Although a bit on the prickly side, hedgehogs can make great pets. Hedgehogs are not only cute but when cared for properly, their interesting personalities shine. To bring out the best in your new hedgie, please consider the following guidelines.
Before making the decision to purchase or adopt, handle and play with your prospective pet to get an idea of its personality. Hedgehogs have quills, and the quills will “prickle up” when the hedgehogs feel threatened. If your hedgie was not well socialized and handled as a juvenile, it will take some time for you to gain your new friend’s trust.
Most hedgehogs live for four to seven years, and proper diet, housing, social interaction and medical care are extremely important to maximize their overall quality of life. Please note that they are nocturnal and will sleep most during the day.
Staple Diet of Fruits, Veggies and Insects
Being both omnivores and insectivores, hedgehogs eat plant material, animal material and insects. In the past, hedgehogs were fed a staple diet of dry, reduced-calorie cat food, but recently a diet made specifically for hedgehogs is now available and recommended. Vegetables and fruit should be included in their diet. Specifically, dark leafy greens are preferable chopped into small pieces, but other vegetables can be used. Insects such as frozen crickets and meal worms are recommended as a supplement three to four times a week, especially if you are breeding them. Some hedgehog fanciers even supplement with one to two tablespoons of mixed baby food of different types. Since your hedgie will be sleeping most of the day, food should be provided once a day in the evening. Food may be hidden throughout the environment to promote foraging-type behavior, which aids in normal activity and maintaining proper body weight.
Housing your Hedgehog
Hedgehogs can be housed in either wire or plastic enclosures. The floor should be a solid one—wire is not recommended. Proper bedding must be provided. Shredded newspaper, Oxbow Pure Comfort Bedding or CareFresh brand bedding may be used but with caution as a hedgie may ingest it, possibly causing an intestinal blockage. Some hedgehog enthusiasts prefer fabric cage liners that are washable. Do not use cedar or aromatic shavings. The cage should be cleaned regularly (weekly at a minimum). Boxes, tunnels or hiding places should be provided to allow your pet to feel safe and give him or her something to do.
Hedgehogs may spend supervised time out of the cage, but monitor them closely as they may try to dig in the rug or potted plants. They may inadvertently eat pieces of carpet or other objects, which can cause intestinal blockage. When the hedgehog is outside the cage, remember to separate your hedgehog from other four-legged housemates who might attack or play too rough. Similarly, supervise children to avoid accidental injury.
Veterinary Visits for Hedgies
Like cats and dogs, hedgehogs also need regular veterinary visits. Hedgehogs do not need vaccinations, but spaying and neutering should be considered, especially if more than one is kept together as pets. Hedgehogs should have annual wellness and fecal exams to monitor their overall health. Annual bloodwork is recommended as they age (greater than three to four years old). Some of the more common disease processes that affect hedgehogs include the following: vitamin deficiencies, obesity, mites, pneumonia, cancer, gastrointestinal blockage, dental disease, fatty liver disease and internal parasites. Diligent and well-informed care can prevent many health problems in your hedgehog. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your local exotics veterinarian to set up a consultation.
Feel free to contact Dr. Ariana Finkelstein, DVM. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also available through Facebook at Facebook Healthy Choice Pet Products. You may call her at Mission Pet Emergency at 210/691-0900 or at All Species Veterinary Services at 210/382-5725.
Ariana Finkelstein, DVM currently practices at Mission Pet Emergency in San Antonio, Texas.