When people see our African Pygmy Hedgehog Hynee, they are captivated at seeing a hedgehog as a pet. We spent some time looking into keeping a pygmy hedgehog before we chose to go down the route of buying one.
Do African Pygmy Hedgehogs make good pets? African Pygmy Hedgehogs are good pets because they are hypoallergenic so good for people with pet allergies, easy to look after, require very little attention from their owners, eat cheap food, only need a running wheel for exercise and their cages are reasonably priced.
We’ve compiled a list below on why we think pygmy hedgehogs are good pets and why they may not be suitable for some people as they are indeed different from many common pets people have and this may not be appealing to all.
1. Pygmy Hedgehogs are hypoallergenic
The main reason we decided on getting an African Pygmy hedgehog was because of my daughter’s allergies, with other pets like cats and dogs she would get an instant reaction, leading to itching and rashes.
However, when she first handled a pygmy hedgehog there was no reaction and there’s never been a reaction since. She holds the hedgehog most nights and he sits in her hands, so she has a lot of contact with him, even so, she doesn’t exhibit any signs of reaction to him.
The main reasoning for this lack of reaction is the pygmy hedgehog is considered to be hypoallergenic. Other pets like cats and dogs produce a lot of dander and pygmy hedgehogs produce hardly any dander, and it’s this dander which is associated with allergic reactions, as the more dander present, the more likelihood of a reaction in some people.
Dander is very small flakes of dead skin occurring on the body as opposed to dandruff, which are very small flakes of dead skin occurring on the scalp. Dander occurs in pets with fur and feathers but the amount of dander an animal produces varies considerably.
Pygmy hedgehogs produce very little dander and this is believed to be the main reason why they may not cause as many allergies compared to other pets.
Some people can show no allergy to pygmy hedgehogs but show an allergic reaction to their poop or urine, which has ended up on their fur. So when the pygmy hedgehog is picked up there’s a reaction as there’s contact with remnants of their poop and pee from their fur.
2. Easy to look after
African pygmy hedgehogs are solitary animals and don’t need as much human contact as other pets. As long as they have space, a dark place to sleep (and hide), an exercise wheel, a few toys, quality food and clean water, there’s not much more looking after them.
Every night we put in a few cat biscuits in his feeding bowl and change the water in his drinking bowl, so it’s fresh and clean each night. That’s it, he’ll wake up and eat little, run on his running wheel, eat and drink a little and repeat, till he’s tired and wants to go to bed.
They need space, a minimum of 3 feet by 2 feet with more being better. A large-sized cage or vivarium should be adequate to provide them with the space they need to forage. The cage size needs to take into consideration what other items are in the cage, like their housing, exercise wheel, feeding & drinking bowls and even if a litter tray.
Most of the time they will be asleep in their house, we have a plastic igloo to house our hedgehog Hynee.
Leave alone for a few days
We have friends with a dog and see the stress they go through trying to find somewhere to accommodate him when they are getting ready to go on holiday. We don’t have the same issue on short trips as we can leave Hynee alone for a few days, as long as there are a spare water bowl and enough food, he’s fine.
Anything longer than a few days, like our recent trip to Vegas, we had to leave him with a good friend of ours. When they look after Hynee, they take him out of his cage every night and let him roam around.
This is reassuring for my daughter Jinnee as she always worries Hynee doesn’t get enough stimulation and doesn’t want him to be by himself for the duration. For me, this isn’t a worry as they are solitary creatures but sometimes putting someone’s mind at ease is more important.
It’s vital to appreciate there are laws about the protection of animals that could mean leaving an animal by itself is an offence. As the animal could be considered to be in danger so it makes sense to check whether there’s any such law or restriction where you live before deciding to leave the pygmy hedgehog home alone.
3. Are affectionate when tamed
If you want a pet you can cuddle like a cat or a dog then pygmy hedgehogs may not be a good choice for you. Don’t get me wrong pygmy hedgehogs are capable of being affectionate in their own way but this takes time.
My daughter Jinnee spent a lot of time building a bond with Hynee, to the point now where when she picks him up, he is relaxed in her hand and is totally calm. Sometimes making a chirping purring sound for contentment. He’ll sometimes put his head down and fall asleep.
Other times Jinnee will rub his belly fur and he will be totally content, so even though pygmy hedgehogs have spikes they can still give you a cuddle with only a small area spike free area which is their underside to cuddle with.
When we first had him he was quite grumpy and didn’t want to be picked up or handled in any way. Which isn’t surprising as he was in a strange environment with strange smells and was probably a little anxious and fearful of us, but over time he has become remarkably tame and affectionate.
I find his spikes quite painful so I tend to let him sit on my palms or sit down in my lap and to me, that’s good enough for a cuddle, as holding him the way Jinnee holds him would be too excruciatingly painful.
4. Are nocturnal but this isn’t a problem
Some people buy pygmy hedgehogs without realising they are nocturnal and this comes as a complete surprise to them. I’ve read so many newspaper stories about pygmy hedgehogs being abandoned at hedgehog sanctuaries because people didn’t want a pet that only comes out at night.
I’m surprised at how some people can buy a pet without first doing a little bit of homework to try and find out the basics. For us, we had already done our research and knew they were nocturnal and that they would come late in the evening. This didn’t bother us, as having some time with the pygmy hedgehog was better than having no time at all.
We’ve got used to our hedgehog’s nocturnal lifestyle and we spend plenty of quality time with him in the late evening. Getting used to a pygmy hedgehogs nocturnal nature isn’t too difficult as long as you’re aware they wake up in the late evening, so time with them could be limited depending on your own sleeping arrangements.
Young children may go to bed early so probably miss out on time with a pygmy hedgehog, for us, as Jinnee goes to bed around 9.30 pm, Hynee getting up just after 8 pm or sometimes 8.30 pm wasn’t a problem. After he’d eaten she could quickly do the poop removal cleaning and on weekends as she stayed up later, she could help with the full cage clean.
Midweek cleaning was dependent on the time Hynee got up, if it was later than usual, then I would do the midweek clean otherwise it would be Jinnee’s responsibility.
Bringing them out in the daytime to suit your own lifestyle isn’t a good idea as this disruption to their sleep is not welcome. They may be extremely lethargic when woken up outside of their normal and this may cause them additional unwelcome stress. How would you feel if you were woken up during your normal sleep time, exactly how a hedgehog would feel too.
Sometimes we tend to coax him out a little by putting very small pieces of chicken (roasted with no seasoning or oils) outside his house. The smell will lure him out, as he’s normally coming out of his deep sleep. This wouldn’t work in the daytime when he’s flat out fast asleep.
Other times, when we hear movement from his house, we kind of help him wake up, by removing his igloo house and his sleeping pouch but making sure the light in the room is dim.
He takes a few minutes to work out his bearings and then makes a b-line straight for his food. Once he’s eaten, we’ll give him about ten minutes, so he can do his business and one of us will pick him up and take him to a pen or just hold him for a while.
5. Not too expensive to buy
Pygmy hedgehogs are not too expensive and it’s important to remember they are an exotic pet, so when compared to the costs of other exotic pets, they are fairly reasonably priced. Some other non-exotic pets especially some cats and dogs depending on the breed can be expensive too.
We paid about $350 for Hynee and we could probably have bought a pygmy hedgehog cheaper from another breeder but we chose a reputable breeder and hence paid the higher price.
Reputable breeders are essential to make sure the pygmy hedgehog hasn’t been neglected, hurt or been in an environment where they could have picked up infections, mites or ailments or experienced inbreeding. Just as important is to know that the pygmy hedgehog’s parents have also not faced bad breeding conditions, as their health is just as important as the offspring.
Finding a good breeder can be as simple as word of mouth, reviews from real owners or if where you live requires a license to breed pygmy hedgehogs then the licensing authority could provide a list of reputable breeders.
Just being a licensed breeder doesn’t necessitate being a reputable breeder as the standards used by licensing authorities across regions may vary. However, a bit of research and common sense could hopefully weed out the chancers out to make a few bucks.
6. Owning one has low start-up costs
Once a pygmy hedgehog has been bought, they will need a few essential items including a cage, a house, heating, an exercise wheel, toys, bowls for feeding and drinking. A litter tray is optional as we found these take up too much space and if you have an exercise wheel, they poop while running on this, so most of the poop is flung out in all directions.
A decent-sized cage is a must with enough room for a pygmy hedgehog to move around in easily and with space for housing, heating, exercise wheel, feeding bowls and a few toys
A pygmy hedgehog needs a safe place to hide and sleep. We have a plastic igloo house and a sleeping pouch, where he can go and sleep in relative peace and quiet.
Pygmy hedgehogs need to be kept warm as they could slip into torpor, a hibernation-like state if they get too cold. A good heating source is essential to keep their cage within the safe temperature zone of 72F (22C) and 80F (26.5C).
The whole cage doesn’t have to be heated if the room they are in is reasonably warm but where they sleep needs to be within these temperatures of 72F (22C) and 80F (26.5C).
Exercise is essential for pygmy hedgehogs to main their health both pygmy hedgehog physically and mentally. We have put an exercise wheel in Hynee’s cage and he runs on this every night.
The exercise keeps him stimulated and makes sure he doesn’t end up putting on too much weight by burning off calories. In the wild they will travel long distances each night foraging for food, so instinctively they have evolved to seek food out.
We also have a few toys in his cage with a little doll and a ball with a bell in it. The ball makes a noise every time he bumps into it, making him aware of what’s around him. The doll is hard-wearing and I think he may occasionally chew on it.
7. Low on-going costs
The on-going costs to keep a pygmy hedgehog aren’t excessive and after the initial costs of the pygmy hedgehog and the start-up costs have been made, the on-going costs can be relatively inexpensive.
To keep Hynee warm we use a heat mat on top of which we have placed his igloo house along with a sleeping pouch inside, so when he goes into the sleeping pouch, the heat from the heat mat keeps him warm.
The heat mat costs a couple of cents a day in electricity to run and with its thermostat control, the heat mat automatically comes on, should the temperature drop below 72F(22C) and 80F(26.5C), so it’s not on constantly throughout the day, as our own heating comes on in the daytime.
There’s also a thermometer in the cage, that provides temperature information to the thermostat, so the thermostat is aware of when to switch on the heat mat and when to switch it off.
We can use a heat mat as the only source of heating in the cage because the room temperature is set not to fall below a minimum temperature. If it does get slightly below this temperature, the central heating thermostat fires up the heating to bring the temperature back up.
If the pygmy hedgehog is kept in a colder room, a vivarium and heat lamp should be used, ideally a ceramic heat emitter (one that doesn’t emit light just heat). I would also put a heat mat in the sleeping area just to try to reduce the risks of hibernation.
As this will keep the vivarium warm enough for the pygmy hedgehog. Just make sure they have a sleeping pouch that’s fleece lined in their housing as the ceramic heat emitter lamp might not be able to keep the inside of their house warm as the rest of the cage. The fleece-lined sleeping bag will give them a cosy, warming place to snuggle into.
As they age pygmy hedgehogs get less resistant to cold and need to be looked after better. This means not only keeping them warm but keeping an eye on them for signs of hibernation.
I think we will change from our plastic cage to a vivarium when Hynee gets to four years old and put in a ceramic heat emitter and a heat mat for this sleeping area. This will give us reassurance that wherever he goes in the cage, there’s warmth.
Incidentally, the electricity used to run a heat mat compared to a ceramic heat emitter vary considerably but it’s still relatively inexpensive. The heat mat uses about 10 watts of electricity an hour and ceramic heat emitter uses between 100 watts to 150 watts an hour, equating to a ten to fifteen times higher usage of electricity used to power a ceramic heat emitter than a heat mat.
However even with the difference in the cost of electricity of using either a heat mat or ceramic heat emitter, they’re both still cheap to keep pygmy hedgehogs warm, so you could have a combination of heat mat and ceramic heat emitter, or two heats mats or two ceramic heat emitters and the cost will still be reasonable.
Bedding can be cheap as we found out by using fleece-lined blankets which can be re-used and bedding can also be a regular expense especially when bedding needs to be disposed of and replaced regularly, leading to a regular cost of having to buy more bedding.
Bedding consisting of pellets are for one-time use only and once it’s dirty with poop and urine, it needs to be thrown away and replaced.
With fleece-lined blanket bedding, we have brought two sets so we change them midweek and weekly. They are cleaned by putting them into the washing machine with a mild detergent. This makes it not only cheaper but also environmentally friendly compared to other types of bedding.
Newspapers can be used for bedding and this can be a cheap way of providing bedding but I think this type of bedding isn’t warming and doesn’t soak up urine or water, leaving cold puddles. I’m not keen on the idea of our hedgehog running in cold puddles as he forages for food in his cage.
Food is cheap
Food cost is really cheap as they eat dry cat biscuits and these cost a few dollars a box and last for ages. We also give him the food we would normally eat, so when we are having chicken, we’ll give him a few pieces cut up really small. We make sure the chicken isn’t seasoned or cooked with oils or any dairy products like butter.
When we eat fruit or vegetables too, sometimes we put a small piece aside for when Hynee wakes up and chop this up into very small pieces (some fruits will need to be peeled first) and leave this near his food bowl. When he wakes up, he’ll smell the food and come out to investigate.
We try to serve him other foods under supervision, so we can be reassured the food hasn’t caused a problem like choking, whilst the cat biscuits are safe enough for him to eat at any time.
They love insects and these should only be given as a treat, as we do by giving Hynee two or three mealworms at most a week. This is because insects are very fattening and some insects upset the balance of calcium in the hedgehog’s body, leeching this out and causing the hedgehog’s bones to weaken and break, leading to misery and pain.
We take Hynee to vets once a year for a check-up and this doesn’t cost much. There’s no regular medicines, shots or vaccinations we have to have done, so another cost-saving.
We pay for the veterinarians assistant to trim Hynee’s nails every six months and that costs about $15. We could do it ourselves but none of us is brave enough to do it, so we made a collective decision to get the veterinarians assistant to do it. I think we’re scared of trimming his nails too deep and causing him pain.
We’ve read any cuts too deep can lead to infections and at least if the veterinarian’s assistant did this by mistake, they’d have access to medicines to limit any possible infection.
Veterinarian costs can be expensive so anything other than check-ups could be costly as pygmy hedgehogs are exotic pets and specialism in them is limited. Some vets may not have the experience or knowledge to deal with them and may actually put the pygmy hedgehog at risk by using drugs that are safe for other pets but cause an adverse reaction to pygmy hedgehogs.
8. Messy pets but manageable
Yes, they can be messy but as long as you’re on top of keeping their cage clean and giving them a bath, this is not going to be a big problem as we have found to our benefit. We haven’t found cleaning the cage or our hedgehog a laborious task as we have established a routine for both and made sure we share the workload.
We all help in the cleaning, so whilst Jinnee cleans out the cage, my husband washes down the exercise wheels to remove the stubborn dried up poop and I clean out the feeding and drinking bowls, and put the dirty bedding in for a wash.
Not only does a pet give a level of responsibility to a child but it can also allow a child and parent to bond even more, as I know Jinnee and her dad have a great time giving Hynee a bath.
We have a fortnightly bathing routine as bathing more regularly could cause their skin to dry, leading to splits in the skins and infections. Most of the cleaning concentrate on removing their ‘poop boots’ as poop builds up on their feet from running in it during using their exercise wheel and it hardens on their feet.
They also get poop stuck to their fur and the urine soaks into their fur too, but a gentle soak in a warm bath should suffice in getting them clean. We use an old sock with oats in and put this in the bathwater before we put him in, allowing the moisturising effects of the oats to spread in the water.
Hopefully, the oats moisturising effect keeps his skin moisturised and minimises the effects of the dryness from the bathing. Other moisturizers can also be added to the bathwater instead of using oats.
Cage cleaning routine
We have three different ways of cleaning the cage, with a nightly ‘light touch’ approach to remove any poop and refill his bowls for food and clean water. A midweek routine to also change his bedding and the exercise wheel. Followed by a weekly full clean where everything is taken out of the cage and the cage is given a good scrub down.
We’ve found this routine helps keep the smell from Hynee’s cage to tolerable levels, especially as pygmy hedgehog’s poop and urine does smell and allowing this to build up can become intolerable. Some people may use bedding that can mask the smell, such as bedding with super absorbent pellets or bedding with odour control (usually a scent could be irritating to a pygmy hedgehog).
Using a litter tray is another option to try to confine the smell but a litter tray takes up valuable cage space and doesn’t really compensate for the poop flung out from the exercise wheel as they are running for several hours a night.
African Pygmy Hedgehogs are hypoallergenic, easy to look after, don’t cost as much as other pets when it comes to caring and the associated costs such as cages, heating etc. It’s also easy to get used to their nocturnal nature where they sleep all day and come out at night.
How long can African Pygmy Hedgehogs go without food? The general consensus is they can survive around ten days without food and there have been some tests done in controlled environments where this has been reproduced. This sounds plausible, as they are opportunistic eaters in the wild and there will be times when food is not readily available.
What temperature does an African Pygmy Hedgehog need? They need a temperature around 72F(22C) but can survive on temperatures slightly below this if the temperature is much lower they can attempt to hibernate. Hibernation would be fatal to a pygmy hedgehog kept as a pet, as they will starve to death because they will not have enough food reserves in their body to cope.