Are you thinking of adding a cute little hedgehog to the family? Our Astoria vets discuss the proper care required for a pet hedgehog.
Hedgehogs as Pets
The African pygmy hedgehog is the most common species of hedgehog kept as a pet due in large part to its compact size. This adorable little creature can make an ideal pet for many people, but it's essential to do your research before buying to be certain that a hedgehog's personality and needs fit in with your lifestyle.
It's important to note that like reptiles and many other domesticated animals, hedgehogs can carry salmonella. As such hedgehogs are not recommended for families with children under 5 years of age, seniors, or those with compromised immune systems.
In the wild hedgehogs are solitary animals, meaning that they spend most of their time alone except during mating season. Their naturally solitary nature means that they tend to be shy and wary of people. It takes patience and a gentle hand to form a trusting bond with a pet hedgehog.
That said, if you get your hedgehog while it is very young and take enough time to very slowly get your new pet used to being handled, hedgehogs can be quite playful although they may never reach the status of cuddly.
Despite cuddles not really being their thing, once your pet hedgehog has settled in and has become accustomed to being handled, you will be able to stroke their quills and allow your hedgehog to climb up your arms and explore different spaces (with supervision).
Caring for a Hedgehog
While hedgehogs are considerably smaller than cats or dogs, they still require exercise, a nutritious diet, and regular veterinary care. Not only that, hedgehogs come with a host of requirements that will need to be met to keep them happy including a large enclosure, an exercise wheel, and toys so they don't become bored.
Another important factor to consider is that hedgehogs are nocturnal, meaning that they are awake all night and sleep all day. You can expect most hedgehogs to wake up and become active at around dinnertime, then be tucking themselves into bed just as you're waking up.
In the wild hedgehogs will travel for miles each night foraging for food, this instinct to roam means that hedgehogs require larger enclosures than you may expect, and a wheel for exercise is an absolute must.
If you want to keep a happy and healthy hedgehog for a pet you will need to provide an enclosure that measures at least 24" x 24", (although larger is recommended). Provide your pet hedgehog with the largest enclosure you can accommodate so that they have plenty of space to explore each night.
NOTE: Hedgehogs are busy little nocturnal creatures, so keeping your pet hedgehog in your bedroom is not recommended! They can be surprisingly noisy at night.
Hedgehogs need to be kept busy to stay happy and healthy. An exercise wheel is an essential part of any hedgehog enclosure, as are a litter box, sleeping box, and eating area.
To help keep your pet hedgehog busy supply your pet with a selection of tunnels and toys such as stuffed animals or small balls.
You should also ensure that there is an exotic animal veterinarian within your area who is capable of caring for your pet.
A Hedgehog's Diet
In the wild, hedgehogs enjoy a varied diet of insects, plants, and roots. So to keep your pet healthy feed your hedgehog a high-quality hedgehog-specific kibble with at least 30% protein and less than 20% fat, supplemented with a variety of the following:
- Fresh fruits (apples, bananas, berries)
- Live or freeze-dried mealworms
- Live waxworms
- Cooked Egg
- Pinky Mice
- Cooked meat (chicken)
- High protein, low-fat dog food
- Live or freeze-dried crickets
- Fresh veggies (tomatoes, green beans)
Possible Concerns of a Pet Hedgehog
There are several safety concerns to consider when it comes to owning a hedgehog as a pet.
Salmonella & Hedgehogs
In 2019 the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) investigated several cases of salmonella linked to pet hedgehogs and warned that even hedgehogs that appear perfectly healthy can carry salmonella. If you handle a pet hedgehog be sure to protect yourself from this condition by taking the following steps:
- Wash Hands Thoroughly: Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching, feeding, or caring for a hedgehog or cleaning its enclosure.
- Play Safely: Don’t kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, because this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth. Don’t allow hedgehogs to roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchens or dining tables.
- Keep Your Hedgehog's Environment Squeaky Clean: Clean and wash enclosures, toys, and supplies outside of your house when possible. Do not clean these items in the kitchen or any place where food is prepared, served, or stored.
- Hedgehog quills can penetrate human skin and spread bacteria that may lead to illnesses in pet owners. If you get a puncture from a hedgehog quill be sure to clean your hands and the puncture area thoroughly. Monitor the puncture area carefully for signs of infection.
- Although hedgehogs do bite, their tiny teeth are unlikely to cause you very much pain. The force of a hedgehog bite is typically linked to what your pet is feeling. An angry hedgehog could cause a bite that hurts a bit. That said, hamsters and other rodents are far more likely to administer a really painful bite when angry or scared.
Are pet hedgehogs legal where you live?
According to some wildlife experts, hedgehogs could have a negative impact on local ecosystems if released into the wild. This is because hedgehogs would compete with native species for food and habitat. Many other exotic pets such as sugar gliders, ferrets, and Quaker parakeets are also banned in several states for the same reason.
You are not legally permitted to own a hedgehog as a pet in the following states:
- Washington, DC
- New York