Full of personality, African Pygmy hedgehogs make fantastic pets, and if they are cared for properly can be quite low maintenance. However, it’s important to understand exactly what kind of conditions your hedgehog needs to live a happy, healthy life.
Below, you’ll find all the information you’ll need on their diet, care, grooming, and how to recognize and prevent a common problem – hedgehog stress.
African Pygmy Characteristics: What do they look like?
With the scientific name Atelerix Albiventris, the African Pygmy hedgehog is a hybrid of the white-bellied and the Algerian hedgehog and is the most popular species of hedgehog to keep as a pet.
They are named ‘pygmy’ due to their small size. They have dark noses and long pointy snouts that are usually pink or brown. They also have round, dark eyes, oval brownish ears, and short, white hair on their brows, cheeks, and bellies. They can grow up to 5 to 8 inches long and weigh between ½ to 1 ½ pounds.
In captivity, African Pygmy hedgehogs can live up to 3 to 6 years.
What to consider before you get an African Pygmy Hedgehog
It’s unsurprising we’re fantasizing about owning an African Pygmy hedgehog after seeing all the adorable photos of them online. However, there are important things to know before you buy or adopt one, and signs to look out for to make sure you’re buying from a reputable breeder.
African Pygmy hedgehogs bought from pet stores do have a higher chance of falling ill, but how well you care for the hedgehog once you’ve brought it home will also contribute to their overall health.
When buying your hedgehog from a pet store, you will need to check if they’re in good condition. Keep an eye out for the following. They are all signs of a sick hedgehog:
- Scabs and injuries
- Green droppings in the cage. These are signs of diarrhea.
- Lethargy, or if the hedgehog is unresponsive
- Hazy eyes
- Continuous scratching and itching
- Dirt built up around their fur and quills
You should also look for signs that your hedgehog is overweight (this can be seen in rolls around its armpits), or underweight.
The law is also another important thing to consider. Hedgehogs are exotic animals in the United States, so you must check if it’s legal to own one in the state you live in. Hedgehogs are illegal in the following states:
If you don’t live in these states, however, you should still check if there are any legal restrictions to owning hedgehogs.
Buying from licensed breeders
There are different ways you can get a hedgehog. We’ve mentioned pet stores, but you can also get them from a breeder. It’s vitally important you do your research beforehand.
The main reason to buy a hedgehog from a reputable breeder is that the hedgehog is more likely to be well-socialized and healthy, as the breeder will know the medical history of the hedgehog’s parents.
To avoid ending up with a sick hedgehog, you must buy one from a reputable, responsible breeder. But how can you tell if a breeder is responsible?
A responsible breeder will breed pedigree hedgehogs that have no Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS), or cancer in their medical history.
They will also have a license to breed and must hold a USDA license. There will be paperwork for you to sign when purchasing the hedgehog that provides the breeder’s license number.
Avoid searching for hedgehogs on Craigslist or similar sites.
Make sure you ask your breeder questions regarding the hedgehog’s and its parents’ medical history before you make your purchase.
Pay attention to any guarantees and that you have the option of returning the hedgehog in case of an early health problem.
Welcoming your African Pygmy Hedgehog Home
Below, you will find information on a hedgehog’s diet, grooming, and how to avoid certain stressors to see you through your hedgehog’s life. But there are also things to consider when you’ve purchased your hedgehog and are bringing them to their new home.
Some essentials need to be set up and ready to go before your hedgehog arrives. These are:
- A cage or enclosure
- Food and water bowl
- Litter tray
A change of environment is a lot for these little guys to adjust to, so give your hedgehog a month to settle in and familiarize itself with its new surroundings.
There are also a few things you need to do for your African Pygmy Hedgehog to get used to you and for you two to bond.
You should hold your hedgehog every day for them to get used to being handled and to get used to your scent.
You don’t just need to hold them near your chest though, instead, you can place them on your lap and gently rub their belly or paws. In addition to holding your hedgehog, you can also put an old shirt or sweater in their cage so they can get used to your scent and feel safe around you.
Where should your hedgehog go?
A suitable enclosure or cage is extremely important for your African Pygmy hedgehog’s wellbeing.
They should have space to roam around safely, as this reduces the risk of them escaping and hurting themselves around your home.
An ideal cage for an African Pygmy hedgehog should have 1 meter of floor space for your hedgehog to move around comfortably. Guinea pig enclosures are suitable but you should avoid wired cage bottoms as their feet can get stuck. This can cause them to panic or hurt themselves.
You must also provide soft, suitable, soft bedding such as an old sweater or fleece. Avoid pine aspen chips as bedding because this can cause respiratory problems for your hedgehog, and lead to them getting splinters in soft areas.
You can keep your hedgehog warm with bedding such as fleece. However, avoid using clothing with holes in it as your hedgehog can get stuck.
Where you put the cage or enclosure is also important. You should avoid placing it in loud areas in your home, such as above or below a TV or stereo. You should also keep it away from vacuums. You should be mindful of your hedgehog’s sensitive hearing as loud noises can make them anxious and stressed. Their anxiety can cause them to be afraid and reclusive, not wanting to come out to play or eat.
Also, make sure to keep your cage or enclosure clean. This reduces the risk of diseases such as bacterial infections and quill mites, and it also stops bad smells in your house.
Finally, you should also ensure your house is at a suitable temperature.
Hedgehogs feel most comfortable at around 72ºF (22.2ºC) to 80ºF (26.6ºC).
Unlike the European hedgehog species, African Pygmy hedgehogs cannot survive a hibernation period due to their small size and their lack of body fat. This is why room temperature is crucial.
If they show signs of hibernation such as lethargy and are not waking up from sleep, they need to be warmed up.
However, the room can be too hot too. If your hedgehog is too hot it will become stressed and anxious. You should keep the cage away from direct sunlight to avoid extreme temperatures.
If you notice your hedgehog trying to spread out in the cage, it may be too hot. However, if you notice your hedgehog becoming lethargic, you should warm it up using your own body heat.
It’s important to keep an eye on any changes in behavior, and then act promptly.
What should your hedgehog eat?
To ensure your African Pygmy hedgehog is happy and healthy, they need to have the correct diet.
Usually, the African Pygmy hedgehog’s diet consists of fruits, insects like mealworms, and dry cat food. However, some cat foods can be high in fats which can lead to your hedgehog gaining weight. An incorrect or improper diet can lead to your hedgehog becoming underweight or overweight.
To prevent weight problems such as Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (a progressive, degenerative neurological disease also known as progressive paralysis), your hedgehog’s diet should be low in fat and sugar content.
Some foods can also be toxic and should be avoided. They are:
- Citrus fruits
- Dairy products and any kind of junk food
- Raw carrots and tomatoes
These toxic foods can lead to various health problems, such as GI distress (a group of digestive disorders associated with lingering symptoms of constipation, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping), and even death. Before you feed something to your hedgehog, always do research to check it’s safe to eat.
However, incorporating live insects into your hedgehog’s diet can be very beneficial in maintaining their natural feeding and hunting habits.
Another important thing to consider is not just what your hedgehog eats, but how much they should eat and when.
You should feed your African Pygmy hedgehogs once a day every evening (around twilight time). This is because they are nocturnal animals and are most active at that time.
What should your hedgehog play with?
Hedgehog’s do not eat a lot, but they should still stay active and be provided with tools to exercise with, and toys to keep them stimulated.
To do this, we recommend adding the following to their enclosure or cage:
This provides them with important exercise to keep them physically healthy. Running is the main source of a hedgehog’s exercise and they can run up to 20km per night. An exercise wheel keeps them happy and engaged.
A hiding spot
As hedgehogs are nocturnal animals that hunt for their food at night, it’s recommended to build them a small fort from clothing or papers so they’re able to hide and relax.
They also need a litter tray to go to the bathroom. This should be no more than ½ inch in size so it’s easily accessible for your hedgehog – they need to be able to get their little legs over it!
You should also purchase kitty litter that doesn’t clump, and their litter tray should be cleaned daily.
How should you groom your hedgehog?
A little pamper now and then is also important for an African Pygmy hedgehog’s care and wellbeing. Your hedgehog will need the following grooming:
You should give your hedgehog regular, gentle baths with lukewarm water. You should also avoid getting water in their ears to prevent ear infections. After you bathe your hedgehog dry them and keep them warm to prevent hibernation.
It may come as a surprise, but hedgehogs need toothbrushes too! But not for their teeth. No, hedgehogs need them for their quills.
In their natural habitat, hedgehogs will wear their claws down. They’re unable to do this as pets, so you must trim their nails when they get too long. To do this, place your hedgehog in your lap, and hold their paw gently by spreading their nails. To avoid hurting your hedgehog, only clip the white tip of their nails.
What behaviors are normal in an African Pygmy Hedgehog?
Besides adequate care and food, what makes a happy and healthy African Pygmy hedgehog? It’s good to be aware of normal behavior, as this makes it easier to detect if something is out of the ordinary.
Normal behavior you can expect from an African Pygmy Hedgehog would be the following:
Their quills changing shape
Like other hedgehogs, African Pygmy’s hedgehog’s quills will change shape depending on how they’re feeling.
For example, when they’re calm their quills will be flat, and if they’re curious or unsure, their spikes might raise slightly. If they’re frightened, their spikes will fully raise and act as protection against perceived threats.
Hedgehogs will also shed their quills twice in their life. This is similar to us losing our baby teeth. This usually occurs at around 6 to 8 weeks old.
Once you have bonded with your hedgehog and they trust you, they might steal your shoelaces or socks as a form of play.
Self-anointing is when an animal will smear itself in fluids such as saliva and acts as a defense mechanism. This is completely normal for hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs will also react to new scents. When they smell something new, or something they like, they will lick or bite the source of the scent. While this may be concerning, try not to be alarmed as this is completely normal behavior.
As we have already mentioned, hedgehogs are nocturnal, meaning they exercise and eat at night. This is an inherent part of their biology, and you will need to adjust to their body clock.
How should you care for your hedgehog?
Most health problems can be prevented by providing the appropriate care for your African Pygmy hedgehog. However, some illnesses can occur regardless. These include:
- Dental disease and gum disease. This can be prevented by feeding your hedgehog the correct diet, routine brushing, and scaling.
- Eye infection or injury
- Fungal skin disease
- Kidney disease
- Leg and foot injuries
- Liver disease
- Respiratory infections
- Salmonella infection
- Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome. While this is not common in domesticated hedgehogs, it can still occur so it’s good to be aware of it.
As hedgehogs are exotic animals, it’s important to find a vet that has relevant experience. Your hedgehog should be taken for a physical examination every 6 to 12 months.
You should also make sure your hedgehog has an annual fecal examination for parasites and has any necessary blood tests.
What should you do if your hedgehog is stressed?
Hedgehogs are sensitive animals that can suffer from stress. It’s important to know hedgehog stress symptoms so you can recognize them in your pet, know what stressful situations to avoid, and improve their well-being.
Hedgehogs (and especially African Pygmies), are fragile, little creatures that need extra care and attention to provide them with a stress-free life. Common stress factors that can affect a hedgehog’s life include:
Small animals are highly prone to stress because in their natural habitats they are often prey and are at the bottom of the food chain.
So naturally, they will experience more stress and anxiety – even when the threats of bigger animals are eliminated – as they are biologically programmed to constantly assess their environment for danger.
Therefore, hedgehogs experience stress when environmental and social settings are not suited to their natural needs. Even the slightest feeling of threat can result in stress symptoms appearing.
Hedgehogs can’t easily adapt to human environments as quickly as other animals, and in captivity are more likely to be negatively affected by certain stressors. This is why they require extra care to help them settle in their new environment.
As hedgehogs’ natural instincts are to look out for threats and predators, they can get easily stressed for various reasons. The following are some causes for hedgehog stress:
- A change in their diet routine. This may seem like a small thing to stress about, but it can affect their stress levels.
- Changes in their habitat, such as moving to a new home environment.
- Loud noises. This can be a loud TV or radio, or even children running around.
You should be mindful during holidays as fireworks can also cause distress to your hedgehog. If you are letting off fireworks in your garden, make sure your hedgehog is in a darkened room that they are used to so they don’t feel so anxious.
It’s important to get the basics right to avoid hedgehog stress symptoms they are:
Daily Routine – This mainly means an improper diet, such as food lacking nutrients or having the incorrect nutrients, overfeeding, or not being fed at the correct times.
Environment – You should keep your hedgehog in a cozy, quiet space away from noise. Loud noises will often prevent hedgehogs from coming out of their hiding places, which leads to even bigger problems like hedgehogs not coming out to exercise or eat.
Some other causes of stress that affect small pets such as hedgehogs are:
- Incorrect temperature. We have discussed exact temperatures, but hedgehogs do need a slightly warmer temperature than most people keep their homes at. Anything cooler and the hedgehog will attempt to hibernate, this could be deadly as they could develop pneumonia. Meanwhile, hotter temperatures will lead to heat stress.
- Lack of enrichment such as no exercise to release energy.
- Other pets in the household
As stress can have a negative impact on your hedgehog’s health, you must always keep an eye on the following stress symptoms:
- Decreased activity and exercise
- Hiding and not coming out
- Loss of appetite
- Not moving, or freezing when you come close to them.
- Overgrooming or not grooming at all
- Pacing or yawning
- Signs of aggression
- Spikes and fur falling out.
- Tiredness or excessive sleeping during the evening, when their normal time to sleep is during the day.
- Trying to wriggle their way out of being handled.
- Twitching or shaking its head nervously.
If stressed, hedgehogs may also exhibit symptoms of stress such as hissing, jumping, or snorting.
A healthy hedgehog should be bright and alert. If you notice your hedgehog is not acting like its normal self and not thriving, then it might be a symptom of stress-related issues. Check if any of the causes of stress we’ve mentioned might apply or might be affecting your hedgehog and make some adjustments.
If done properly, African Pygmy hedgehog care is low maintenance. While not traditional pets, their great personalities have led them to grow in popularity as pets in recent years.
While all the advice we have given will put you in good stead to looking after your African Pygmy hedgehogs, the most important things to remember are:
- Select a reputable breeder and inquire about medical history.
- Find an exotic pet vet with relevant experience.
- Choose the correct cage or enclosure, and put suitable bedding and feeding bowls inside. Don’t forget an exercise wheel too!
- Feed your hedgehog a low-fat diet. You can feed them cat food, and they love live insects.
- Wash them and clip their nails.
- Be aware of your African Pygmy hedgehog’s normal behaviors.
- But lastly, give them plenty of love and attention!