Hedgehogs are docile creatures and make intriguing exotic pets. However, when it comes to these adorable animals, there’s much more than meets the eye, and there’s a lot of information to take on board to take care of one.
If you’re considering adopting a hedgehog, you should know that they require specific care and attention to ensure that they are as happy and as healthy as possible.
In this article, I will explore some key information about hedgehog care. So, if you’re thinking of adopting a hedgehog, you’re well informed and prepared to look after it.
So, let’s get started.
The hedgehog diet
Hedgehogs eat a variety of different foods. In the wild, the majority of their diet is primarily made up of invertebrates (creepy crawlies). They also eat a wide range of other insects.
More infrequently, they will take advantage of frogs, baby rodents, and baby birds.
However, in captivity, a hedgehog’s daily diet does differ. Mealworms and crickets are commonly fed to hedgehogs in captivity. However, specially formulated hedgehog foods both in moist and dry kibble varieties are readily available and can be bought from most local pet and garden stores.
This kibble typically includes a variety of insects and vegetables along with vitamins and minerals to create a balanced diet specifically formulated for your hedgehog.
Hedgehogs enjoy eating an array of meat-based foods, including wet cat or dog food, as these are high in protein. However, this food isn’t the most ideal option to use on a long term basis, so you should stick to feeding them hedgehog-specific food.
It’s important that you never give your hedgehog cow’s milk or milk products. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, and any kind of dairy products can cause severe digestive problems and even kill them if you’re not careful.
The only drink you should give them is water. Always keep a supply of clean, fresh water available in a shallow, heavy-based bowl for your pet hedgehog.
Caring for a hedgehog
Cages made for guinea pigs and rabbits are suitable for hedgehogs, but the cage floor should be solid, rather than wire. This will ensure that the hedgehog’s feet don’t get caught and they don’t end up injuring themselves by accident.
In addition, your hedgehog’s cage should be spot-cleaned daily to keep them free of fecal contamination and leftover food debris, as nasty odors can develop relatively quickly if you don’t stay on top of maintenance.
In addition to this, hedgehogs can develop skin conditions if they’re not cleaned out on a regular basis.
Bearing this in mind, your hedgehog’s cage should be thoroughly cleaned a minimum of once a week by removing all of the bedding and replacing it with fresh bedding.
Whether you opt for wood shavings, pellets, or even prefer to machine wash a material bed, make sure you are changing your hedgehog’s bedding weekly. You should also give your hedgehog fresh food and water every day.
When it comes to choosing bedding for your hedgehog, there are multiple choices. This largely comes down to personal preference and which option is the most convenient for you to clean.
Soft bedding such as recycled paper, wood shavings, or fleece-lined towels that are changed out regularly are generally considered to be the best for the sensitive feet of a hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are very active and are nocturnal animals. Bearing this in mind, they’re most active at night and will run several miles a day on their wheel or in their secure play area.
You should keep a large running wheel in their cage for your hedgehog to exercise at their leisure.
You should also pair this with a hide box, a food bowl, and a water bottle along with other toys to keep them mentally stimulated in their cage.
Along with their weekly cage clean, you should make sure that their running wheel is cleaned weekly to avoid fecal matter from building up which can cause foot infections.
If hedgehogs are limited to only the exercise you give them when you let them out of their cage, they could become depressed.
Hedgehogs are most active at night, so if they are unable to exercise when you’re asleep, they will likely become overweight and could develop a variety of health issues including obesity.
Exercise and frequent activity are crucial to your hedgehog’s health and happiness. Bearing this in mind, you will need to provide a hedgehog with the necessary space to exercise and should allow them to explore outside of their cage, too.
Hedgehog health and potential health issues
Hedgehogs can suffer from a variety of health issues. Some of the more common issues include skin infections with fungus (ringworm) and mites. Both ringworm and mites can cause dry, crusty, and flaky skin and quill loss.
While some quill loss is normal, if your hedgehog develops ringworm you might begin to notice bald patches that indicate a larger problem is at play.
Humans can catch ringworm through hedgehogs, so it’s important to recognize the signs if your hedgehog is showing symptoms. That being said, mites are species-specific, so they are not transmittable to humans.
Both of these conditions need to be treated by veterinarian-prescribed medications.
It is also common for hedgehogs to develop dental problems. To prevent this from occurring, thorough dental examinations and cleaning under anesthesia are recommended.
This will also help to ensure that your hedgehog doesn’t lose any teeth or develop other dental problems.
Hedgehogs are prone to developing obesity if they don’t get enough exercise in their day-to-day routine.
This is why it is crucial that you install an exercise wheel in their cage and allow them to explore outside of their cage in a secure room, too. That being said, your hedgehog will get the majority of its activity when you’re asleep at night.
Hedgehogs can carry salmonella bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts without any signs.
That being said, a few symptoms that they can exhibit include but are not limited to diarrhea, weight loss, decreased appetite, and lethargy.
Since salmonella is transmissible to humans, it is imperative that you clean your hands after handling your hedgehog or cleans its cage. If you’re someone that struggles to remember, leave a sign somewhere to remind yourself.
Hedgehogs also commonly develop dental problems, including tartar build-up, gingivitis, gum infections, and tooth abscesses. Signs of dental problems can include salivation, dental pain, and a decreased appetite.
Dental cleaning, removal of abscesses, and antibiotic administration are required if your hedgehog’s dental decay is severe.
Spine loss is another indication that something larger is at fault. Generally speaking, parasite infestations such as mites are the most common reasons for your hedgehog to lose an excessive amount of spines.
If your hedgehog is losing a lot of spines, then you will need to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible and seek their advice.
How to handle hedgehogs
Although hedgehogs are docile creatures, they are also solitary by nature. Due to this, they take a while to warm up to social interactions and don’t always like to be held.
It takes a lot of time and effort to get a hedgehog to tolerate being held by a human, so having patience is key when it comes to gaining their trust.
Younger hedgehogs are generally easier to tame than older ones. As a result, your best chance to get yourself a hedgehog that doesn’t mind being held is by getting one at about six to eight weeks of age.
However, this is not a general rule and can differ depending on the hedgehog in question.
Typically, hedgehogs don’t like their heads being petted, but personality traits can differ between hedgehogs. When a hedgehog feels threatened, they roll themselves into a tight ball and can easily injure if a person or a dog or cat attempts to approach them or uncurl them.
Bonding with your hedgehog is fundamental to ensure that they learn to trust you. Once your hedgehog learns that you are not a threat or someone to be feared, they will eventually warm up to you.
However, you shouldn’t be shocked if your hedgehog hisses or exhibits defensive behaviors the first few times you try to handle them. This will take time, and you shouldn’t adopt one blindly. If you don’t have the time to bond with your hedgehog, then it might not be the right time for you to adopt one.
Before adopting a hedgehog, you should do your research and make sure that you are aware of the level of care that they require.
Although you might want an exotic pet, you need to prioritize the hedgehog’s health and happiness before you commit to adopting one.
If you think you are capable of providing a hedgehog with a good life, then good luck! I hope this article has provided you with some helpful information.