Caring for a hedgehog isn’t as daunting as it first seems. We’ve had our little hedgehog called Hynee for three years and he’s been an absolute joy to look after.
Top 10 Hedgehog Care Tips? Hedgehog care requires giving them a well balanced diet that includes dry cat food, cleaning their cage regularly, bathing them at least twice a month, respecting their nocturnal lifestyle, keeping them warm to getting their nails clipped when they become too long.
It’s essential to use the following tips to make sure hedgehogs get the best care.
1. Bathing hedgehogs twice a month
Hedgehogs end up getting dirty and smelling, it’s what they are good at, rummaging around the cage and doing their business wherever they like.
It can take time for owners to get used to the smell they create from their poop and urine ending up on their feet, legs and their belly, as they trundle along around their cage, so it’s important to establish a good bathing routine.
Bathing them too often will keep them cleaner but will most likely dry out their skin and cause the skin especially around their legs to crack. If this is not managed effectively, the cracked skin can lead to sores and possibly infections.
We bathe our hedgehog Hynee just twice a month with an average of two weeks between each bath. By adopting this routine, we haven’t noticed any skin flakes on his legs, that would indicate dry skin.
Measures to avoid dry skin also need to include some form of moisturising when they have their bath every two weeks. There are some commercial moisturising products like Aveeno but we have opted to use a simple homemade version.
By putting oats (oatmeal) in an old sock and leaving this to soak in the bathwater, releases compounds from the oats which are thought to be moisturising. There are also some views on these compounds being anti-inflammatory, thereby being soothing which is good if true.
Take care to ensure the oats are just nothing but oats and don’t contain any milk powder. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so drinking the bathwater with milk residues in it, will lead to an upset stomach or worse.
Bathing isn’t just filling up with water and washing the hedgehog, it’s several baths which progressively get deeper. The first bath has just enough warm water to cover the feet and its primary purpose is to soak the poop on their feet, making it easier to wipe off.
Pygmy hedgehogs will poop and pee a lot when bathing, some of it from relaxation and some of it from the reaction to being in the water. Our hedgehog Hynee initially starts pooping a lot and trying to get out of the bath but eventually, he settles.
Once the water has been changed (maybe once or twice more if needs to get rid of his poop), we’ll add the sock with oats in to soak into the water. This will be his final bath, where he’ll get the benefits of the oats moisturising capabilities, without us having to worry about any poop being in the water or being washed onto him.
Keep an eye on the water temperature as it can get cold very quickly from being warm and this is another reason why we have to keep changing the water in order to maintain it being warm enough.
2. Keep hedgehog cages clean
It’s good practice to establish a regular cleaning routine to keep a hedgehogs cage clean. Not only will this reduce the chances of getting any infections from the mess they leave but it will also keep the smell from their cage to more tolerable levels.
Believe me, for a small pet they poop a lot and this does smell a lot especially when it’s fresh. After the poop has dried, it doesn’t smell as much but there is still a lingering odour.
We established a cleaning routine early on to try to control the smell from the cage. Every night when Hynee wakes, we take in turns to remove any poop from the previous night.
We use a small portable vacuum cleaner and this sucks up the dried poop nicely. Some poop does get dried and stuck on the bedding but this is easily dislodged by using the front of the vacuum or by using your fingers. If we do handle his poop we always wash out hands afterwards.
In the middle of the week, we swap over his running wheel with a clean one. As he poops and pees as he’s on the running wheel, there’s a build-up of poop. The poop he steps in as he’s running ends up on his feet and legs, looking like little poop boots.
We try to remove the poop from his feet as we hold him but if it’s dried too much we have to give him a foot bath, where he Wade’s through a centimetre (a third of an inch) of water. This helps dislodge the poop, saving him from any discomfort or injury from having to run with poop on his feet.
We also change the bedding midweek as the smell of pee soaked into the bedding starts to become more apparent. At the end of each week, we do a full clean by taking everything out of the cage and scrubbing it clean with soapy water.
Taking care to rinse out any soapy residue as this can be upsetting to hedgehogs. The bedding is changed again, as well as his heat mat cover and the running wheel.
The heat mat cover doesn’t get as dirty as the bedding as he doesn’t seem to poop or pee in his house as much as outside. That said, he does do this sometimes, maybe because he’s disturbed by noise and is afraid to come out of his house but still needs to do his business.
3. Keep hedgehog nails trimmed
Hedgehog nails will need to be trimmed regularly as they can get snagged on their bedding and depending on their bedding become uncomfortable. Running with long nails on a running wheel can become uncomfortable for them and if it becomes too painful to use the running wheel, they may elect to not using it at all.
This wouldn’t be good for their physical and mental health if they missed out on the exercise benefits from using their running wheel.
We don’t trim Hynee’s nails yourself, we did try it but he can be a handful. At the time we tried he was a handful but maybe that was because he wasn’t as tame as now?
Oh well, we’ve established a routine at our vets where the veterinarian assistant will trim his nails every six months or so. The assistant uses a set of proper clippers which we don’t have so maybe that’s another reason we’re reluctant to trim his nails ourselves.
Make sure you tell whoever is trimming the nails, not to use any gloves that have been previously been used to handle other pets. Hynee went crazy the first time the veterinarian assistant tried to trim his nails.
The gloves she was using had been used to hold down a cat earlier, so no wonder Hynee was getting agitated, as he thought there was a cat near him. Fortunately, the gloves were removed and Hynee was calmed down by my daughter Jinnee.
It’s vitally important when cutting their nails not to go overboard and end up cutting off too much. Clipping them back as far as possible, could not only be painful for the hedgehogs but any open wounds left near the clipped nails could end up being infected.
4. Hedgehog Bonding is great
Just because they have spikes, hiss and bounce at you, doesn’t mean you can’t bond with them. I firmly believing bonding with them, helps them keep their stress levels down and as a result may help prolong their life as pets.
From when we first had Hynee to where he is now, is a remarkable change in his behaviour. He seems quite relaxed when he’s held and doesn’t put up a fight when we pick him up. He doesn’t run back into his house when he senses our presence while his feeding or on his running wheel. In fact most of the time he’ll stop, work out it’s us and carry on doing what he was doing.
Strange to think an animal renowned for being a loner and living a solitary lifestyle in the wild can actually form a bond with their owners. I owe most of Hynee’s ability to be relaxed with us, to my daughter who has spent a lot of time with him, where on most nights, she’s holding him, talking to him and getting him to play in his pen. This all adds up to some form of bonding, I don’t know exactly what it is but it’s working well for all of us.
We don’t have any other pets (my daughter Jinee’s allergies only made a hedgehog suitable) but if you do have other pets, try to keep them away from your hedgehog initially until both the hedgehog and the pet can get used to each other.
5. Hedgehogs need a well-balanced diet
The correct cat food can provide them with a balanced diet containing low fat and a good balance of protein. The dry cat biscuits are a good option with the indoor cat’s version being ideal as it contains less than 10% fat and less than 40% protein.
Obesity is a problem for hedgehogs as it can shorten their life span through a number of diseases. I’ve also seen prolapsed eyes (on a veterinarian TV show) where the excess fat from the obese hedgehog had pushed their eye out of the socket. There was no alternative other than to remove the hedgehog’s eye.
Care needs to be taken on feeding pygmy hedgehogs insects as feeding them insects regularly can lead to weight gain and obesity. Insects not only contain a lot of fat contributing to weight gain but also have a lot of phosphorus in their system.
This phosphorous when it enters the pygmy hedgehog’s system tries to combine with calcium already in the body, in effect leeching the calcium out of their body. A loss of calcium leads (leeching) to hedgehogs experiencing problems with their bones and many ends up with fractures and broken legs. Resulting in extreme pain and suffering for afflicted hedgehogs.
We only give meal worms very occasionally as too much of these are very bad for weight gain and calcium loss. Hynee loves mealworms so much he would gorge on them if given the opportunity, so two or three mealworms a week at most, is all he gets.
I’ve seen so many YouTube videos with hedgehogs eating mealworms in large quantities and I find that very troubling to watch. As these poor hedgehogs are being set up for health issues and the associated suffering from potential bone damage from calcium leaching.
If you are going to give the occasional insect to your hedgehog make sure it’s sensibly sourced from a pet shop and not an insect you’ve caught yourself or bought from a bait shop. As non-pet shop insects may have nasty microorganisms and bacteria in them, that could be harmful to hedgehogs.
6. Hedgehogs need regular exercise
Hedgehogs have evolved to forage for food over long distances each night, walking and running for several miles each night in the wild. This is important to consider when they are pets too as by nature they want to forage and explore at night, with the cage by itself not providing them with the space they need. The easiest way to compensate for the cage size and facilitate this is to put a running wheel in their cage.
Regular exercise using a running wheel doesn’t only provide physical health benefits but also keeps their mind active and stimulated. Hynee can happily trundle along on his running wheel for hours in the evening, coming off for food and water.
Hynee breaks into some serious running so it’s good to have a running wheel that’s not too noisy and to make sure it’s placed in such a way, that it doesn’t wobble banging into the cage sides or cause injury to the hedgehog.
We’ve placed a ping pong (table tennis ball) sized ball in his cage that has a little bell inside and makes a ringing noise like a bell when it’s moved. The noise isn’t loud just enough to get his attention and he does like to push the ball around with his nose.
There’s also a very small doll (made for hedgehogs) in his cage, it’s hedgehog proof and it’s there for him to move around and get mental stimulation in doing so, as he does with his ping pong sized ball. The doll is tough enough for a hedgehog to chew, scratch and kick around.
7. Hedgehogs need to be kept warm
Putting a hedgehog cage in a cold room isn’t a good idea, as the temperature in the cage falls rapidly. We have a big room at the back of our house that initially we thought would be fine for our hedgehog but this room even with heating is still cold in the winter months. In fact, during the colder months, we don’t use this room ourselves as it’s too cold for even us to sit or lounge around.
So for a hedgehog, it would be a dangerous room for them to reside in. Instead, our hedgehog lives with us in the main family room which is heated, with the heating coming on in the morning and early evening for a few hours a day, with the heating thermostat set to come on if the temperature drops below 64.5F (18C).
In an ideal environment the room where a hedgehog is housed, keeping the temperature between the ideal of 72F (22C) and 80F (26.5C) can be difficult as heating a room to stay between these temperatures can be expensive, especially if it’s throughout the day and night and across the year.
We have gas central heating and to keep the heating between these ideal temperatures over the colder months is prohibitively expensive. During the spring and summer months, the natural heat is adequate but some form of heating is required for the colder months.
Some owners tend to use a heat lamp to keep their hedgehog warm and these owners usually place their hedgehog in a vivarium, a glass-based cage. Plastic cage, on the other hand, is not suitable for heat lamps as there is a risk of fire, so if you have a plastic cage-like we do, then you could opt for a heat mat as we did.
We’ve placed the heat mat in his housing area so he can sleep on it, without the temperature falling below 72F (22C) as our heat mat has a thermostat linked to a thermometer placed inside the cage, so any changes in temperature automatically control the heat mat being on or switching itself off.
If you decide to opt for a heat lamp may be because you are going to use a vivarium to house your hedgehog, there are a few things to consider:
- make sure the heat lamp just emits heat and doesn’t emit any light, as the light will confuse the hedgehog and make them think it’s still daytime. This may limit them coming out to feed and exercise;
- the heat lamp needs to have a guard to protect the hedgehog from being burned as the heat lamp has a thermal bulb, and
- the heat lamp needs to be placed on top of the cage making sure it’s not near any plastic or wood, it can also be suspended from the top of the cage.
The right bedding makes a difference in keeping hedgehogs warm from the bedding on the cage floor providing some form of insulation to the cold, to the bedding in the housing area, providing a snug place to curl up and go to sleep.
We use fabric-based bedding that’s fleece lined and includes a sleeping pouch as part of the bedding set. The sleeping pouch is put on top of his heat mat in his igloo and he crawls inside to sleep when it’s very cold and sleeps on top of the sleeping pouch when it’s a little bit cold.
Other types of bedding such as newspapers and straw might not provide the insulation and heat retention that fabric-based bedding provides.
Hedgehogs prefer to be in temperatures of at least 72F (22C) and a few degrees less than this won’t do any harm as long as it’s for a short time but prolonged exposure to temperatures well below 72F (22C) could push a hedgehog into hibernation.
Unfortunately, pet hedgehogs don’t have enough fat reserves to survive African Pygmy hedgehogs as they have evolved in warmer climates and are not used to colder climates. Resulting in the possibility of falling into hibernation so most will probably end up starving to death or dying from hypothermia.
Keep an eye on the signs pointing to potential African Pygmy hedgehogs as they have evolved in warmer climates and are not used to colder climates. Resulting in the possibility of falling into hibernation from them being unable to stand up, unable to curl up, feeling cold to touch to being very lethargic.
If a pet hedgehog falls into hibernation they must be warmed up gently by wrapping them in a light blanket and using body heat from putting them next to the skin. As the blanket protects from their spines, they can be placed on to a person’s belly, to help get body heat to rouse them out of their hibernation state.
8. Nocturnal lifestyle is essential
A hedgehogs cage needs to be placed in an area where the hedgehog is aware of the change of daylight, so their nocturnal lifestyle is maintained. They will come out later in the evenings to forage and sleep for most of the day.
We have a spot in our house that’s warm but it’s always dark so we never put him there. Likewise, if hedgehogs are put in areas where it never gets dark enough, they may not come out as much and may possibly not use their running wheel.
As it gets dark, we know in an hour or two, our hedgehog Hynee will usually wake up and after he’s found his feet, he’ll come out of his house and start to eat. Within about ten minutes I’ll be able to hear his wheel spinning as he runs to his little heart’s content.
He can run on his wheel for a couple of hours and I’ve been watching a late-night movie in the adjacent room and I have heard him running for during the whole two hours of the movie, coming off his wheel to eat and drink every now and again.
The only downside to this, isn’t to Hynee but to me, as he’s running and pooping, with the fresh poop smell wafting across the rooms. Fresh poop smell isn’t as easy to stomach as the smell of dried up poop, that doesn’t smell so much.
It’s important the room the hedgehog is kept in, is dark at night and light in the daytime. If it’s not dark then the pygmy hedgehog may not come out as much at night, missing out on using their running wheel and suffering health-wise from a lack of exercise.
9. Regular check-ups are required
It’s important to get pets checked out by professionals like veterinarians on a regular basis and this applies to pet hedgehogs too. Regular check-ups can help in catching any problems early and getting treatment quickly.
Mites can be a problem for hedgehogs causing them distress from scratching leading to infection. Veterinarian professionals can provide treatments to eradicate mites but be careful in making sure your veterinarian has experience dealing with hedgehogs as some cat medicines they use can be toxic to hedgehogs.
10. Toxins must be kept away from hedgehogs
Pet hedgehogs can be sensitive to a number of products, chemicals, foods and some of these may be toxic to them.
Foods not suitable for pygmy hedgehogs must not be given to them as they can cause health problems, with some being fatal. Grapes, onions, raisins, celery, avocados are just a few foods causing potential organ damage including kidney and liver problems.
Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, giving them milk or other dairy products will cause them digestive problems. It’s quite ironic as many people leave milk for wild hedgehogs out at night.
Choosing the wrong bedding like cedar wood-based bedding is a bad choice as cedar wood is known to be toxic to hedgehogs and must be avoided at all costs. Odour free bedding may contain scents to mask the smell of hedgehogs and their poop but the scents may be distressing or worse still toxic to them.
Chemicals around the house may also be problematic from air fresheners to cleaning products and careful consideration needs to be made before using products such as using these near a hedgehog.
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