A Complete Guide to Raising Pet Hedgehogs - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
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A Complete Guide to Raising Pet Hedgehogs

Author:

Hal Gall owns three cats, but he is also a big fan of hedgehogs.

Tips and Tricks for Rearing a Healthy and Happy Hedgehog

If you are looking for a fun and unusual pet to raise and nurture, consider getting a hedgehog (if they're legal in your state). Although a lot of people wouldn't even consider hedgehogs as a viable option for a pet, just like hamsters, ferrets, and other small mammals, raising these cute little animals can be both fun and a rewarding experience.

Although relatively easy to raise and take care of, like most animals, pet hedgehogs need to be cared for properly in order to remain healthy and happy. There are several considerations to keep in mind when deciding if this is the right choice of pet for you. Read on as we explore the pros and cons of having a pet hedgehog.

14 day old hedgehog baby girl, Gotland, Sweden

14 day old hedgehog baby girl, Gotland, Sweden

Popular Hedgehog Species

The African Pygmy variety is the favorite of most hedgehog owners. They are actually hybrids of the white-bellied or four-toes hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) and the Algerian (A. algirus) hedgehog. It is called African pygmy due to the fact that it is smaller than another popular pet hedgehog species known as the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus).

Along with the African pygmy and European species, other popular breeds for raising are the Indian long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus collaris) and the Egyptian long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus auritus).

The rise in popularity of pet hedgehogs has also led to the breeding of new hybrids such as the pinto and albino varieties.

African Pygmy Hedgehog

African Pygmy Hedgehog

Hedgehog Reproduction and Lifespan

  • Healthy hedgehogs can live up to 10 years.
  • The gestation period for hedgehogs ranges from 35 to 58 days, depending on the species. The larger species will have litters of 3 to 4 baby hedgehogs, while the smaller species will have 5 to 6 little ones.
  • As with most small mammals kept as pets, hedgehogs live longer in captivity, mainly due to a better diet and a lack of natural predators.
  • Larger species live 4 to 7 years in the wild, and 8 to 10 years in captivity. Smaller species live 2 to 4 years in the wild and 4 to 7 years in captivity.
  • As with a lot of small mammals, hedgehogs are blind at birth.
Prickly Hedgehog

Prickly Hedgehog

How Do Hedgehogs Defend Themselves?

All species or hedgehogs share a common means of defense which is similar to that used by porcupines. The average hedgehog has between 5,000 and 7,000 quills on the body. The hedgehog also has 2 large muscles in its back which it uses to position the quills in a manner that covers the entire body. They roll up in a ball and pull in their head and feet, making it is almost impossible to get past their defenses.

This maneuver is usually used as a last means of defense, and species like the desert hedgehog will actually go on the offensive and try to attack a predator or enemy by ramming it with its quills.

Hedgehogs also have a certain amount of immunity to snake venom, although a hedgehog will more than likely die from a rattlesnake bite, as the protein (erinacin) being utilized as a defense is available in very small amounts.

Here's a photo of Prickles, the little Hedgehog, which just wandered across the road, totally oblivious to the traffic

Here's a photo of Prickles, the little Hedgehog, which just wandered across the road, totally oblivious to the traffic

Human and Hedgehog Interaction

Humans can sometimes be problematic for hedgehogs. Cars pose the greatest threat, as a lot of them get run over crossing roads in search of food.

Overpopulation is also a problem in areas where they have been introduced that have no natural predators to help keep the numbers down. This usually ends up with unexpected consequences, as once the insects and other foods they normally eat starts to become scarce, they will expand their diet and start searching out snails, worms, and bird & lizard eggs, which in turn can disrupt the food chain balance.

Some US states and Canadien municipalities ban the ownership of hedgehogs. Species meant for domestication are allowed in most European countries. Wild hedgehogs are listed as endangered in the UK, and keeping them as pets is not legal.

Hedgehogs Are Used as Both a Food Source and Medical Cure

Hedgehogs are enjoyed as a source of food in several cultures.

The Ancient Egyptians ate hedgehogs, and there are some recipes found from later in the Middle Ages that call for hedgehog meat.

"Hedgehog-flavour" crisps were introduced to the British population in the 1980s, although the snacks didn't actually contain hedgehogs in any way.

The Bedouins in the Middle East consider hedgehog meat medicinal and good for treating arthritis. The Romani are reported to still eat hedgehog meat boiled or roasted, and keep the fat and blood for its medicinal properties.

Hedgehog Foraging at Night

Hedgehog Foraging at Night

The Nocturnal Fact About Hedgehogs

If there is one thing that is important to keep in mind about hedgehogs is the fact that they are nocturnal by nature.

Hedgehogs like to sleep during the day and forage for food and mates after nightfall. Solitary as a rule, hedgehogs have a tendency to be territorial in the wild and will display aggressiveness towards other hedgehogs it feels are a threat to them.

Self-Anointing Hedgehogs

Self-anointing is a mysterious and misunderstood hedgehog ritual. When they run across a scent they have not encountered before, they sometimes perform a ritual that is called "self-anointing."

Also called "anting", it is performed by licking and biting at the source of the scent, then forming a froth, which it pastes along the body using the tongue.

There are several theories as to why hedgehogs do this, ranging from cooling the body to making a poison as a protection against enemies. Others say it is a form of cleansing, as in a lot of cases it happens after a hedgehog has encountered a rather strong odor.

Video of Hedgehog Self-Anointing

Hedgehogs and Tubing

Pet hedgehogs have a cute but potentially dangerous trick, a curious habit of sticking their heads in tubular shaped containers and walking around with the tubes stuck on top of their heads. This is known as "tubing" in hedgehog circles. Although a cute trick, a good hedgehog owner will provide clean tubes (usually empty toilet paper rolls) and not just walk off and leave them alone, as they will stay like that for hours on end.

Interestingly, McDonald's had to change the design of their "McFlurry" containers, as hedgehogs would get their heads stuck in them trying to lick the food out, and if not released, they would starve to death.

A Video Demonstration of Hedgehog "Tubing"

Bright-Eyed Hedgehog

Bright-Eyed Hedgehog

Tips on Choosing a Healthy Pet Hedgehog

There are several varieties of hedgehogs that make for good pets but even then, there are a few things to look for when you have decided on a breed.

If you are at a pet store choosing a hedgehog, look for the ones with bright eyes and display signs of curiosity. If the hedgehog looks lethargic or tired, chances are it will not make a good pet, and in fact may be ill. Check around the eyes for redness or any discharges. If the eyes don't look clean and dry, move on to the next one.

Hedgehogs make great pets, but the wrong one can be more problems than it is worth, and may end up displaying aggressive tendencies towards your family members. Hedgehogs will bite if they are sick or feel threatened in any way.

Bathing Your Hedgehogs

How to Care for Your Pet Hedgehog Once You Get it Home

As you can probably tell by now, hedgehogs are unusual and delightful animals. They do need proper care, though, and listed here are some of the basic needs of your pet hedgehog once you get him home.

1. Proper Housing

Hedgehogs are active creatures and therefore need some extra space to roam around in. You should have a large cage or enclosure that can be secured when you are away, as hedgehogs like to escape whenever the opportunity presents itself. A small box kept inside the cage will provide them a place to hide in and sleep during the day. Try to keep the room temperature comfortable as well.

2. Correct Food

Hedgehogs eat once or twice a day. Keep the food right outside of the hiding box that was recommended earlier. Hedgehogs like eating insects and worms, but finely minced rice and meat or a low-fat cat or dog food will suffice in case you don't have fresh bugs to feed them. A piece of fresh fruit from time to time is recommended. As with most pets, be wary of overfeeding to the point of obesity.

3. Clean Living Environment

Make sure to clean out the cages at least once a week. Remove old food and feces and make sure the hide box is clean as well. An occasional bath from time to time may be in order, but if your hedgehog does not like baths, you may want to avoid putting them through any unnecessary trauma.

4. Watch For Diseases

As with most small mammals, hedgehogs can get fleas. Check them on a regular basis, and if you see signs of fleas you can use the same flea deterrent that you would use on a kitten. Hedgehogs are also susceptible to diarrhea, worms, and pneumonia. If you suspect your hedgehog may be sick, take him to a vet. Some of the diseases common to hedgehogs include squamous cell carcinoma (cancer), fatty liver disease from improper diet, and they can suffer from heart disease as well. A good indicator of a sick hedgehog is the loss of spines.

5. Give Them Some Space

As a rule, hedgehogs can be a bit on the anti-social side until you get to know them. Do not over-handle your hedgehog, as this may lead to mistrust on their part. Hedgehogs do like to be cuddled from time to time, but if they roll up in a defensive posture when you try to pick them up, it is best to leave them alone for a while.

Holding a Hedgehog

Holding a Hedgehog

Keeping Your Pet Hedgehog Happy

Hedgehogs like to be cuddled!

Even though you can domesticate a hedgehog, it still may have a desire to escape captivity. Every now and then let your hedgehog out of it's cage to roam around a bit. If you have a garden all the better. Be there with your hedgehog if you let him roam around, and talk to him to let him know he is not alone.

Most hedgehogs will let you cuddle them once they trust you. When petting them, be sure to stroke them the same direction that the quills grow, or prepare to be stuck by some very sharp quills.

There is a certain amount of bonding that occurs with a hedgehog, same as with any other pet that is comfortable with you. Approach them when they are in a calm mood and get to know them slowly and methodically and you will find them to be great pets.

Feeding Your Hedgehog - Proper Diet is Very Important

At one time hedgehogs were classified in the now abandoned Insectivora order. The truth is, they are omnivores, meaning they will eat many things, including berries, mushrooms, roots, and melons. Their main diet consists of insects and worms, but they have been known to consume frogs, toads, snake and bird eggs, and carrion and fungi as well.

There are several choices these days when it comes to foods formulated specifically for hedgehogs, but if you find that you cannot find a suitable hedgehog food, a low fat, high protein cat food will do in a pinch.

Treat your hedgehog to live worms or crickets from time to time, and add a piece of fresh fruit to their diet to keep them happy.

Still Deciding on a Pet Hedgehog?

If you are on the fence about raising a pet hedgehog, let's look at both sides of the issue.

Some of the benefits of caring for hedgehogs is they are small and pretty easy to take care of. Unlike some animals, they have no dander to bother those with allergies. Hedgehogs are a ton of fun to play with, and once they are comfortable in their environment, they are quite friendly.

Some of the drawbacks to owning a pet hedgehog include the fact that they don't live very long, on average three to five years. Also, if threatened or agitated they will bite, and their bites can be quite painful.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a cute and playful pet that is low maintenance and inexpensive to care for, a hedgehog may be just what you are searching for!

Quick and Fun Hedgehog Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Hedgehogs are morning creatures.
    • True. They also love a good cup of coffee first thing!
    • False. They enjoy carousing at night.
    • Dunno. Probably should have read the article.
  2. Hedgehog quills are quite poisonous.
    • True. You will keel over within 3 seconds of being jabbed with one.
    • False. Some folks will believe anything.
    • Not sure. Probably should have read the article.
  3. You must handle hedgehogs carefully as their quills fall out rather easily.
    • True. That is where Mexican Hairless hedgehogs come from.
    • False. You can yank on them all day and they won't come out easily.
    • Probably should go back and read the article.
  4. Hedgehogs are famous for not biting people.
    • True. there has never been a documented incident of a hedgehog biting a human anywhere on earth.
    • False. If you don't treat them right or catch them in a bad mood, they can lay a painful bite on you.
    • I better start reading these articles a little closer.
  5. Release of the "Sonic The Blue Hedgehog" video game was the best thing that ever happened to hedgehogs.
    • True. Hedgehogs became the #1 pet across the world. and "Sonic" and "Knuckles" became the #1 baby names in America.
    • False. It led to poor treatment and abandonment of many hedgehogs.
    • I'm going back and reading this article again and taking a few notes.
  6. Tubing is a safe pastime for hedgehogs.
    • True. Burger King made special surf boards just for hedgehog tubing!
    • False. McDonald's changed the packaging of their McFlurry products due to hedgehog deaths.
    • I'm hungry.

Answer Key

  1. False. They enjoy carousing at night.
  2. False. Some folks will believe anything.
  3. False. You can yank on them all day and they won't come out easily.
  4. False. If you don't treat them right or catch them in a bad mood, they can lay a painful bite on you.
  5. False. It led to poor treatment and abandonment of many hedgehogs.
  6. False. McDonald's changed the packaging of their McFlurry products due to hedgehog deaths.

Hedgehog Polls

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can two female or two male hedgehogs share a cage?

Answer: Once male hedgehogs reach sexual maturity, it is best to keep them in separate cages. Males can be quite aggressive towards one another during mating season, and the fights can be rather vicious, with one or more of the hedgehogs causing serious injury and damage.

While hedgehogs are generally solitary animals, you can cage females together without too much fighting between them.

© 2012 Hal Gall

Visitor Comments - Did I Miss Anything?

Kara on June 01, 2020:

Thanks so much for the information

Carlos on November 30, 2019:

Help :)

My hedgehog does not eat mealworms nor fruit. Any reason why he might be doing this? He is still young (2months old). I bought it one month ago from a farm in Germany.

Thank you!

Madi on November 18, 2019:

I love hedgehogs so much I have two right now but so far in my life time I have had 4 some of this information is not all true but a lot is thanks for the help

Ohai :3 on June 19, 2019:

I Love hedgehogs so much! they literally make my heart melt and always seem so happy! My parents agreed to let me get one as long as I prove to them I'm responsible enough!

Presley Sullins on May 20, 2019:

My cousin wants a hedgehog SO BAD so I’m going to send her this article and if she still wants one I’ll probably get her one for her birthday

Elizabeth on March 21, 2019:

I wish I could get one, but they're banned in my state. :-(

Hal Gall (author) from Bloomington, IN on January 31, 2019:

If you have a fairly new hedgehog it may take a while for it to get used to you and it's new surroundings. I would back off handling it for a bit, and try and take a slower approach. Good luck!

LovemySuzie on January 31, 2019:

My hedgehog curls up so tight when I pick it up. How do I get it to relax? I keep the cage spotless and feed twice a day and give plenty of water.

Hedgielover414 on July 11, 2018:

I LOVE hedgies. I am trying to convince my family to let me get one.

EvieTran on July 03, 2018:

I love hedgehogs! I’m getting one tomorrow!

HAHAHA YEAH on February 19, 2018:

Love this place, learned so much about hedghog

Savannah on October 14, 2017:

I won't a heghog

katespetcorner1 on July 21, 2013:

I love hedgehogs, I used to look after wild ones that had been injured, they were very cute, but they didn't half smell bad!

Hal Gall (author) from Bloomington, IN on July 16, 2013:

@LoriBeninger: How could you go wrong picking hedgehog. They do kinda grow on you!

LoriBeninger on July 16, 2013:

Very cute lens. One evening after dinner, my friends and I were discussing what our "Patronus" (from Harry Potter) might be if such a thing were possible. All had been decided upon when my husband's turn came. He (and some of the others) were suggesting tiger and stallion and wonderfully masculine things (my husband is a former police officer) when I yelled out "Hedgehog." When asked why, I said that he was prickly on the outside and soft on the inside. It stuck (much to his chagrin) and he gets a hedgehog-related gift each year from his godchildren to celebrate. I think he rather likes it after all.

TanoCalvenoa on June 17, 2013:

I like your last options in the polls. If I did have a pet hedgehog, it would be difficult to name it anything other than Sonic.

Rosanna Grace on May 29, 2013:

I agree with skiesgreen about the echidna. That's as close to a hedgehog as I'm going to get. Thanks for sharing so much about these beautiful creatures. :)

norma-holt on May 24, 2013:

These animals look remarkably like the Australian Echnida only it is a marsupial (has a pouch). Great lens and nicely done information.

RinchenChodron on May 21, 2013:

I've never owned a hedgehog so I don't know if you missed anything, but it does seem like a very complete lens to me. Sweet animals!

Hal Gall (author) from Bloomington, IN on March 26, 2013:

@Stephanie36: Hedgehogs are so "cute and cuddly". Glad you enjoyed the visit!

Stephanie from Canada on March 26, 2013:

Now I want a hedgehog! (won't happen...my cat would be far too entertained!) I love all the pictures, espeically the one with the baby hedgehogs--so cute! Fantastic job on this lens--really superb.

Loretta Livingstone from Chilterns, UK. on March 23, 2013:

I'm rather fond of hedgehogs as we had a wild one living in our garden shed for 2 or 3 years. We called her Barbie as I found her wrapped in clingfilm one day, and also saw her trying to wrangle a plastic bag into her nest. She lived in a bag of hay, til the shed started to leak, then she moved into the greenhouse. She brought up at least two litters.

jayavi on March 20, 2013:

Thanks for the information about Hedgehog. i really enjoyed your lens. thanks for sharing. Thanks for the lovely pictures.

Stephen Bush from Ohio on March 12, 2013:

I was pleased to find the definitive hedgehog lens!

Cara on March 12, 2013:

When we were children growing up in France, we raised 3 orphaned hedgehogs, It was a wonderful experience.

AllThingsPotter on March 09, 2013:

I have wild hedgehogs in my garden and they've become quite tame. They'll even crawl under the fence to my enclosed patio and eat the cat's food right out of the bowl. And they make such cute snuffling noises when you leave them something they especially like to eat.

Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on March 08, 2013:

Hedgehogs are really cute! We've kept guinea pigs and hamster, gerbils and rabbits, but so far -- we haven't taken in any hedgehogs. Maybe some day... Great lens!

Barbara Walton from France on March 07, 2013:

My husband found a hibernating hedgehog and we put it in our barn. Sadly, it seems to have wandered off! Wish we had hedgehogs in the garden.

Heidi Reina from USA on March 06, 2013:

Hedgehogs are cute, but I prefer a cuddly chinchilla. Adorable pics and poster here!

Sara Krentz from USA on March 05, 2013:

So cute!

blue22d on March 02, 2013:

Cute little guys. Enjoyed the quiz and my visit here.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on February 28, 2013:

Great lens, I like hedgehogs, and I have never been bitten by one yet, it was the only one I got wrong in your quiz, I must have handled them okay not to get a bite. Blessed.

miaponzo on February 28, 2013:

I didn't even know that you could have a pet hedgehog!!!! Blessed!

AstroGremlin on February 27, 2013:

A terrific article that I am going to Stumble. I have heard about hedgehogs for years but had no idea about their nature, and certainly no idea that they would make pets. I sincerely hope people will find this fine, well written piece on these cute critters.

Rose Jones on February 26, 2013:

You have done a lovely job here of capturing the essence of the hedgehog, and lots of the details as well. Pinned to my "cool critters" board and blessed.

sansiona lm on February 25, 2013:

They are adorable!

Thank You for writing about them! Great lens!