We decided to get a pet hedgehog after doing extensive research on how easy it would be to care and look after them. This was an important first step for us to the have reassurance we were making the right decision.
Are hedgehogs easy to care for? Hedgehogs are easy to care for as they are low maintenance pets, requiring very little attention to look after them. Pet hedgehogs are solitary animals, so don’t need the company of other hedgehogs. Caring for them is easy when they get comfortable with their surroundings and their owners, allowing them to bond.
Caring for a pet hedgehog requires ensuring they have enough space to live in, they have a good balanced diet, they get plenty of exercise and they are kept warm enough to stop them going into hibernation.
Let’s take a look at what hedgehogs need to make it easier to care for them, keeping them physically healthy as well as mentally healthy.
Hedgehogs need a balance of proteins and fats in their diet to minimize the chances of them becoming obese. If they become obese, it will make it difficult to care for them, as the resulting health problems could become quite painful for hedgehogs and could lead to frequent visits to the veterinarian. Obesity is also a common cause of premature death in hedgehogs.
Low fat diet
Its important Pygmy Hedgehogs have a low-fat diet as this will stop them becoming obese. Unlike in the wild where they can expend a lot of energy as they forage for food at night. When kept as pets even with exercise, it’s going to be a struggle for them to keep weight off when they’re regularly consuming too much fat.
Hedgehogs need around 40% protein in their diet to remain healthy. In the wild hedgehogs would eat more protein than when kept as pets however the protein in the wild isn’t concentrated protein, as is the case with cat biscuits. Instead in the wild the protein is generally from insects and therefore includes the water within the insect as well as the protein.
This liquid addition to the protein makes any excess protein easier to remove. With concentrated protein as in dry cat biscuits, there’s no liquid to help remove any excess and even if they drink water it isn’t quite the same as in the wild eating insects. Excess protein can lead to liver and kidney damage and result in shortening a pygmy hedgehog’s life.
Dry cat biscuits for indoor cats
The dry cat biscuits (check here for quality biscuit brands) especially the indoor variety make a great choice as a staple food for pygmy hedgehogs because of their low-fat content at around 5% and the protein content being below 35%.
Additional occasional sources of lean protein are fine as long as the lean meats are not seasoned or have any oils or butter added. We give our hedgehog roast chicken once a week when we have this for Sunday lunch. I take care of breaking down the chicken into smaller pieces so he can easily chomp away later when he wakes up.
Hedgehogs need a source of fiber in their diet too and this will predominantly come from their dry cat biscuits. A good brand of cat biscuits will have some element of fiber added.
Having fiber in their diet will make it easier for them to digest what they eat, allowing it to easily pass through their digestive system and avoid fecal impaction. Where their stools become dry and solid, ending up causing them pain when they try to poop or worse still become stuck inside them, making it difficult for them to expel.
Organic fruit and vegetables
Try to use organic fruit and vegetables to reduce the number of pesticides. Washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly before serving is a good idea and make sure any fruit and vegetables are cut into small pieces to avoid the risk of choking.
Foods to avoid
Certain types of food can be toxic to hedgehogs and it is very important to avoid these. They should never be given raw meat as this can have dangerous levels of bacteria like Salmonella and E. Coli present.
Milk and dairy are no-no’s as pygmy hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and unable to break down the lactose in milk causing them digestive issues.
Watch out for hidden vegetables
Vegetables provide vitamins and minerals with some of these vitamins essential but only in moderation as hedgehogs organs find it difficult to remove the excess. The excess becomes toxic to their organs resulting in organ problems and failure.
It is important to check the vegetable content of their staple food and make sure you are not feeding your hedgehog additional vegetables with the same levels of vitamins. As the vitamins in quality dry cat biscuits will have been carefully controlled and eating additional vegetables or fruit with extra vitamins could become fatal to the hedgehog over time.
Vitamin A and Vitamin D are the ones to watch out for as these cannot be easily removed by the hedgehog’s organs and end up becoming toxic if too much of these vitamins are ingested.
Plenty of exercise
Keeping a hedgehog healthy is paramount and having plenty of exercise (along with diet) is the key in keeping obesity at bay. In the wild these little creatures spend a lot of time at night foraging for food and relative to their size, they walk large distances, covering several miles a night.
To give a hedgehog space to stretch their legs and try to walk (or run) the long distances they would do in the wild, a running wheel is an essential item any cage setup cannot do without. Our hedgehog spends many hours a night walking and running on his wheel, providing an excellent way for him to remain fit and healthy.
Bear in mind a running wheel can be noisy when being used and as it’s mainly used during the night, you don’t want to keep their cage where the noise can become disturbing.
Running wheels will need to be cleaned regularly as hedgehogs will be pooping as they walk, and this poop end up drying up on the wheel. If the poops not removed regularly then the hedgehog could get injured.
When they use the running wheel, they start walking and then break into running, so do make sure the bedding used doesn’t cause the running wheel to flip over if it becomes unbalanced. We use fabric-based bedding with fleece lining and this provides a little grip to the base of the running wheel stopping it from slipping.
We have two running wheels; one we leave in the cage and the other is soaked in some water during the day to dissolve the dried poop. We then dry this wheel and swap it with the wheel in the cage. This allows us to keep the wheels clean and not have to do any hard scrubbing to get the dried poop off.
Good source of heating
Hedgehogs need a good source of heating, so their environment doesn’t get too cold and make them go into hibernation as they have evolved in warmer climates and are not used to colder climates. Resulting in the possibility of falling into hibernation. This is very important as some pet hedgehogs have evolved in warmer climates and are not used to colder climates. Resulting in the possibility of falling into hibernation can be fatal to pet hedgehogs as they won’t have enough fat in reserve and will end up starving to death, if they are not quickly revived.
There are a number of ways you can keep a cage warm, but care should be taken to make sure the heating device isn’t a fire risk and/or dangerous to the pygmy hedgehog.
Heat Pad Mat
We use a heat pad mat which we put on top of the bedding inside his igloo house, so he has direct access to the heat. Putting the heat pad mat under the bedding may inhibit the amount of heat permeating through the bedding.
Having a heat mat in the sleeping area can minimize the risk of hibernation, as the hedgehog is kept warm continuously while they sleep. We use the following heat pad mat.
It’s very important as the hedgehog gets older to make sure they are kept warm, as their resistance to cold becomes less pronounced and having heating in the space they spend most of their time may well keep them alive longer and bring peace of mind.
Getting another heat mat to heat other areas of the cage-like their feeding area is a good idea as they are inexpensive to run.
Heat lamps emitting only heat and not light are the ones suited for pygmy hedgehog as they won’t confuse the hedgehog’s body clock. Keeping them in the routine of feeding at night when it’s dark and sleeping in the day when it’s light. These types of heat lamps are called Ceramic Heat Emitters (CEH) and provide a good source of heating.
Any heating device mustn’t affect the hedgehog’s body clock and their routines. Some heat lamps also emit light and these models are popular with reptile owners as they provide a good source of heating and light for reptiles to feed.
These light-emitting heat lamps are a bad idea of pygmy hedgehogs as the light confuses the hedgehog into thinking it’s still daytime and most probably stopping them from leaving their housing to come out to eat and exercise. Pygmy hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures so an understanding of the time of day is essential for their body clocks to appreciate.
Any heating device like a heat pad mat or a heat lamp (CHE) needs to have a thermostat and thermometer, the thermostat will keep the temperature within the safe temperature zone and the thermometer will keep an eye on the temperature.
The thermometer needs to be placed inside the cage and the one we have with our heat mat has a sucker, allowing us to stick it to the cage.
We take care to make sure our hedgehog can’t get access to the thermometer or it’s connecting wire (connection to the thermostat) as he would most probably chew on it and get a shock from the current passing through. By sticking it to the side of the cage above half-height is effective to keep him away.
Caring for pet hedgehogs is easy and not as difficult as many people think. Hedgehogs just need a good diet, exercise and warm surroundings to keep them healthy. Once this is in place, the hedgehogs easily become comfortable with their environment, making it easier for owners to care for them and more importantly bond with their hedgehogs.