During our extensive research into the viability of getting a pet hedgehog, we looked at how easy it would be to look after a hedgehog and care for them. This was an essential step to ensure we were making the right decision in getting a hedgehog as a pet.
The health and well-being of a hedgehog is important when they are kept in captivity as they can easily become stressed if their environmental conditions are not right. Their mental health as well as their physical health can suffer if the right steps are not taken, and these can take a heavy toll on their overall well-being.
We noticed straight away when we bought our hedgehog, he was very stressed and who would blame him. He was in a foreign environment he wasn’t used to, and we took many steps to ensure he became more relaxed as he began to see us as not threats but as friends.
Understanding the needs of a hedgehog instead of imposing on your own needs on a hedgehog is paramount. As not only could not understanding a hedgehog needs increase the stress a hedgehog suffers but it could also put them at risk of premature death. Such as appreciating they are nocturnal and working around this, instead of trying to force the hedgehog to adapt to your way of life, of being awake during the day.
We understood from the outset that hedgehogs are exotic pets and need special care and attention. Getting advice from our breeder on the things we needed to do, to make sure our hedgehog could live a good life including the types of cage we’d need, the food we should be feeding our hedgehog and the steps to take to bond with him.
I’ve listed some of the important steps we took below, as we found these made a huge impact on the well-being of our hedgehog.
1. Cage Requirements
The size of the cage and what the cage is made of can impact the lifespan of a hedgehog. Having a small cramped cage can be detrimental to their well-being as the small space can make them stressed. The materials used in the manufacture of the cage need to be carefully assessed as some materials can be toxic to hedgehogs.
After the hedgehog, the next most expensive purchase decision will be the cage and it’s imperative to make sure you get not only the right size of cage but the right cage. We chose the Zoo Zone 2 Habitat large cage for our hedgehog.
The cage must allow the hedgehog to be able to roam and explore their cage even when additional items like running wheels, feeding bowls and housing has been added to the cage. Contentment at having space to rummage around and explore is essential in making them live longer.
Hedgehogs are solitary animals, so having more than one hedgehog in a cage isn’t a good idea as they don’t like being with other hedgehogs.
The only time I’ve seen more than one hedgehog in a cage was when we went to collect Hynee and he was in a cage with his mother and his two siblings. So if you do have a pregnant hedgehog then it makes sense to have a cage big enough to accommodate her and her offspring.
The cage must not be made from toxic materials, cedarwood, for example, is known to be toxic to hedgehogs. Choosing a cage made of safe materials like glass or a safe plastic is a good option.
Be careful with the heating options with your cage, as safe plastic cages could pose a fire risk if you elect to use a heat lamp as your primary source of heating. Heat mats are a safer choice for plastic-based cages.
Vivarium’s can also be used to house hedgehogs but do make sure any wooden parts to the vivarium isn’t made from wood that’s toxic to them. Heating vivarium’s with heat lamps don’t pose fire risks as long as the cage materials are fire-safe and that includes the items in the cage, like igloo housing, feeding bowls and running wheels.
2. Dietary Requirements
Obesity in hedgehogs can shorten their lives by introducing diseases like diabetes to serious cancers. With this in mind, it’s essential to ensure an eye is kept on their eating, exercising and obesity levels. What they eat is important as too much fat in their diet can lead to obesity and disease.
We find it easier to check if Hynee has put on weight when we bathe him, as the spines don’t puff out and we get to see his real body line.
A better method would be to regularly weight your hedgehog and see if there’s a change in weight to make sure obesity isn’t creeping in.
Gorging on food
Hedgehogs have a reputation on gorging on food whilst this may not necessarily be the case for all hedgehogs, it’s important to understand the implication of this gorging behavior. We’ve only seen this with mealworms.
Mealworms and insects for food
Mealworms can provide a source of chitin for hedgehogs to help them with the health of their spines. However, limit the number of mealworms in their diet each week.
Hedgehogs love mealworms and left to their own devices they would gorge themselves on them. But mealworms can be extremely dangerous to hedgehogs as they not only damage their bones but cause life-threatening health problems when eaten regularly in large quantities.
Make sure you feed your hedgehog in moderation and limit foods like mealworms and insects to maybe 1 or 2 a week at most. The phosphorus in mealworms and other insects can cause bone deterioration and this can be very painful for them, causing them stress and health issues.
3. Reduce their stress
It can take a while for hedgehogs to adjust to new surroundings. When hedgehogs are scared or stressed, they tend to curl up and start hissing. You may also notice their chest area moving up and down rapidly as their heart rate increases, this is the symptom of the stress they are feeling. It’s important to make sure the levels of stress a hedgehog is exposed to is minimized.
Bond with your hedgehog
It’s imperative to build a good relationship with your hedgehog as quickly as possible, so they get used to you and don’t stress out every time you take them out of the cage.
We made a mistake at first by using a cloth to put on Hynee to allow us to pick him up. This stopped us being hurt by his spines, but this didn’t allow us to bond with him.
To compensate for our mistake, my daughter decided to see if she could tame Hynee in a month by getting him used to her smell. She wore an old T-Shirt for a day and then she put this in Hynee’s cage. He crawled into the T-shirt and hid, helping him become accustomed to my daughter’s smell.
When she went to pick him up from his cage, she would put her fingers close to his chest but away from his face. This would allow Hynee to check the smell of the fingers and realize it was the same as the T-shirt, so it was a friendly smell.
A word of warning make sure you have not handled any food before you put your fingers near a hedgehog. My daughter had forgotten to wash her hands after putting Hynee’s food into his food dish.
As soon as she put her fingers near him, he could smell food and he actually bit her. She screamed and started to cry but no serious harm was done. This was an important less she and the rest of the family learnt.
Hynee is so tame now, my daughter can pick him up and let him curl up in her hands. On many occasions, he’s fallen asleep in her hands.
When we go away for longer vacations, more than three days, we don’t feel comfortable leaving Hynee home alone for an extended period of time. Instead, a family member looks after Hynee and my daughter regularly Skype video calls to check on him for her own reassurance.
We have to transport Hynee twenty miles to the family members house and this in itself can be quite stressful for him. So we have a transport box with two slats on the side of the top allowing air to come in.
In the base of the box we put some of his bedding that hasn’t been washed or something clean bedding but with his current pouch with any dried up poop removed.
We put in some food, scattering a few dry cat biscuits and then put in more fabric-based bedding on top. When we put him inside, he crawls under the top layer of bedding and settles down. As it’s dark you can hear him eating.
My daughter also carries the transport box in her laps in the car and doesn’t put it in the trunk (boot). This helps us keep an eye on him and who knows what could happen with the box moving around under its own accord in the trunk with the cage and other hedgehog paraphernalia in there.
When we arrive at our destination my husband sets up the cage and then my daughter takes Hynee out of his box and pits him into his cage. We give him a treat like Dreamies cat biscuits. We would give him a mealworm, but our family member has told us they do not want these things in their house.
By taking these steps we’ve found Hynee isn’t too stressed when he arrives at his new destination. There’s hardly any hissing or shaking in the box during the journey.
When hedgehogs are very stressed, they may start producing diarrhea or even green poops. If their pooping doesn’t go back to normal, you will probably need to take your hedgehog to the vets and get them checked out to see if there isn’t an underlying issue other than stress causing the poop changes.
4. Keep other pets away
If you have other pets, keep them away, let your hedgehog get used to the smells and sounds in the area where their cage is. This can take time and introducing other pets straight away can be frightening and extremely stressful for hedgehogs.
Try the human bonding method described previously before trying to introduce them to your other pets. They’ll need a comforting friend before they meet your pets.
Don’t share anything used by other pets with your hedgehog until you are comfortable, they are at ease with your other pets. As the scent left on shared items will distress the hedgehog.
We had an incident at the vets where we take Hynee to have his claws clipped every four months. The vet assistant clipping his claws used a glove to hold him and he went wild, snapping and trying to bite the glove. We realized something wasn’t right and asked on what pet had the glove been used before?
It was a cat and their scent was still on the glove. This was distressing to Hynee, so the assistant took off the glove and my daughter managed to calm him down. I also gave him a cat biscuit every time he had the claws trimmed from each leg.
5. Avoid outside risks
We don’t take Hynee outside into our garden, so he doesn’t get the opportunity to run through the grass and explore. This is sad but we don’t know what he could pick up from something innocent as rummaging through the grass.
As he’s not grown up in the outside world, he’s probably not had enough opportunity to build up his immune defenses to the outside world or inherited them from his parents who were also pets. So we just don’t risk taking him outside. My biggest fear is mites and these minuscule nasties if they affect Hynee could cause him some serious health problems.
6. Respect their nocturnal habits
Hedgehogs have evolved to be nocturnal, coming out at night to forage for food as they do in the wild. It’s important to make sure they are not restricted from having a nocturnal lifestyle by being forced to wake up during the day.
Our hedgehog usually wakes up around 8pm or slightly earlier when the sun goes down earlier. We usually let him wake up fully, usually he has a nibble at some cat biscuits, urinates and does a poop. After which we’ll pick him up and spend some quality time with him.
When we’re watching a movie late into the day, we can hear our hedgehog running on his exercise wheel and then periodically coming off to drink and eat some more cat biscuits.
Forcing him to wake during the day would be cruel and he would probably end up not doing as much exercise as he does during the night, as he would be overly tired and only thinking about getting back to sleep.
7. Let them sleep
Hedgehogs need plenty of sleep and as they’re nocturnal, sleeping during the day is paramount in maintaining their health. They’ll come out at night and search for food, exercise and investigate their cage.
Hedgehogs need a dark area to sleep but one where they can tell the difference between daylight and night time. Our hedgehogs cage has a plastic house which we cover with a thin blanket. This is dark enough for him to sleep in the daylight but there’s still a difference in light when daylight ends, as it goes pitch black, signaling that daytime has ended.
We also have a cloth-based tunnel, which he sometimes crawls into and goes to sleep. The light can come in from either end of the tunnel, so he’s aware of the distinction of night and day. Over time his body clock has adjusted and readjusts when we have to change our clocks to daylight savings as the nights get shorter and the days get longer.
The right type of heating for a cage is important as some types of heating may not be appropriate for some cages, as they may introduce a fire risk.
Cages made of plastic pose a fire risk if heating lamps are used. In fact, if other items in the cage are also made of plastic like the running wheel, there’s a fire risk with these items too with heat lamps.
We don’t use a heat lamp for these specific reasons as the cage we use is a Zoo Zone Habitat Large cage and most of this cage is made of plastic.
The non-plastic based vivarium type cages are probably a better bet for heat lamps but these cages whilst mostly glass may still contain fire risk materials.
We also have a plastic-based food/water bowl, plastic running wheel and a plastic house for our hedgehog making it difficult to choose the heat lamp as an adequate heat source.
We could move these plastic items away from a heat lamp (if we chose one) but I think this would severely limit the areas kept warm and prove to be pointless in ensuring our hedgehog’s well-being.
Personally I would always try to make sure the area where our hedgehog spends most of their time, should be the area kept warm at all times when the temperature drops. So for us, this is the sleeping area and we chose a heat mat as the primary heat source instead.
Make sure any heating device is brought from a reputable supplier as this should minimize fire risk and reduce the risk of hedgehogs being injured from burns, electrical shocks and electrical overloads.
Cheaper heating devices may be made with inferior components. To us, it was a no brainer to pay the extra for a tried and tested heat mat instead of trying to save a few pennies on a cheaper untested model.
Make sure any heating device you use is plugged into an electrical socket with surge protection (you can buy also use the surge protected electric socket extenders) just in case the heat mat isn’t overloaded and destroyed by a surge of electricity thereby protecting our hedgehog.
I regularly physically check the heat mat to ensure it’s still working by touching the top when our hedgehog eats away at night.
This is important as the lights on the thermostat could show the heat mat is working but in reality, the heat mat could have stopped working.
Regular inspection is advised to make sure the heating device isn’t becoming dangerous like cables and hot surfaces becoming exposed.
8. Watch out for hibernation signs
If it gets too cold, hedgehogs may go into hibernation especially as they get older. There is a risk here, they might not come out of hibernation. In the wild, they don’t tend to hibernate as they are in a warm climate. It’s imperative if they do go into hibernation they are received.
Generally by putting the hedgehog next to your body can be sufficient. Put them on your chest (make sure you have light clothing on like a T-shirt) and then put a towel over them. Your body heat should slowly help them. If this doesn’t help, then seek immediate veterinary care.
Hedgehogs can exhibit going into hibernation signs that need to be acted on quickly to ensure the hedgehog doesn’t fall into hibernation.
- Looks tired all time;
- Struggles to uncurl;
- Struggles to curl up;
- Struggles to stand;
- Cold to touch
- Eating less; and
- Large weight loss.
It’s essential to get to grips with how your hedgehog behaves normally as any changes to their behavior become easier to spot and potential changes leading to hibernation can be stopped earlier.
9. Keep them clean
Cleaning the hedgehog and their cage regularly is important as this can reduce the risk from infections and from injury. Urine, fecal matter and bits of food can end up getting into their fur and spines, requiring a bathing routine along with a good cage cleaning routine to ensure the build up doesn’t pose any health risks.
Dried up poop can not only end up on the floor of the cage but if they have a running wheel, poop can end up on the hedgehog’s feet, this is known as poop boots and could cause injuries to limbs when they are running on their running wheels.
Poop can also lead to infections, especially if food or water becomes soiled with poop and urine, allowing nasties like mites and parasites to build up.
Cleaning hedgehogs at least twice a month is essential to get any poop and urine out of their fur, spikes and off their limbs.
10. Get the correct bedding
The right bedding is essential to help protect our hedgehog, as this will not only provide them with a comfortable base to forage and exercise, but will also protect them from injuring their limbs and nails.
The right bedding will need to be non-toxic to hedgehogs as some forms of bedding like cedar shaving are toxic and MUST BE AVOIDED.
Watch out for any chemicals or oils that could be toxic being added to bedding. Any scents or chemicals added to bedding to try to control odor may also be highly problematic.
The choice of bedding is very important as good bedding allows hedgehogs to keep warm, shielding them from the cold of the cage base and allowing them to snuggle up and stay warm.
There is little point in having bedding which allows the cold of the cage to permeate across it such as straw and instead of using bedding such as fabric with a fleece lining acting as a barrier for the cold is a much better choice.
We have a fabric tunnel with a fleece lining next to our hedgehogs heat mat and this gathers up some of the heat from his heat mat, allowing him to burrow through it whilst still remaining warm at night.
11. Keep them warm
Having a heat mat or a Heat Lamp (Ceramic Heat Emitter) can help keep the areas the hedgehog frequents in their cage warm. Like a heating mat pad in their housing or where they eat, likewise a heat lamp in the areas they exercise and eat.
In winter the temperature in our house can drop to about 61F (16C), there are colder parts of the house like our conservatory, but we would never dream of putting Hynee there.
We put our homes central heating on twice a day, for about 2 hours in the early morning at 66F (19C) and then again in the early evening, again at 66F (19C).
If it gets really cold, then we may leave the heating on for prolonged periods. By stopping the temperature from falling below 66F (16C) in the house but having the heat mat set to a minimum of 72F (22C) degrees, Hynee can still get enough heat.
12. Learn their eating habits
We’re still not sure about Hynee gorging on food like his dry cat biscuits but when it comes to mealworms, that’s a different story. They are highly addictive, and he would gorge on them all day if he could. So we severely limit his access to mealworms.
We also know we can leave Hynee alone for a few day with enough food and he’ll eat all he needs each night and no more. When we come back, there’s still a little bit of food left.
We regularly check Hynee’s poop and see if it’s different than normal, don’t worry this is just a visual check and nothing more sinister. What we’re looking for is any changes visually, like he’s pooping diarrhea and not the log type of poop he normally does.
13. Don’t supplement with vitamins
Don’t give hedgehogs vitamin supplements as what’s good for us humans might not necessarily be good for hedgehogs and additional vitamins may become toxic to hedgehogs as their organs may struggle to remove the excess.
I’ve read of many hedgehog owners giving their pets vitamin D supplements and I find this extremely troubling. Vitamin D the sunshine vitamin is one of those vitamins that is difficult to mop up when it’s in excess, so it has a high likelihood of becoming toxic. Promoting organ failure in hedgehogs.
The dosage given to hedgehogs whilst being perfectly fine for a human being could be too much for a hedgehog, especially based on their organs which process excess like the liver being substantially smaller than humans.
Vitamin D whilst promoting the absorption of calcium without vitamin K2 will cause this calcium to end up costing the blood vessels leading to cardiovascular diseases.
What I can’t understand about this vitamin D supplementing owners, is have they thought about the fact their hedgehog is nocturnal? So in the wild, they would not be out in the sunlight so wouldn’t be getting any vitamin D from the sunlight? Hedgehogs must, therefore, have adapted to this and evolved to get vitamins from their food sources.
14. Keep them hydrated
A hedgehog needs water to function and having a plentiful supply of clean water is absolutely essential. Water needs to be changed daily to ensure it remains clean as food, urine and fecal matter can spoil the water.
We have a water tray and we replace the water in this every night. When we are away for a few days, we leave two small bowls of water at different ends of the cage to supplement the water in the water tray. This is important because sometimes he can soil his water, as he’s moving around, so having an alternate supply of clean water over the days we’re away is vital.
The water tray is very difficult to knock over as would be a water bowl, providing reassurance Hynee has a water supply.
We used to also have a water dispenser in the cage, but he just didn’t use it. I think the angle of the drip even when it was quite close to the bedding still made it difficult for him to drink. I also read about the nozzle being dangerous to hedgehogs as they could get their tongues hurt on it, so we collectively decided to remove the water dispenser.
If you plan to transport your hedgehog it may be wise to give them a bowl of water during their journey just in case, they get thirsty.
15. Watch out for toxins
Toxins can be fatal to hedgehogs and steps must be taken to keep hedgehogs safe from there toxins. Wood, plants, cleaning products, poisons and even certain foods can be toxic to hedgehogs.
Certain plants can be toxic to pets including hedgehogs. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA) provides a list of toxic and non-toxic plants.
Cedarwood is a known toxic wood to hedgehogs and products, shavings made from this wood must be avoided.
Oils in wood can be toxic and even if the wood is deemed safe type care must be taken to ensure its properly sealed as the oils used to preserve it may leak out of the wood.
Hedgehogs have an acute sense of smell, it’s one of their most prolific tools in determining what’s around them. This sense of smell can also become irritated by smells and care should be taken when using scented cleaning products, wipes or using air fresheners to limit odors. These types of products can irritate hedgehogs and cause havoc with their sense of smell.
Take care with poisons as simple things like bug zappers may be toxic to hedgehogs if sprayed in the vicinity of their cages. Bug zappers may be good at killing bugs, but they can also be lethal to hedgehogs.
Some products like incense sticks may look innocuous to us but when burned could give of chemicals dangerous to hedgehogs.
Food in itself could be toxic and I’ve mentioned earlier about vitamins becoming toxic.
Be careful where insects for hedgehog consumption are purchased from like those from reputable pet shops should be fine. Whilst those from places like bait shops may have insects with other nasties inside them.
16. Be vigilant of diseases
A hedgehogs life spans may be limited by a disease with obesity-related diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular problems (heart disease) and cancers being common. Tumors are also
Wobbly leg syndrome
Wobbly leg syndrome is a neurological disease where hedgehogs show signs of wobbling when they walk, progressively getting worse over time. Starting primarily in the back legs of hedgehogs, wobbly leg syndrome progresses to their front legs.
They end up having problems walking, standing and curling up into a ball. They will regularly fall over as the disease takes hold, damaging their nerves. There is no cure or treatment for this disease, resulting in premature death.
Skin diseases need to be treated promptly as they can lead to infections. Mites and ringworm can cause skins and quill problems resulting in dry and flaky skin with skin crusts causing pain.
Dry cat biscuits can help in reducing plaque build-up on their teeth avoiding gum related problems, infections, and severe dental issues like abscesses. Tumors can cause form in and around their mouth and other areas of their body leading to painful symptoms.
Tumors are common amongst hedgehogs and if picked up early, hedgehogs could stand some chance of recovery. Unfortunately for our hedgehog, the tumor was picked up too late.
Regular checks need to be done with a vet to make sure the health of the hedgehog isn’t being compromised.
17. Take care with medicines
Medicines given by vets can sometimes cause fatal reactions or leave the hedgehogs health in bad shape. As hedgehogs are not a common pet, many vets may not understand the implications of the medicine they use. So it’s vitally important some further research is done on any medicine proposed.
I’ve read about a lot of hedgehogs dying from medicines given to them by vets so it’s best to reach out to a knowledgeable vet who understands hedgehogs and appropriate medicines.
Hedgehog lifespan in captivity
For your hedgehog to live as long as possible, you need to know how to take care of it properly. As hedgehogs aren’t as popular as other pets, information about them can be limited and sometimes inaccurate.
There are a number of things you can do to not only make sure your hedgehog is safe but also healthy to aid a prolonged life. As their life span is reflective of how they are cared for. As poor care can shorten their lifespan to between 3 to 5 years or even less.
For a small animal, the lifespan is quite impressive, especially as other small animals like hamsters only live for 3 years at most with most surviving only 1.5 to 2 years.
Can hedgehogs live together? Generally, hedgehogs are considered solitary animals who live alone. Male hedgehogs can be territorial and find it difficult to live together, resulting in aggressive behavior. Male and female hedgehogs can live together, as can mother and an adult daughter hedgehog, as long as the daughter hedgehog is capable of feeding herself.
What is the lifespan of a pet hedgehog? As pets, they can live on average between three to five years. Their lifespan depends on their health and the care they receive as pets. There are cases where they have lived for seven or more years as pets.