vet, call around to pet shops and veterinarians in your area and ask “who is the best exotic animal veterinarian in the area.” You should get a consensus of opinion. If there is not anyone who sees lots of exotics, find a veterinarian that you can communicate with and have them call our hospital for a consultation on the case and we will help them along.
      Good luck! Dr. J

  24. I’m having trouble with my hedgehog, I barely got her and she doesn’t want to eat anything I give her. I tried apple, oranges, carrots and even cat food , and she doesn’t eat it. What can I do so she can eat?
    I’m pretty sure she was hungry, causing her to get out of her cage at 3 am. Help. Please

    • Nadine
      Just to get her started, try Kin (Super) worms.
      Then talk with the people who you got her from and find out what they were feeding and try that.
      When changing her diet add now foods mixed with the old food and gradually make the change.
      Good luck!

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