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Hedgehog Care FAQs

February 1, 2024

February brings to mind two things: Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day. Every year, people eagerly anticipate the arrival of Punxsutawney Phil, and find out if he sees his shadow. (Interestingly, in 2024, he did not see it, signaling an early spring. This is only the 21st time in the 138-year-old tradition that this has happened.)

While this cute tradition may be common knowledge, what isn’t as well-known is the fact that February 2nd is also a significant day for hedgehogs. In fact, Hedgie was forecasting the weather long before Phil came onto the scene. Ancient Romans used to predict weather patterns by seeing if Hedgie would spot his shadow by moonlight. A local Jefferson County, PA veterinarian provides valuable insights into hedgehog care below.

Should I Get A Pet Hedgehog?

In addition to being cute, charming, quiet, and playful, these little quilled creatures are lots of fun. It’s no wonder that they have gained quite a following.

They also have some great qualities.  For one thing, Hedgie isn’t too big. He’s also fairly easy to care for, though it may take some research to understand his needs.

That said, when choosing a pet, it’s important to choose one that fits into your family. If you have a dog that has any level of prey drive, a hedgehog may not be the best option.

Hedgehogs 101

Hedgehogs inhabit Asia, Africa, and Europe. In the wild, they prefer woodlands, parks, and hedgerows as their habitat. While there are 14 kinds of hedgehog, only two are usually kept as pets. The African pygmy is the most popular.

Can Hedgehogs Throw Their Quills?

The hedgehog possesses a distinctive (and, in our opinion, endearing) characteristic – a coat of quills. These quills are composed of keratin, the same substance found in our hair and nails. (Fun fact: snake scales also consist of keratin.) While Hedgie’s spikes aren’t as sharp as porcupine quills, they could poke a child.  If threatened, the hedgehog will curl up into a ball for protection. They cannot shoot their quills, though.

What Can I Feed A Pet Hedgehog?

Hedgie is an insectivore. As the name suggests, that means he mostly munches on insects in the wild. Though wild hedgehogs do eat some produce, their digestive systems are better suited to creepy-crawlies.

What is the optimal diet for a pet hedgehog? The most suitable option is likely hedgehog kibble, though some veterinarians and breeders also give high-protein cat or dog food a thumbs-up. The most crucial factor is ensuring that Hedgie’s meals are high in protein and low in fat.

Hedgehogs can also have cooked salmon, chicken, or turkey, as well as select fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, peas, apples, beans, corn, carrots, watermelon, pears, papaya, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Before offering any of these things to your cute pal, wash it thoroughly and remove the skins, seeds, and pits.

Your pet will also enjoy consuming insects like earthworms, wax worms, and silkworms. These should be purchased from stores, to avoid your pet contracting the parasites or illnesses carried by many wild insects.

You’ll also need to find out what isn’t safe for your quilled buddy. That list includes milk, peanuts, citrus fruits, nuts, hard veggies, garlic, onions, and chocolate, to name just a few things. However, that is just a partial list. Do some research, and never give your pet anything without checking to make sure that it’s safe. You’ll also need to provide fresh water.

Consult your Jefferson County, PA veterinarian for more information.

What Kind Of Cage Do I Get My Hedgehog?

We recommend a cage that is at least 4 x 2 square feet. Make sure it has a solid bottom: mesh and wire floors do not hold bedding, and can even cause toe and leg injuries.

As far as bedding, you can use a paper product or kiln-dried shavings. Avoid pine and cedar products, as they can cause respiratory problems. Another option is to provide a soft blanket, such as a fleece one.

You can train hedgehogs to use a litterbox, though we’ll cover that in another blog post. If you want to add a litterbox, use paper towels or soft pellets. Avoid clay and clumping litters. These can cause dangerous intestinal blockages if swallowed.

Your pet will also need a little gym, so he can stay in shape. Give him an exercise wheel to run and play on. Choose a solid one: the wire ones aren’t safe. You will  also need to provide the little guy with a small habitat, such as pouches or igloos. You can also use one made for reptiles.

Hedgehogs also need enrichment. Don’t forget to get your prickly pal some toys! Many toys made for cats or small dogs will work just fine. Choose brightly-colored toys if possible.

Ask your Jefferson County, PA veterinarian for specific care tips.

What Is The Best Place To Put A Hedgehog Cage?

Temperature is one of the most important  things to consider here. Hedgie should always be kept in a room where the temperature consistently stays between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t let him sit in direct sunlight or in drafty areas. Also, keep him away from loud areas, such as the spot in front of your teenager’s drum kit.

What Is The Best Way To Bond With A New Hedgehog?

It may take Hedgie some time to warm up to you. He needs to feel safe! There are a few things to keep in mind here. 

Be mindful of your hedgehog’s timid nature and natural instinct for flight. Never startle hedgehogs or handle them roughly. Some things that may not seem scary to us can be very frightening for them. Shadows, for instance, are a big one. Hedgehogs can’t see very well: these little guys rely more on their cute noses than their eyes. You’ll also want to avoid scooping your cute pet up from behind, or while he is sleeping.

If Hedgie gets scared, he’ll probably curl up into a ball. Just let him be until he feels safe enough to unfurl.

As far as gaining trust, go slowly. You want your little buddy to form positive associations with you. You can try placing a worn tee shirt in his cage so he can cuddle in it. Hopefully, this will help him get used to your scent. (Tip: do not change soap, lotion, detergent, or scents during this period.)

How Do I Know if My Hedgehog Is Sick?

Hedgehogs are susceptible to a variety of illnesses and diseases. Some common ones include cancer, reproductive problems, dental problems, and Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.

Pay close attention to your hedgehog, and watch for warning signs, such as a lack of appetite, weight loss, respiratory problems, dull eyes, lethargy, diarrhea, lumps, or bumps. crankiness, such as grumbling or hissing, are also red flags. Contact your Jefferson County, PA veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these.

Conclusion: There is no doubt that hedgehogs are cute and lots of fun, but they are also quite small and do need some specific care. Do plenty of research and ask your veterinarian for more information.

Feel free to contact us anytime with any questions you may have about hedgehog care. As your Jefferson County, PA pet hospital, we’re here to help!