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Hedgehog Care Tips
February 1, 2024

Can you believe that we’re already halfway through February? Just like every other month, February has its own unique associations. In this case, it’s Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day. (Fun fact: Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this year. Early spring! That’s actually a really rare occurrence: it’s only happened 21 times in the past 138 years.) 

Although most people are familiar with Groundhog Day, what isn’t as well known is the fact that it’s also significance for hedgehogs. The Romans used to use hedgehogs to predict the weather! They went by whether or not he saw his shadow under the moonlight. Sound familiar? Although we no longer rely on hedgehogs for weather forecasts, they have become quite popular pets. A Crowley, TX veterinarian offers some hedgehog care tips in this article.

Hedgehog Basics

There are 14 different types of hedgehogs in the world. Only two are commonly kept as pets: European hedgehogs and African pygmy hedgehogs. The African pygmy is by far the most popular here in America. It’s not hard to understand why. These little guys are cute, charming, quiet, and playful. 

Like porcupines, hedgehogs have chosen to wear tiny spikes. These spikes—technically quills—are composed of keratin, the same substance that is found in human hair and nails. They are definitely very cute, but they aren’t just there for decoration. They actually serve as a form of defense. Hedgehogs will curl themselves up into a little ball whenever they feel threatened, making it harder for predators to grab them. However, they can’t shoot their quills.

Do Hedgehogs Make Good Pets?

Hedgehogs are small, quiet, and easy to care for. They’re gentle, and don’t need a lot of space. They’re also really, really cute.

That all said, hedgehogs may not be right for every home. Hedgie may not be a good fit for a house with a dog (or even a cat) that has a strong prey drive. As with any animal, it’s all about finding the right fit. Consult your Crowley, TX veterinarian and do lots of research before you make any decisions.

Setting Up A Hedgehog Habitat

A pet hedgehog should have a cage that is at least 4 x 2, at a minimum. Bigger is better. Make sure that the cage has a solid bottom. Floors made of mesh or wire won’t hold bedding in, and can also cause foot or leg injuries.

For substrate, you can use paper bedding, kiln-dried shavings, or a soft blanket, such as a fleece blanket. A litterbox is optional, but helpful. If you decide to get one, use soft pellets or paper towels for litter. Clay litters and clumping litters can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed, so avoid these. Pine and cedar products can cause respiratory problems, so stay away from those as well.

Your hedgehog will also appreciate having an exercise wheel. Get a solid one, as wire wheels aren’t safe.

Hedgie will also need a good hide. Some good options are pouches, igloos, and even some reptile habitats. 

Last but not least, provide some form or entertainment. Many toys made for cats and small dogs will do just fine. Choose brightly colored toys, so your pet can see them.

Ask your veterinarian for more specific advice.

Choosing Your Pet Hedgehog

Are you planning to adopt a hedgehog? Look for a reputable breeder or store, preferably one that will provide warranties against certain health problems. Some may even be willing to take the hedgehog back if necessary.

While some pet stores do sell hedgehogs, the staff may not know much about them. Do your own research as far as care. Another note about store hedgehogs? They may also not have been handled or socialized much. 

Finally, it’s important to choose a healthy hedgie. Choose one that is at a good weight and has bright, round eyes; a nose that is only slightly moist; and smooth skin. Sick hedgehogs may have runny noses; scaly or crusty skin; sunken, dull, or water eyes; and/or fecal matter stuck to their bottoms. Ask your Crowley, TX veterinary clinic for more information.

Bonding With Your New Hedgehog

These little guys are quite timid by nature. Don’t be surprised if it takes some time for your new buddy to warm up to you.

Avoid scaring your hedgehog. Hedgehogs are not only easily scared, they are also wired to run—or technically, roll—away rather than fight. Your pet may roll up into a ball if he feels unsafe. If he does, don’t try to force him to unroll: just let him be until he feels safe enough to. Friendly hedgies won’t take long to uncurl, and may start waving their little hands around, which is of course really, really cute to see.

Don’t force things. During this stage, do not change your soap, lotion, detergent, or scents. You want Hedgie to get used to your scent and hopefully start associating it with feeling comfortable and secure.

It’s also important to note that hedgehogs can’t see very well. They rely on their adorable noses for information. Shadows can be very scary to them. Keep this in mind whenever you approach your quilled pal. Don’t pick him up from behind or while he is sleeping. That can (understandably) be terrifying for him!

Feeding Your Pet Hedgehog

Wild hedgehogs eat mostly insects. Your prickly pet will need a high-protein, low-fat diet. Hedgehog kibble is your best bet. You can also offer (or mix it with) a good, high-protein cat or dog food. Hedgie can also have plain, cooked salmon, chicken, turkey, and eggs. 

Your little buddy can also have certain fruits and vegetables. Some good choices include bananas, peas, apples, beans, corn, carrots, watermelon, pears, papaya, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Don’t go overboard with the fruit, as too much sugar isn’t good. Also, wash produce thoroughly and remove any skins, seeds, or pits before handing them over to those tiny paws.

To round out Hedgie’s menu, you can give him gut-loaded insects, such as earthworms, waxworms, silkworms, or crickets. Always and only use store-bought varieties, as wild insects may carry parasites.

You’ll also need to know what foods aren’t safe. That list includes grapes, raisins, seeds, milk, peanuts, avocado, nuts, hard/raw vegetables, raw meats, bread, tomatoes, honey, junk food, chocolate, alcohol, dried fruit, vegetables, garlic, and onion. 

Ask your veterinarian for specific feeding recommendations, including portion sizes, safe and unsafe foods, and snack options.

How Can I Tell If My Hedgehog Is Sick?

Like any other pet, hedgehogs are susceptible to several illnesses and diseases, including cancer, reproductive problems, and dental trouble. You’ll need to watch your tiny buddy for warning signs. Some of the more common ones are lack of appetite, weight loss, respiratory problems, dull eyes, lethargy, diarrhea, staggering, and lumps or bumps. You may also notice some uncharacteristic crankiness, like hissing or grumbling. Call your vet immediately if you notice any of these things.

In Conclusion: Small, cute, and lots of fun, hedgehogs are becoming popular pets. Just be sure to do plenty of research before purchasing one. Consult your Crowley, TX veterinarian if you have any questions.

If you have recently adopted a hedgehog, congratulations! Please contact us for all of the little guy’s care needs! As your local Crowley, TX pet hospital, we are always here to help.