How to Care for a Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are one of the pets that are often considered ‘an exotic pet’, most commonly known as a pocket pet. They make adorable pets. However, they are not easy to find in pet stores and they require special care – from the food they eat to their need for special attention. The life expectancy for hedgehogs is 5-7 years.
What Do Hedgehogs Need?
Hedgehogs need special food, care, and housing. When deciding to adopt a hedgehog, make sure you can find and purchase the required supplies.
Hedgehogs are insectivores, meaning they eat bugs. Domesticated (pet) hedgehogs will need a balanced diet of dry Hedgehog kibble, low-fat feline dry kibble, dried bugs, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Some foods that are good for hedgehogs are:
- Small amounts of scrambled eggs
Bugs they like are:
You can feed a few live bugs a day to your hedgehog. However, it is important not to give them too many or they may refuse to eat the rest of their food. They prefer insects and will almost always choose them over other foods. Over-consumption of insects will lead to an unbalanced diet and risk of your hedgehog becoming overweight. A 50/50 mixture of a high-quality hedgehog kibble and a low-fat feline diet will supply the proper levels of high protein and low fat nutrition for your hedgehog.
Hedgehogs need a wheel for exercise. It is important that the wheel be solid so the hedgehog doesn’t get its feet caught. Hedgehogs also need a good hiding spot. A plastic igloo or other “house” will do. If they go in, leave them alone and let them have their space.
You need to do a quick spot clean daily to get rid of any leftover food or waste. You should also fully clean the cage and all plastic/ceramic material every week. Food and water bowls need to be washed with soap and water every day. Hedgehogs can be trained to use a “box” like cats. Just remember to clean it every day since it may be small and will fill with feces and urine quickly.
Hedgehogs will also need to be bathed and occasionally have their nails trimmed by a qualified veterinarian or groomer.
Hedgehogs have small feet. A wire cage is a good option. However, you need to make sure that the bottom of the cage is solid. If the bottom is wired and ever exposed, a hedgehog’s foot could slip through or get caught. Although hedgehogs are typically 5-8 inches long, a large cage is best. Try to find the biggest one you can. This will give the hedgehog plenty of space to move around.
You will need to line the cage. Newspaper or paper bedding is best. Do not use wood shavings or cat litter because these leave dust and may get eaten. If eaten, they can cause serious digestive problems.
Hedgehogs need a heavy bowl for food and another for water. These bowls need to be un-tippable in order to prevent a huge mess. You can swap out the water bowl for a water bottle that is attached to the side of the cage. Just make sure your hedgehog is using the water bottle. If they are not drinking water, then it is important to switch back to the bowl.
It is important to handle your hedgehog with care and gentleness. As they get used to your touch, they will become more comfortable. Once a hedgehog is comfortable with you, they will accept treats and crawl all over you. You can carry them around so long as you keep giving them treats and keep them secure.
Most hedgehogs do not like their heads being petted, so it is best to avoid touching the head, instead, stick with petting their bellies and backs. Hedgehogs also do not love water. When bathing them, be gentle and do not be surprised if they curl up. Placing your hedgehog in the kitchen sink, bathtub or a large bowl with warm water for 5-10 minutes 1-2 times a week is advised.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night, so do not be surprised if you hear your hedgehog running around the cage or on his or her wheel in the middle of the night. When you first introduce a hedgehog to its new home, don’t worry if they seem sad or grouchy. They need time to adjust so give them that and they will eventually come around.
Hedgehogs are often shy, and they may curl up when you pick them up. Do so gently and do it every day. They will begin to get used to your touch and will begin to enjoy it.
As with most pets, hedgehogs can suffer from many different health problems. They can suffer from obesity, infections, dental problems, and several types of cancer. Females are susceptible to uterine cancer.
Hedgehogs can become obese if they are fed too many bugs, eat a diet of all cat food or if they do not get enough exercise. An overweight hedgehog may have other health problems caused by the extra weight. One of the first signs of obesity is if your hedgehog has trouble rolling into a ball. Their bones may become brittle as a result of the weight and lack of calcium.
Ringworm or Mites
Ringworm (fungal skin infection) and mites can cause dry and flaky skin. They can also cause the loss of quills. Ringworm can be transmitted to people. Quill Mites are species specific and cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets. If you think your hedgehog has either of these conditions, make an appointment with an exotic vet.
Hedgehogs can develop a variety of dental problems. Signs your hedgehog might have dental problems include decreased appetite, dental pain, and excessive salivation. A veterinarian familiar with hedgehogs can perform a dental exam and can give your hedgehog medicine to combat the problems. Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a type of cancer that may affect the gums and teeth of your hedgehog, causing a foul smell to the oral cavity, a bulge on the side of the mouth and tooth loss. This type a cancer is very aggressive and needs proper attention ASAP.
Heart disease can become a problem in older hedgehogs. An overweight hedgehog may develop heart problems earlier than other hedgehogs. Heart disease can be diagnosed and treated but will only extend a hedgehog’s life a small amount.
Signs of heart disease in hedgehogs include:
- Heart murmurs
- Weight loss
- Heart failure
Hedgehogs can be infected by salmonella as well as other bacteria. They can get salmonella from uncooked meat or unwashed fruits / vegetables that they are offered.
Symptoms of an infection with salmonella may include one or all of the following:
- Digestive problems
- Weight loss
- Loss or decrease of appetite
Salmonella can be passed to humans so if you suspect salmonella, take your hedgehog to a veterinarian familiar with hedgehogs immediately for a diagnosis and treatment.
Hedgehogs, like other animals, can develop both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors. As they age, hedgehogs become more prone to tumors. Regular vet visits are important in order to ensure a tumor is caught early and can be treated or removed.
Our Exotic Vet Can Help with Your Hedgehog
Caring for a hedgehog may be different from pets such as dogs, cats, or rabbits. However, they are adorable pets and great for people who want a small pet to care for.
About Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Louisiana
Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Louisiana, formally West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic, is Louisiana’s only veterinarian that provides care exclusively to avian and exotic pets. From parrots to rabbits and ferrets to a wide variety of reptiles, as well as a multitude of small mammal exotic pets, we welcome them all to our practice!