Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Hedgehogs are prickly mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae and relative to other exotic pets, they are extremely popular. Hedgehog ownership is common enough that commercial food for them can be found in chain pet stores, making them less non-traditional. There are numerous hedgehog breeders and even hedgehog shows.
Often confused as relatives of porcupines or even rodents, they are more closely related to moles and shrews. Some species may be considered to be domesticated. They can be charismatic, adorable, albeit very messy, pets to own.
Types of Hedgehogs You Can Own
In the United States, only one breed of hedgehog predominated the exotic pet trade since the 1980s. In recent times, there have been more importations of new hedgehog species that are now regularly available. The care between these species differs slightly, so it is important to know what you are getting before considering them.
African Pygmy Hedgehog
The most commonly-owned type of hedgehog is often referred to as an "African pygmy hedgehog" (APH). These hedgehogs are a species of the genus Atelerix, however, it is unclear if these widely available hedgehogs are central African hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris, also called the four-toed hedgehog), Algerian hedgehogs (Atelerix algirus), hybrids of these two species or a mixture of all three.
Regardless, they have been extensively captive bred and are "domesticated" under most definitions of the word, as the importation of hedgehogs has been restricted in the past due to their ability to carry foot and mouth disease.
Natural Range: Africa
Diet: They will consume some plant matter but primarily eat insects and vertebrates such as lizards and snakes in the wild. In captivity, a commercial pelleted diet has been developed for them, and this is usually supplemented with various insects.
Unique Attributes: Domesticated hedgehogs can be shy and often roll into a ball with their quills extended as opposed to biting or running. They are poor climbers and can become docile only with repeated handling and socialization. Cage recommendations for this species are generally smaller than for others. They are also poor climbers, so this doesn't need to be accommodated in their enclosure.
- Hedgehogs do not really have "breeds", rather, the "African pygmy hedgehog" comes in different colorations or "morphs", just as is the case with ball pythons, red foxes, and domesticated skunks. These hedgehogs do not have a standard for morphology or temperament, unlike dog breeds.
- Some hedgehog colors include salt and pepper, which is the most common coloration, white belly, cinnamon, chocolate, Cinnicot, pinot, Champagne, apricot, and albino.
- There are other species of hedgehogs that are entering the pet trade. These are genetically distinct animals that have evolved in separate areas. Some hedgehogs of the same species may differ in appearance based on the locale they descend from.
The second most popular hedgehog species, and a recent introduction to the pet trade in America, is the long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus). These animals stand out because of their long ears and higher activity levels.
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Because of their more active nature, many breeders recommend larger enclosures for them (about 5-6 feet long) and periods out of the cage to get exercise. Unlike APHs, they will chase and play with cat toys. Breeders also recommend feeding them more insects and raw meat than APHs, which are mainly fed kibble designed for hedgehogs, however, this is not supported by any scientific evidence.
Natural Range: Central Asia, Afghanistan, Russia, Mongolia, Egypt, Chinese Turkestan.
Diet: Insects including grasshoppers and beetles, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and small vertebrates such as lizards and snakes.
Unique Attributes: They live on average for about 7 years. They can survive for weeks without food or water (not that you should test this). They evolved long ears likely to tolerate heat radiation. Their high prey drive allows them to display interactive behaviors in captivity, such as playing with cat toys.
"Russian" Variant Long-Eared Hedgehog
This hedgehog is the same species as the "Egyptian long-ear", however, this population of hedgehogs that originates from Russia is a little larger and much fluffier due to their long fur. They are a recent introduction to the hedgehog trade, having been imported by breeders.
Desert hedgehogs (Paraechinus aethiopicus), which may also be called Sonoran desert hedgehogs, are another new introduction to the captive hedgehog trade in the United States. The new population was imported from Europe. Currently, the population has dark markings on their face and spines. Their care appears to be similar to other long-eared hedgehog species.
Natural Range: Northern Africa; From the Sahara to Morocco, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq
Diet: Insects, small vertebrates including snakes, and scorpions. Not thought to eat plant matter.
Unique Attributes: They can live about 10 years in captivity
Indian Long-Eared Hedgehog
This is a very uncommonly owned species of the name Hemiechinus collaris. It is a close relative of the more common Egyptian long ear, although it is distinguishable due to its small size of just under 7 inches long. Like other long-eared hedgehogs, it evolved its large ears to cope with extremely hot temperatures. It can also sustain itself on its insect diet without a source of water. They are currently very rare in the United States.
Natural Range: Endemic to India and Pakistan
Unique Attributes: Many Indian long-ears are darker in color. They are also smaller than the other commonly-owned hedgehogs.
This unique creature will be mentioned here although it is not a hedgehog nor is it even a close relative to them. Tenrecs are a diverse species of the family Tenrecidae and they are endemic to the island nation of Madagascar. In the American pet trade, two species exist; the common lesser tenrec (Echinops telfairi) and the greater tenrec (Setifer setosus) which is a recent introduction. The striking streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus) is not yet kept and is difficult to care for, but they are kept overseas.
Despite their distant relation, tenrecs have similar care to hedgehogs, although their bathroom habits are much neater and their caging should accommodate their climbing ability.
Natural Range: Madagascar
Diet: Insects and small vertebrates.
Unique Attributes: Tenrecs are physically equipped for climbing, and they are more likely to bite when threatened (if they are under-socialized). They are more insectivorous than omnivorous. Tenrecs can live 10+ years, with one individual having been recorded living past 20 years.
- Ballenger, L. 1999. "Hemiechinus auritus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 10, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Hemiechinus_auritus/
- Graesser, Donnasue, et al. "Wobbly hedgehog syndrome in African pygmy hedgehogs (Atelerix spp.)." Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 15.1 (2006): 59-65.
- Hall, D. 2002. "Paraechinus aethiopicus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 11, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Paraechinus_aethiopicus/
- Heavenly Hedgies. Hedgehogs Vs. Tenrecs.
- Molur, S. (2008). Hemiechinus collaris. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2.
- Pollock C. Parmentier S. Basic Information sheet: African pygmy hedgehog. February 14, 2010. LafeberVet Web site. https://lafeber.com/vet/basic-information-for-hedgehogs/
- Santana, E.M.; et al. (2010). "Atelerix albiventris (Erinaceomorpha: Erinaceidae)". Mammalian Species. 42 (1): 99–110.
- Sharma, A. & Mathur, R. S. (1974). "Histomorphological Changes in the Reproductive Tract of Female Hemiechinus auritus collaris, Gray in Relation to the Estrous Cycle". Acta Zoologica. 55 (4): 235
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Melissa A Smith