Are African Pygmy Hedgehogs Nocturnal, do They Sleep All Day?


Infra red camera picture of pygmy hedgehog

My daughter spent a lot of time researching whether the African Pygmy Hedgehog was nocturnal. As having a pet that doesn’t sleep the same as other pets could become challenging.

Are African Pygmy Hedgehogs Nocturnal, do they sleep all day? African Pygmy Hedgehogs are nocturnal, evolving to coming out at night when it’s dark to feed, exercise and explore, with some being crepuscular, that is they are also active at dawn and at dusk. They sleep during the daytime, sometimes as much as 18 hours of sleep a day in the winter months.

It’s important to give them the right conditions to maintain their heavy sleep life and allowing them to benefit from their nocturnal way of life.

The nocturnal nature of pygmy hedgehogs has evolved over time and even in domesticated pygmy hedgehogs, this characteristic must be observed to make sure they retain a healthy lifestyle.

Sleep time

Pygmy hedgehogs will sleep all day, sometimes as much as eighteen hours a day. It’s advisable to let them sleep and not be tempted to bring them out in the daylight. In the summer with the longer daylight hours our hedgehog Hynee comes out later and in the winter he’s out a bit earlier.

We have to adjust ourselves to his times and if he hasn’t come out by a set time, say 8 pm, we will try to gently wake him. 

Firstly we remove the fleece covering his house and then a few moments later, we take the plastic igloo house out of the cage, allowing him a few minutes to adjust himself. He’ll generally uncurl himself and start sniffing to see what all the fuss is about.

Eventually, he’ll get up and straddle to his feeding area and munch away on this dry cat biscuits. After a while, he’ll poop a few times and may even jump on his running wheel for a while. When he looks like he’s settled down he’ll try to burrow underneath the bedding and try to hide.

It’s at this point we know he’s ready to be handled and whilst one of us is holding him, the other can get set on cleaning the cage. We take it turns each night to hold Hynee, so it doesn’t mean one of us ends up with the chore of cleaning the cage.

Depending on the day, it’s usually a quick poop clean, or a midweek clean (changing over items in the cage) or a full weekly clean.

Night time

For pygmy hedgehogs, night time is party time and it’s at night our hedgehog comes alive starts to forage for food. He’ll have a good sniff around the outside of his house and then proceed to sniff around other areas of his cage. I love the way he darts across to his food bowl, almost an automatic reaction when he remembers where his food is.

We also leave food around his cage area, to make him almost forage for it. We used to do this with mealworms but they used to burrow themselves under the bedding and once Hynee caught their scent he would try to burrow underneath the bedding, rocking his running wheel and this worried us, as it could topple over and hurt him. So we refrained from putting out any mealworms in his cage.

Instead, we use a playpen area and put the mealworms there and let him hunt for them whilst allowing us to keep an eye on him. 

Exercise

During the night, pygmy hedgehogs will need to exercise, as in the wild they would cover distances of several miles foraging for food. We have added a running wheel to Hynee’s cage and he loves to jump onto his wheel and then walk and walk. On many occasions, we have been watching television and we can hear him on his running wheel.

Exercise is important to ensure pygmy hedgehogs don’t end up with health problems from obesity. Exercise accompanied by a low-fat diet is an essential way of keeping pygmy hedgehogs healthy.

Heat

It’s vitally important pygmy hedgehogs have enough heat at night otherwise there’s a risk of them going into hibernation. Hibernation is very dangerous for pet pygmy hedgehogs as they will starve to death as they tend to have very little fat reserves more so if they are on a low-fat diet.

It’s important to ensure they have a cage temperature of between 72F (22C) and 80F (26.5) to ensure they are safe from hibernation. As the pygmy hedgehog gets older their tolerance to cold diminishes and they may be more likely to fall into hibernation.

One of my daughter’s friends has an older pygmy hedgehog and they have had to be extra vigilant in ensuring he doesn’t fall into hibernation. 

We have a heat mat in our hedgehogs sleeping area which comes on if the cage temperature drops below 72F (22C). Sometimes when we are sitting watching television, we hear a clinking sound and that’s the sound of the heating pad coming on as the temperature has dropped below 72F (22C).

The room we keep our hedgehog is good at retaining heat and along with the cage we use, the temperature loss when the room heating is off is nothing to worry about.

It’s important therefore to ensure your hedgehog is kept in a room which doesn’t become too cold otherwise you will have to look at other measures at keeping the cage temperature within the confines of the safety, that is between 72F (22C) and 80F (26.5C). 

To compensate for the cold, using a heating mat for the sleeping area and a ceramic heat emitter (heat lamp) to eat their feeding and exercise areas are options. The heat lamp mustn’t be used with plastic cages as there’s a fire risk and the heat lamp mustn’t emit any light, as this will stop the hedgehog coming out at night to feed.

However, I would always strive to put the hedgehog in an area that can keep hold of the surrounding heat instead of risking putting the hedgehog in a cold room.

Thermometer and Thermostat

Any heating provided for the hedgehog must be controllable and must only consider the temperature inside the cage. The inside of the cage temperature can vary from the outside room temperature so having a mechanism to check the inside cage temperature is essential.

Our heat mat has a thermometer with a suction cup that we have stuck to the inside of the cage. This allows the thermostat (temperature controller) to know what the exact temperature in the cage is and allow itself to turn on the heating mat to compensate for a drop in temperature.

The thermostat ensures the temperature of heat mat remains constant between the safe confines of 72F (22C) and 80F (26.5). 

I have also moved the thermostat as far away from Hynee’s cage as possible because it has a red led light to indicate the current temperature and red lights to say it’s powered on and another red light to say it’s on and heating the heat mat. These lights may be distracting for him, so to be safe than sorry, I’ve moved the thermostat away as it has plenty of cables to allow me to do this.

I didn’t want to cover the thermostat as it allows me to easily see the temperature and I don’t know maybe covering could make it a fire risk. I also have a smoke detector above Hynee’s cage on the ceiling and have one without any of those flashing lights as a precaution. 

Daytime

I used to worry about the daily noise in our house disrupting Hynee’s sleep as with the television being on, the noise of having dinner, getting Jinnee ready for school, the neighbour’s dog barking to my friends popping round for a chat.

However, there was no need to worry as he has adjusted to the noises exceptionally well. As soon as he realised these were non-threatening noises, he went back to sleeping and catching up on his many hours of sleep.

It’s important to appreciate, initially, when you first get your hedgehog they will probably not sleep too well, as they need to get used to the sounds and smells around them. They have probably had the comfort of their mother and now are in an alien setting.

They may appear groggy when they do wake or may wake later if they are not getting enough quality sleep, so an investigation into what’s causing the sleep disruption is highly advisable. Maybe a quieter area is required as long as it’s warm enough not to put them into hibernation.

We have a neighbour’s dog that barks in the morning,  this may have taken Hynee a few weeks to be comfortable in knowing the sound of barking had no accompanying smell, so wasn’t deemed a threat.

I know when he’s in a deep sleep because you can hear him tapping his feet and my daughter Jinnee says this is him dreaming of running around hunting for mealworms, I certainly hope it is.

When he does wake his initial grogginess is replaced with being wide awake and alert, which comforts me as poor sleep would result in him being lethargic. 

We have covered Hynee’s house with fleece so he can sleep in some darkness during the day and his body clock seems to know when it’s time to get up or we give him a gentle nudge just in case he forgets.

African Pygmy Hedgehog Sleep problems

If the pygmy hedgehog doesn’t adjust to sleeping well, then you may have to take the hedgehog to visit the vet to see if there’s a problem, especially if the hedgehog is persistently coming out in the daytime for prolonged periods, this may indicate an underlying health problem.

Fortunately for us, Hynee only comes out when it’s dark and during the daytime, there are occasional shuffling noises but this is probably him adjusting himself in his sleep to be more comfortable.

Irritating smells?

Smells around the house may also be problematic to hedgehogs and some of the scents used may cause them irritation as they have a heightened sense of smell.

We don’t have any scents, candles (only used once to test for drafts), incense to even wearing strong perfume or aftershaves, as the smells of these can linger and can be upsetting for hedgehogs, especially in a confined space. 

When we cook, we keep the doors to our kitchen closed and open the windows in the kitchen during the cooking, allowing the smell to dissipate. Certain foods we are reluctant to cook like oily fish as these can leave a pungent odour for days, so my husband simply now buys the pre-steamed canned mackerel fillets which fortunately doesn’t upset the hedgehog or the rest of us with its pungent odour. 

There are a lot of people I know who have a poor sense of smell, some have lost their sense of smell and if these people had hedgehogs they wouldn’t know there was a pungent odour in the house, that could be troubling to a hedgehogs sense of smell.

When my daughter or I am going to paint our nails, we do so in the conservatory area which is enclosed and has plenty of windows to get the toxic nail varnish smells out.

Otherwise doing them in the same room as Hynee with the windows open will upset the temperature of the room or keeping the windows closed will make the toxic smell linger fall longer. This isn’t good for Hynee or for our health for that matter.

Poor sleeping set up?

Another reason why pygmy hedgehogs may not sleep well is their sleeping area hasn’t been set up correctly for them. We have a fleecy pouch on top of a heat mat inside a plastic house, allowing him plenty of space to snuggle in the pouch or if it’s a bit warmer, sleep on top of the pouch but still remain inside the perceived safety of his house.

With this setup, I believe some of the noise from the outside world becomes a little less bothersome, allowing him to carry on sleeping. We also have the cage at the back of our main room away from the road, so any noises from outside from the front of the house are lessened.

Bedding also makes a huge difference as if it’s not comfortable for the hedgehog this may lead to disturbed sleep. The fleece-lined fabric we use for bedding is perfect for Hynee to keep in snug and warm. The heat mat also has a fleecy cover which provides a snuggly feeling to the heat below.

Make sure any poop they may do in their sleeping area is removed promptly as the smell of their own poop may wake them up. I know, it sounds disgusting they may poop in their house but sometimes they can be a little bit lazy and not go outside of their house for a poop.

Hunger?

Is your hedgehog getting enough food and is he drinking enough water? If not, maybe the feelings of hunger or thirst are waking the hedgehog up. Hynee isn’t a gorger, he only eats what he needs to eat, so there’s always plenty of dry cat biscuits in his food bowl for him.

He also has a plentiful supply of water and we make absolutely sure each night, that his food and water haven’t been soiled by him as he moves around his cage.

He’s smart enough to be able to make a distinction between poop, pee and food, thereby any soiled water or food will simply be ignored, so changing the water each night is a must and removing any dried poop that’s fallen into his food bowl equally important too.

Cold

Maybe there’s a cold draft coming into the cage which from our standpoint isn’t apparent but at the hedgehog level, is creeping into their cage? Our cage is solid plastic with a metal grill, so any cold drafts would primarily come in from the top.

As Hynee sleeps in a plastic house in a pouch, the likelihood of any cold air permeating into his sleep set up would be highly unlikely but other cage designs may be less forgiving and allow cold in, so it’s always best to check to make sure there are no hidden cold drafts disrupting the sleep pattern of your hedgehog.

You can quite easily do this by using a candle and moving it around the side of the cage to see if there is any intense flickering, as this could point you to signs of cold drafty air. 

Related Questions

Is it normal for African Pygmy Hedgehogs to sleep a lot? Yes, African Pygmy hedgehogs like their European counterparts do sleep a lot in the daylight and come out in the darkness at night when they forage for food.

Do African Pygmy Hedgehogs sleep at night? No hedgehogs do not sleep at night, they sleep during the day as they are nocturnal. They come active at night and spend this time foraging for food and exploring, covering large distances relative to their small size.

Bal Kang

Hi I'm Bal together with my daughter Jinnee, we've created this website about African Pygmy Hedgehogs. We've learnt a lot looking after our hedgehog Hynee and share our knowledge, tips and tricks.

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