African Pygmy Hedgehogs are amazing creatures and can make excellent pets as we’ve found out. Everyday we seem to learn some new amazing facts about pygmy hedgehog.
Amazing African Pygmy Hedgehog facts? The African Pygmy Hedgehog is a mammal often confused as being a rodent instead of being a separate species. They have short spines for protection with fur covering their face and underside. They have small eyes, with a long snout and large ears, with excellent smell and hearing but poor eyesight.
Pygmy hedgehogs are unusual pets to keep and are steadily growing in popularity. They have many differences between themselves and other species which at first seem to be related.
Lets take a look at some pygmy hedgehog facts in detail in the rest of this article.
1. Nocturnal by nature
Are hedgehogs nocturnal? Pygmy hedgehogs are nocturnal by nature, they sleep during the day and come out at night. In the wild during the night they forage for food, covering large distances in their search.
When they are kept as pets they will still exhibit this nocturnal behaviour as they come out at night looking for food and then spending hours on their running wheels walking and running for miles. Eventually settling down to sleep when day breaks.
2. Live longer as pets
How long do pygmy hedgehogs live? In captivity when pygmy hedgehogs are kept as pets they live a lot longer compared to in the wild. As pets, they can live between 3 to 5 years on average with some living to 8 years or more. However, tumors can cut their lifespan considerably with sarcoma type tumors being popular around the age of 3.
In the wild, they have a lower life expectancy of a couple of years as their most likely cause of death is from predators.
For a small animal, their lifespan when kept as a pet is remarkable when you consider other pets of comparable size.
3. Sleep a lot
How long do pygmy hedgehogs sleep? Pygmy hedgehogs can sleep for as much as 18 hours a day. As they are nocturnal, they will come out at night to feed and play and spend the rest of their time sleeping.
This sleep is essential for them to function and helps promote their longevity. They like to sleep in dark places and when kept as pets suitable housing in their cage should provide them with a dark place to sleep. We have a plastic igloo house in the corner of our pygmy hedgehog’s ZooZone 2 cage.
4. Acute sense of smell
Do Hedgehogs have a sense of smell? Pygmy hedgehogs have an acute sense of smell and this is one of their primary senses in determining the world around them. Pygmy hedgehogs will constantly smell the air around them aswell as objects in their vicinity.
They have evolved this heightened sense of smell to compensate for their poor eyesight and allow them to hunt in the darkness in the wild.
We generally put our fingers near our hedgehog so he can work out who we are. Just remember to wash those fingers if you’ve been handling food as hedgehogs may think your fingers are dinner.
Their excellent sense of smell can also cause them distress if smells are dangerous like chemical, oils (from unsealed wood) to certain plants.
We painted our house recently and moved Hynee out of his room to an upstairs bedroom so he wouldn’t get distressed from the paint fumes. We also bought a low odour paint to try to minimise any smells seeping around the house.
5. Excellent hearing
Do hedgehogs have good hearing? Pygmy hedgehogs have excellent hearing and this another sense that’s well developed in pygmy hedgehogs. They have large ears in proportion to their body size and this allows them to hear potential food or predators in the wild from distance.
Our pygmy hedgehog flinches at most noises he’s not used to and once he’s reassured, he’s a bit more relaxed with the sound. We’ve found talking to him, makes him more relaxed when we’re around him. He’s also got used to the other daily sounds around him, like the early morning barking of our neighbors dog.
6. Poor eyesight
Do Hedgehogs have poor eyesight? African Pygmy hedgehogs have poor eyesight, sometimes they are mistaken for being blind but this is not the case. Pygmy hedgehogs have small beady like eyes and these allow them to see outlines and shadows but not detail of their surroundings, and they have poor depth perception, so can fall off ramps.
It doesn’t matter too much to pygmy hedgehogs having poor eyesight as in the wild they would normally come out at night when it’s dark. With poor visibility at night, pygmy hedgehogs have evolved to be able to forage and hunt in the darkness. Their poor eyesight is compensated by their heightened sense of smell and excellent hearing,
They also have limited depth perception so it’s important to make sure they are not put in a position where they can fall, like ramps without protections on the side.
They are not great at finding their way around by sight and tend to detect movement so might not be able to see the object in detail but can see if it’s moving.
Even when it’s dark in the room and I move towards his cage, he’ll stop what he’s doing and the closer I get he’ll start hissing and then curl up. If I stand there for a while and he picks up my scent, he’ll get up and carry on what he’s doing even if I get closer to the cage as he knows it’s me from my scent and I present no threat to him.
Are hedgehogs in the rodent family? African Pygmy hedgehogs are not related to the rodent family, instead they are part of their own distinct family. They belong to the sub-family Erinaceinae, in the eulipotyphlan family Erinaceidae.
People mistake pygmy hedgehogs as being rodents but they are not part of the rodent family. Instead, they are more related to shrews and have evolved their own distinct lineage. Porcupines are large rodents and this could be why many people assume hedgehogs are rodents too, as both are spiny mammals.
8. Cage or vivarium?
What do you keep a pygmy hedgehog in? African pygmy hedgehogs can be kept in a cage or a vivarium, that are at least 3 feet long and 2 feet wide. Keeping their environment warm between 72F (22C) and 80F (26.5C) is essential to stop them going into hibernation.
We keep our pygmy hedgehog in a cage (see more here) with enough space from him to move around in. We keep our hedgehog’s house warm using a heat mat pad and this keeps the temperature between 72F (22C) and 80F (26C).
Vivariums need to have good ventilation so pygmy hedgehogs can breathe easily, with heating provided by using heat lamps.
9. Eat cat food
When kept as pets, pygmy hedgehogs staple diet is cat food with the dry cat biscuit variety extremely popular.
The dry cat biscuits are an excellent well-balanced food source as they provide a low fat and good protein-based diet.
The indoor variety of dried cat biscuits works best as these are designed for sedentary cats, that is cats that hardly go outside. To compensate for their sedentary nature the cat biscuits are designed to give them just enough energy without making them gain unnecessary weight. This makes these cat biscuits an excellent choice for pygmy hedgehogs.
Some dry cat biscuits are a bit fattier and can be used as treats. These biscuits should only be used in moderation as they can have more than 20% fat content.
They also can eat wet cat food (canned cat food) in moderation as a treat every now and then.
10. Eat vegetables
Certain vegetables are fine for pygmy hedgehogs to eat but some vegetables can be toxic and fatal if consumed.
Vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, Romaine lettuce, cucumber, courgettes (zucchini) and swedes are good vegetables for them to eat.
Vegetables like onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic can cause digestive problems and in exceptional cases be fatal.
11. Eat fruit
Certain fruit can be safe for pygmy hedgehogs to eat. Fruit such as apples, pears, bananas, strawberries and honeydew melon are considered to be fine.
As fruit contains a lot of natural sugar, fruit should only be given in moderation as it can lead to obesity and associated health problems.
Grapes, raisins, avocados, pineapple, oranges and lemons are dangerous fruits to give to pygmy hedgehogs. These fruits should be avoided as they are a serious risk to their health.
12. Walk several miles a night
Can a hedgehog run? African Pygmy hedgehogs can run and walk for several miles a night in the wild with some estimates of nine miles being common. As a pet, pygmy hedgehogs can use running wheels to run for equivalent large distances to keep them healthy.
The distances covered are large distances in relation to their body size are part and parcel of their nightly foraging for food.
When kept as pets, it’s absolutely essential they can keep up their long-distance walking and running behaviour. As this will keep them fit and healthy, especially when combined with a well-balanced feeding regime.
Having a running wheel is essential for giving them the ability to walk and run for long comparative distances.
I’ve set up an infra-red camera on top of his cage, allowing us to record Hynee at night. By checking the timestamps on the pictures it’s easy to see him doing a stop/start stint on his running wheel for about four hours.
He’ll run for about fifteen minutes, coming off his wheel for some water or some food. With four hours being some walking and running.
13. Curl up into a ball
Why do hedgehogs curl up? Pygmy hedgehogs curl up for protection with their spikes up to stop any harm coming to them. This protects their delicate furry underside from being injured. They also curl up when they go to sleep, evolving this as a way to stay safe whilst asleep.
When they go to sleep they also curl up into a ball. This behaviour probably evolved to keep them safe when they are asleep and allow the fur to keep their face and feet warm.
14. Hibernate if it gets too cold
Do hedgehogs hibernate as pets? Pet African Pygmy Hedgehogs will hibernate if it becomes too cold. Hibernating is considered dangerous for them as they simply won’t have enough fat reserves to survive hibernation, leading to them dying as a result of starvation. The cold itself can cause hypothermia, again causing them to die.
Larger European hedgehogs can hibernate safely as they can build up sufficient reserves. The small size of African Pygmy Hedgehogs may be a distinct disadvantage combined with their diet when kept as pets when it comes to hibernation as they tend not to have enough fat reserves.
15. Make hissing sounds
What noise does hedgehog make? Pygmy hedgehogs make many different sounds depending on how they feel. From chirpy purring type, noises to show contentment to hissing when they feel threatened.
Even now our hedgehog Hynee still hisses when he’s not happy with us or if he doesn’t know if there’s danger or a friend nearby.
When he first arrived at our house, he would hiss a lot and this was because he was in unfamiliar surroundings with strangers. Over the following months, as he became familiar with his surroundings and the people around him, his hissing subsided.
16. Jump and bounce
Why is my hedgehog jumping? Pygmy hedgehogs will start to jump if the potential threat they are hissing at gets too close for comfort. Pygmy hedgehogs can even do this when they are curled up in a ball and remain curled up in a ball as they bounce. It almost looks like there’s some form of spring underneath them that’s causing them to bounce.
Sometimes when we’ve tried to pick him up and he doesn’t want to be picked up. He’ll bounce at us, then curl up and when we try again, he’ll bounce again. This is obviously a protective measure they evolved to try to warn or even injure any predator who gets too close.
17. Good swimmers
Can pygmy hedgehogs swim? Pygmy hedgehogs can swim even though they have evolved in dry climates. Swimming instinctively may be used as protectionary measure or when kept as pets, pygmy hedgehogs may enjoy the sensation of floating on water.
I’ve never seen our hedgehog try to swim when we’ve given him a wash, but we only put enough water in the bath to be level with the underside of this body.
Maybe if we put him in the bath with a sufficient amount of water, he may then try to swim but we’ll definitely be at hand should he experience any difficulties, if we ever try to do this.
18. Bite when scared
Even as pets pygmy hedgehogs can still bite if they are distressed but the likelihood of this diminishes if a good bond between the owner and pygmy hedgehog is established.
Due to their poor eyesight, if they can smell food they will tend to try to eat it, and if there is the smell of food on their owner’s fingers, they may bite as they mistake their owner’s fingers for food. It’s essential to wash your hands after you’ve handled any food including hedgehog food before trying to pick them up.
When my daughter picks up Hynee, sometimes she’d forget to clean her hands after handling his food and placing the cat biscuits into his feeding bowl. When Hynee smelt the food on her fingers he couldn’t distinguish between her fingers and his food, he just saw an opportunity to eat and so tried to eat the food, ending up biting her fingers.
He drew blood and fortunately after a few tears and plaster, my daughter learnt an important lesson. Fortunately, we were all up to date with our jabs, so there was no need to panic.
Another time we saw the ferocious ability of Hynee when we took him to the vet for his nails to be clipped and the assistant held him using gloves which had previously been used to hold a cat.
This distressed Hynee as he thought there was a predator and he tried to bite the glove over and over again. My daughter asked if the glove had been used for another animal and after this was confirmed, the decision was taken for my daughter to hold Hynee instead and she managed to calm him down.
19. Furry underneath
They’re not just spikes and spines, they also have fur clearly visible on their underside and on their face. The fur can help them stay warm when they are curled up in a ball.
Fur also makes it easier to hold pygmy hedgehogs without getting hurt from their spikes and once a hedgehog is trusting enough not to ball up, it makes it easier to pick them up with your hands.
20. Omnivorous diet
Their diet is considered omnivorous as they eat both meat and plants.
Insects are their favourite feeding on mealworms, crickets when kept as pets and on other insects like spiders in the wild. Many consider them to be insectivores as they eat more insects in the wild but they are also prone to eating small lizards and small frogs too.
21. Purr sounds
When pygmy hedgehogs are relaxed especially when held they’ll make purring noises to show their contentment.
I’ve noticed when my daughter Jinnee is holding him in her hands and he’s snuggled up, the faint purring sound emanates from his little mouth.
22. Cheeping sounds for attention
Hynee makes a cheeping sound when he’s hungry or wants to eat. Sometimes we’ve picked him up when he really wants to eat and he’s made a faint cheeping noise to get our attention that he’s hungry.
23. Scream in distress
When under severe distress or pain, pygmy hedgehogs are known to make a screaming noise.
This isn’t the type of noise any pet owner needs to hear and urgent medical advice should be sought if they start to scream. Fortunately, we have not experienced this unsettling noise.
24. Love burrowing
Pygmy hedgehogs love to burrow using the head to push obstacles out of their way. They burrow to find a place to hide as well as to explore and forage for food.
With our hedgehog Hynee, we’ll turn over a fleecy fabric sheet, folding it in half. Hynee then tries to find the edge by pushing his nose in between the two pieces. Pushing it open allowing him to burrow and hide inside the sheet.
We also have a plastic tube and a fabric-based tunnel and he loves to burrow into both of them. With the fabric tunnel also being a favoured place for him to sleep.
25. Solitary animals
Are hedgehogs solitary? Pygmy hedgehogs are solitary animals and can quite happily live alone for years. This makes them an easy pet to look after as you don’t have to worry too much about them having any company from their own kind.
It’s not advisable to keep two or males together in the same cage, as it’s not practical with the cage size and more importantly male hedgehogs are territorial and will fight each other.
A male and female hedgehog stand a better chance of getting along than two males but if the female hedgehog becomes pregnant, it’s advisable to keep the male away. As otherwise having a male hedgehog in the same cage as a mother and her babies may stress out the female, leading to her eating her offspring. More likely the male hedgehog could also end up eating the offspring.
Mother and daughter hedgehogs can get along as long as the daughter isn’t reliant on her mother for food, that is milk and can feed herself.
26. Love to gorge
Pygmy hedgehogs can get obese very quickly by regularly gorging on the wrong types of food.
Insects with mealworms, in particular, being quite fattening can easily push them to obesity it not controlled and minimized to a few small servings once or twice a week. Unfortunately, when insects are put in front of pygmy hedgehogs they can’t stop themselves from gorging on them.
Insects especially mealworms are comparable to what candy is like to humans. With moderate amounts being fine, with anything more causing weight gain.
Obese pygmy hedgehogs will have problems curling up completely into a ball or when they do, their legs will stick as their fat pushes their legs out.
27. Poop when moving
Do hedgehogs poop when they run? Pygmy hedgehogs poop when they move to leave a trail of fresh poop behind them as they walk and run. When they use a running wheel, they poop as they walk and run. This poop ends up landing on the running wheel and as the wheel is moving, the poop is flung off the wheel and ends up around their wheel.
If they step on any of the poop as they walk, this builds up on their feet to form what looks like little boots, little poop boots.
In the wild, as they have moved away from where their poop settles they are less likely to walk through their own poop. However, on a running wheel, the poop falls onto the wheel and either sticks to the wheel surface or ends up being flung off.
Any poop will need to be cleaned off regularly and by allowing hedgehogs to wade through some warm water, and poop can be gently rubbed off.
Is a hedgehog hypoallergenic? Pygmy hedgehogs are generally considered hypoallergenic as they produce very little dander. It’s this limited dander which is believed to make people less likely to be allergenic to them.
Dander is tiny flakes of skin appearing on the body, as opposed to dandruff, tiny flakes of skin appearing on the scalp. For hedgehogs, any dander would appear on their body fur and not on their spikes.
29. Baby spikes
When they are born they have baby spikes. These baby spikes aren’t as strong as adult spikes and don’t hurt as much when touched. As they grow these baby spikes get replaced by the tougher adult spikes which do sting and hurt if the hedgehog isn’t handled with care.
30. Eat their babies
Do hedgehogs eat their babies? It’s not uncommon for female pygmy hedgehogs to eat their babies. They can do this for a number of reasons, with many finding pregnancy stressful or even nursing the baby hedgehogs stressful. When they can’t cope with this stress they can eat their babies.
They can also eat their babies if they think the baby won’t survive, maybe the baby has some deformity (visible or hidden).
Some will eat their offspring if they are not the maternal type, where they become stressed from having offspring they didn’t want.
To keep their stress levels down, male pygmy hedgehogs should be kept out of the same cage as pregnant or mother’s with babies.
When we first went to see Hynee, the breeder told us not to stress out the mother with any sudden movements. Because they said this may cause stress and make her eat her three babies of which Hynee was one.
31. Lactose intolerant
Are hedgehogs lactose intolerant? Milk is not a good idea for pygmy hedgehogs as they are naturally lactose intolerant. If they are given any milk or dairy product they will eat and drink it but will suffer from digestion problems later. Their bodies are unable to break down the lactose in the milk.
Lactose is a sugar and an enzyme called Lactase is required to break this sugar down, pygmy hedgehogs don’t have this enzyme, making it painful for them to digest the lactose in the milk.
It’s vitally important to check foods given to hedgehogs for dairy, for example, some cat biscuits contain milk, the cooked chicken may have been cooked in butter.
32. Prone to diabetes
When a pygmy hedgehog becomes overweight or worse still obese, they can start to exhibit the diseases associated with weight gain, with diabetes being a possible infliction.
Tell-tale signs of diabetes may be increased thirst, so keeping an eye on their water bowls and the amount of water being drunk is important. They will need to be checked by a vet if diabetes is suspected.
It is best to keep them on a high protein, a low-fat diet with plenty of exercises using a running wheel. Protein should not exceed 40% and fat should be below 10%. Occasional treats with more fat content are fine as long as it is carefully monitored and doesn’t become part of their staple diet.
33. Poop stinks
Pygmy hedgehogs poop does stink especially when it’s fresh and being pooped out. However, when the poop begins to dry up, the smell dissipates too and only a very faint smell of poop remains. As they do poop a lot, the smell can take time for owners to get used to.
Fortunately, as they poop when they are awake in the night, the smell of fresh poop will have disappeared by the morning.
Indoor dry cat biscuits can help a little in their diet to reduce some of the smell. As too with a regular cleaning routine, of removing the poop on a daily basis with a full weekly cage clean.
Bathing the hedgehog twice a month can remove any lingering smells. As poop tends to get stuck to their feet and fur as they walk through it.
34. Different personalities
Pygmy hedgehogs develop their own personalities, some can be happy go lucky, others groggy and miserable.
They are naturally solitary creatures but this doesn’t necessarily equate to them being shy and spending time bonding with your pygmy hedgehog can make more them amiable to their owners.
35. Like to cuddle
When they are relaxed, they let their spines down and stop hissing and shaking. Their heartbeat drops and their breathing becomes slower. When my daughter Jinnee holds Hynee in her hands, he totally relaxes and cuddles up in her hands.
On many occasions he’s been so relaxed he’s fallen asleep. I think too he enjoys the warming hear from Jinnee’s hands, acting like a heater for him to stay all snuggled up
36. Goofy front teeth
When I’ve got close up to Hynee, he looks a little goofy with his teeth protruding slightly. I’ve also noticed these teeth from the side sometimes too and it simply doesn’t flatter him.
Here’s a picture of Hynee with his teeth showing. It doesn’t really capture him in his best light.
Bonus Fact – African Pygmy Hedgehogs are not rodents
People mistake pygmy hedgehogs as being rodents but they are not part of the rodent family. Instead, they are more related to shrews and have evolved their own distinct lineage.
Hedgehogs are not even related to porcupines, even though both animals have some form of quills. In fact, porcupines are classed as rodents and are one of the larger species of rodent.
Why do African Pygmy Hedgehogs anoint? Self-anointing is done when African Pygmy Hedgehogs encounter a new smell. It is believed this is a self-defence mechanism to mask themselves using their own scent.
Is it illegal to own an African Pygmy Hedgehog? Yes, in some countries and jurisdictions it is illegal to own an African Pygmy Hedgehog as they are considered a predator to the local ecosystem.