Hedgehog Care FAQ

(Frequently Asked Questions)

Below is a list of questions about hedgehogs.
Click on a list item to find the answer.


What is a hedgehog?

A hedgehog is a insectivore. It look similar to a porcupine, but the two species are not related. A hedgehog's closest relative is actually a shrew. An average African Pymgy Hedgehog will fit in an adult man's cupped hand. An average Algerian hedgehog is slightly larger. An average European hedgehog is much larger. European hedgehogs can be the size of a small dog! African Pygmy and Algerian hedgehogs have a thick coat of spines, varying in color from animal to animal. There is no fur under the spines, but soft white or brown fur covers the belly, neck, face, and legs. Sight is relatively poor, but hearing, smell, and taste are very well developed in most pet hedgehogs. European hedgehogs possess a thick coat of brown fur under their spines and on their legs and belly.

Where can I get a hedgehog?

You can get a hedgehog from a breeder, a private owner, or a pet store. If you're willing to take the extra time and pay a little extra, I recommend buying your pet directly from a breeder. If you buy a hedgehog from a breeder who doesn't live within reasonable driving distance of you, make sure any travel arrangements for the hedgehog are safe and comfortable. Don't allow your new pet to be shipped in the baggage compartment of an airplane, or any other place which would be stressful. A pet store is an easy choice, but often a disappointing one. Many animals in pet stores are diseased, malnourished, or bad-tempered. They also could be pregnant, a difficult situation. This isn't to say that no pet stores are caring and kind, but meant only as a warning. Kerbi came from a pet store originally.  A private owner is also an easy choice, often found in the classified ads of your local newspaper. These ads usaually are owners who would like to sell the babies from an accidental litter, or sometimes people who breed hedgehogs as a hobby. On the plus side, the babies are most of the time well socialized and friendly. On the other hand, they are an unknown quantity and have no guarantees in most cases. They could be sick or have parasites. If you choose a private owner, make sure to ask lots of questions and check not just your pick but the whole litter and if possible the mother for disease or parasites.

How can I select a hedgehog?

You can select a hedgehog with some basic rules of thumb:

What kind of hedgehog makes the best pet?

European hedgehogs and Desert Shortear hedgehogs are only available with a license, to a hedgehog expert. African Pygmy, Dwarf African Pygmy, and Algerian hedgehogs are all good pets. Algerian hedgehogs like Angel are slightly more lively, large, and alert. They are also a little slower to adjust to humans, and in my experience never seem to feel quite happy being held. African Shortears are illegal for anyone but a licensed professional biologist with a special permit to keep. In general, dwarf hedgehogs are hard to find and expensive. In some cases supposed dwarf hedgehogs are just immature African Pygmy hedgehogs! African Pygmy hedgehogs are the best pets for amateurs.

NOTE: While Algerians are a separate type of hedgehog, Algerian is also a color variety. Algerian and African Pygmy hedgies have been interbred to the point that they are very difficult to distinguish.

What kind of cage does a hedgehog need?

A hedgehog should have a glass cage with a wire mesh top. A wooden cage is OK, if it has a window or door in the side and gets plenty of light. A hedgehog cage should be at least 12" high, 32" long, and 12" wide. In general, two square feet or more of space is the minimum.

What is the proper bedding for a hedgehog?

A hedgehog should have a cage filled about 2" deep with recycled paper bedding. NEVER USE RED CEDAR SHAVINGS OR ANY OTHER WOOD WITH EVEN A SLIGHT SMELL!! This is very dangerous, no matter what hedgehog books say. I have personally found Carefresh recycled paper bedding to be the best kind. Some owners also choose to use cage liners and blankets. Pins-N-Needles sells these.

Can a hedgehog use another animal's old cage?

Not usually. If the other animal died or was sick, the cage would have to be sterilized with lots of boiling water and disinfectant. A hedgehog can catch pneumonia from drafts in a wire mesh cage, no matter how far from a window. Any used cage would need a thorough cleaning with a little boiling water and disinfectant. It is usually best to give each hedgehog a new cage.

What toys does a hedgehog need?

A hedgehog should have several toys. Among them should be:
  These toys will help keep your pet happy and sane, when combined with exercise outside of its cage.

What should I feed a hedgehog?

A hedgehog should have wet food and dry food. Hard food is necessary for dental health, but should not be the sole source of food. Mealworms add extra protein to hedgehog diets, and should be fed regularly, but not every day. My favorite wet food is the kind that's homemade using the following recipe.

The food should be:

20% apple
20% chopped carrot
60% cooked chicken or beef

Chop the chicken or beef into tiny pieces. Add corn, frozen or unfrozen. Set aside. Chop the apple into tiny pieces and add it to the mixture. Mix in:

A little bit of calcium*

Press the mixture into an ice cube tray. I recommend the trays shaped like half a egg carton. For one hedgehog, fill each space about halfway. To feed two hedgehogs, fill each space completely. Break the cube in half after defrosting. To defrost, place a food cube on a folded paper towel or microwave safe dish. Cook in a microwave for 16 seconds, or until completelydefrosted. A defrosted food cube should not feel cold or icy, but should not feel hot either. Feed at about 9:00 PM for nocturnal hedgehogs, and 9:00 AM for diurnal hedgehogs. (Hedgehogs constantly woken during the daytime until they think of the sunlight as a wake-up call)

* Calcium is available at most major pet stores. DON'T USE TOO MUCH! Only use enough calcium that there will be a few grains in each small handful. I also add reptile vitamins but there is no data suggesting that this is helpful in any way. Use this at your own risk.

How can I play with my hedgehog?

Most well socialized hedgehogs enjoy being around humans. Hedgehogs will not fetch, and are extremely difficult to teach tricks. (I taught Kerbi to roll up into a ball with his head sticking out when I hold him a certain way, but he's still unreliable about it. Such a trick is useful if you intend to try to educate others about hedgehogs.) However, a pet hedgehog is still a lot of fun to play with! Always be gentle when playing. Most hedgehogs enjoy a sort of "treasure hunt" for food.

To play this game, darken a hallway or room so that you can see but the room is a little darker than a human would like. Hide treats the hedgehog seems to like in dark corners and under small objects. Make sure to remember where everything is, and don't use live prey! Let the hedgehog loose and watch it hunt for food in its natural nocturnal state. See how many treats your pet can find! You might try setting up obstacles such as a tunnel, small barrier, or dish of water to test your pet's creativeness. Don't be surprised if he or she knocks down, goes around, or completely ignores the challenge. Hedgehogs generally try to take the easiest path to food, and that includes finding their own treats instead of the ones you set up! Old food scraps are often discovered indoors. Outdoors is entirely different! Be prepared for a hedgehog taste testing a variety of unusual treats. Kerbi once ate two colonies of warring ants! Earwigs, sow bugs, beetles, grass, and rotten fruit are also favorites. If they begin foaming at the mouth while trying new treats, don't worry! Hedgehogs instinctively chew new foods into a foamy saliva and spread it on their spines. This is not yet fully explained by scientists, but I theorize that they are attempting to coat themselves with a new scent to avoid predators.

Once you and your hedgehog are accustomed to eachother you may want to keep your hedgehog with you at times. Who can resist showing off a well behaved, cute, and unusual pet? Your pet may like to be close to you. If it trusts you it may think of you as a mix between servant, toy, and shelter. The latter option prompts my pets to seek refuge inside my shirt! If you don't like to have prickly, excitable animals in your shirt, consider a fanny pack or backpack. Always leave the zipper a little bit open. (Enough for your little friend to stick their head or nose out to see what's going on, but not enough to let them escape.) Kerbi traveled to many places with me, and has probably met more elected representatives than most humans. A word of caution: When carrying hedgehogs for any extended period of time, make sure to offer food, water, and exercise about every half hour at the very minimum.

Can my hedgehog be active during the day?

Hedgehogs can be trained to sleep at night and play in the daytime, but it takes a good deal of patience and time. You will have to wake your hedgehog for a little while each day, making sure that it doesn't go back to sleep for more than a few minutes. Gradually extend the daytime play time until your hedgehog begins to wake up on its own. You must still play with it every day!

Does my pet need a wheel?

YES! Every hedgehog should have a wheel. Running on a wheel gives the animal a chance to simulate the exercise it would get in wild conditions. Wild hedgehogs roam over a large territory searching for snacks every night. A pet that isn't correctly physically stimulated will almost never be in the proper mental condition. bored hedgehogs can develop harmful habits or become obese and bad-tempered. The wheel itself should be at least 12" in diameter. The stand adds a few more inches, so you must not get a shallow cage for your hedgehog. Beware of traditional wheels! The bars can cause a hedgehog's feet to become caught. Angel once injured herself on a wheel before I owned her. I have found that the best method of fixing a wheel is fairly simple: weave windowscreen through the bars. This type of wheel can be cleaned with a high pressure hose or scrubbing brush.

Some solid wheels such as Jog-a-Hog are commercially available for hedgehogs. However, I have found that these wheels usually do not fit in a standard size terrarium. I prefer to simply use wallpaper, windowscreen, or sandpaper mesh threaded through the bars of a large standard wheel.

Hint: To keep toenails dull, use very fine grain sandpaper mesh to thread through the wheel instead of windowscreen. Make sure to check your hedgehog's feet every day if you use this option, because an avid runner can become stressed and run for so long that they scrape the pads of their feet. When this happens, switch to wallpaper or screen for a few weeks, or use wallpaper or windowscreen on all but one section of the wheel.

Is Commercial Food Okay For Hedgehogs?

It won't hurt them. In fact, a hard commercial food should always be offered in a bowl. I give my pets Ultra Blend Hedgehog Food and Ultra Blend Hedgehog Treat. This is in addition to their regular food. The recipe is found right here, and is much better for your hedgies than any commercial food. Also supplement with mealworms as treats, but they shouldn't be the main part of the pet's diet. In the summer, a hedgehog playing outdoors may find bugs or plants to add to its diet!

Note: I have recently heard of some problems with Vitakraft Hedgehog Food and 8-in-1 Ultra Blend Hedgehog Treat.  Vitakraft Hedgehog Food is too high in protein, having been designed as a snack for European hedgehogs. For this reason, I have ceased to recommend it. I continue to use Ultra Blend Hedgehog Treat, but I have heard that it can become lodged in a pet's jaw. I am monitoring Pike carefully to make sure this does not happen to her, and if anything of the sort happens I will immediately take it off my recommended foods list. Feed Ultra Blend Food with ease of mind, though!

What If I Lose My Hedgehog In My House?

It's generally easy to find a lost hedgie inside. If it's winter, turn up the heat so Sonic doesn't hibernate. Close any open doors, especially if you know which room the hedgehog is in. Remember that hedgehogs are nocturnal, so look behind bookshelves and under beds. Watch where you put your feet. Tapping things and listening for hisses helps, if your pet is a hisser. If all else fails, wait until dark and tempt him/her with his/her evening food. This last method has worked numerous times on Angel, who always managed to find a hiding place that remains hidden despite a thorough search of closets, furniture, beds, etc. She even managed to make a hole in the back of a dresser and hide in my sweatshirt drawer!

What If I Lose My Hedgehog Outdoors?

It's not as easy to find a pet lost outside. Alert all neighbors to be on the lookout for a lost hedgehog. If it's winter, try to set up a warm shelter. Let me add that in winter, hedgehogs should NEVER BE OUTSIDE. In fact, it must be about 72 degrees, with only very low winds before you can let them out to play. Watch at all times when your pets are outside, unless you have an enclosed deck for them to play on. If despite all efforts to keep track of your pet they run off, don't lose hope. Search bushes, gardens, flower beds, and any small dark space first.  Then look methodically through the yard. Always be careful to watch where you step! If you still don't find the missing animal, lay its favorite treats by all possible hiding places at evening and watch. If this doesn't work, keep trying and hope for the best. A lost outdoor hedgie is a tough case. If you locate the pet and can't reach to get them out, leave treats for them and watch from a distance. Good luck!

Can My Hedgehog Play Outdoors?

Yes. Most pets enjoy a romp outside in the summer. Make sure the temerature is at least 72 degrees before letting hedgehogs out, and watch them at all times. If you have a completely enclosed deck, you can spread some leaves around and leave treats out there. Make sure that the fencing isn't screen, because hedgehogs can get through anything flimsy. Hedgehog-proof your deck, covering all outlets and removing anything that would be harmful if taste-tested.  If you don't have a deck and can't watch your hedgehog when he or she is outside, you can build a hedgehog run. However, take care that the run is sturdy enough to stand up to wind and annoyed hedgehogs, has plants, water,and shelter, and is basically in-escapable. You have to bury the boards a few feet underground so that burrowing out isn't a problem, cover the run so climbing won't get your pet out, and generally make sure it's as secure as any cage. Best by far is the option of letting your pets wander free with supervision at all times. If you think of hedgehogs as prickly, inventive two year olds you may have an easier time visualizing a hedgie escaping a flimsy run.

Do hedgehogs get along with other pets?

Hedgehogs can often enjoy the company of another species, provided both animals have lots of room to get away from eachother if necessary. Different species should never share a cage! Before introducing Prickles to Fido and Fluffy, you need to remember a few simple rules.

First of all, supervision is absolutely necessary even with animals that seem to be the best of friends. My turtle Marvel bit Kerbi on the nose, despite the fact that they seemed to have a great rapport. Secondly, with animals such as cats or dogs or even rabbits, the younger they are when they meet the hedgehog the better. An impressionable young kitten that has never caught a mouse is more likely to remember its first attempt to eat a hedgehog than a seasoned mouser. It may seem cruel to allow your pets to be pricked, but a taste of sharp spines is usually more than enough to prevent an animal from repeating its experiments. A kitten or puppy that meets a hedgehog may eventually bond with it, but an older animal is likely to simply plan a better attack next time. Finally, keep encounters short even with critters that know each other well. Once again, the analogy of a hedgehog to a two year old child is appropriate. Young children get tired and frustrated when playing with anyone for too long, even their best friend.

What if my hedgehog is sick?

If your hedgehog shows any of these signs, call a veterinarian immediately:
  If your hedgehog has a shallow cut which doesn't bleed much, wash the area with warm water and watch your pet with an eagle eye for pus or lack of healing. Even a tiny wound could turn out to be a deep puncture.

Note: In the case of lethargy of not eating, make sure the temperature is between 74 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the cage. Anything outside this range can cause hibernation or aestivation. (Warm weather hibernation)

Handy Tip: If you end up owning a hedgehog, your first act as a proud hog-parent should be to call area veterinarians until you find one experienced with hedgehogs, then post their number by your telephone or on your refrigerator where it won't be lost. Any new acquisition should have a thorough checkup as soon as possible. Vets tend to love working with hedgehogs, especially the cooperative sort with an owner to match! I have never had a conflict with my veterinarian, and she has always been very sensitive and helpful.

Can I tell if my hedgehog is pregnant?

There is no yes or no answer to this question. It depends on a variety of factors, including your hedgehog experience and your knowledge of your particular hedgehog. If you have recently bought a female hedgehog, she should have a checkup anyway. If she is of breeding age, ask your vet to palpate her for pregnancy at the checkup. If your girl has spent the night with a male, wait about 15 days (1/2 gestation period) then bring her to be palpated and/or ultrasounded/x-rayed. It all depends on many factors. Pike's babies were simply found in the box one day, about 33 days after she met Kerbi for the first time.

For more information, check Breeding and Hedgerow Hoglets.

Is it a good idea to buy a nursing or pregnant female?

In general, absolutely not. Unfortunately, you can't always tell if a pet shop animal is pregnant. A nursing female should never be bought except from a breeder with excellent references, and even then only by a very experienced owner. The stress of travel is never good for lactating or expecting sows. It also helps to take time to get to know the hog before taking on the added difficulties of hoglets.

If you find yourself in such a position, take a deep breath, get out your hedgehog book, and leave the sow alone as much as possible. Provide plenty of food and water, along with a large nesting box. For more suggestions, click the links in the section above this one.

What if my hedgehog has dandruff?

This usually indicates a nutritional problem. If you check the section on feeding, you will find my recipe. The section on commercial food has more recommendations. If you already use nutritious food, it is best to call a vet. The veterinarian can examine the individual, take a skin sample to analyze for mites, and talk to you about the feeding program you use. A little flaky skin is completely normal, especially for a hedgehog which you just bought, (should have a checkup anyway!) but excessive dandruff is a serious condition. If you put the hedgehog on a black towel, does it look like it snowed? If so, time to change something. A healthy hedgehog will have very slightly flaky skin or smooth, pink skin with no hint of dandruff.

What if my hedgehog has chapped ears?

This is absolutely normal for a new hedgehog. It will need a checkup to make sure it is in good health and free from ear mites, but once any parasite is ruled out it is easy to get rid of unsightly cracked ears.

First, check the sections on feeding and commercial food to establish a feeding program that meets nutritional needs. Once you have begun feeding healthy food, time to treat the ears from the outside. Your hedgehog will not enjoy this step, but it is necessary. A thin coat of vaseline, cocoa butter, or another skin lotion that would be safe for a baby should be spread on each ear. Unscented bag balm works well also. Take care not to get this inside the ear canal! Repeat this weekly until the problem clears up. It may take months for ears to become completely smooth, but if no improvement at all shows in one month repeat the vet check. Eventually, your pet should have small, smooth oval ears with no cracks.

What If My Hedgehog Has Mites?

Don't panic! If you suspect that your pet has mites, the best thing you can do is go to your veterinarian as soon as possible. He or she will take a skin or quill sample and check for mites. If the vet finds mites, he or she will probably give your hedgehog an injection and advise you to keep it on paper towel bedding changed daily until the mite infestation is a thing of the past. Your pet may need another injection, or, in very severe cases, two. Pike came to me with a terrible mite infestation, the result of the stress of her pregnancy causing the natural very few mites on a hedgie to multiply out of control. She was given three injections and kept on paper towels for weeks before her spines stopped falling out. If treated properly, mites are no problem at all. An adult hedgehog is always growing new quills, and those lost will soon be replaced.

How many hedgehogs can I keep?

As many as you have the time and money to care for. Each hedgehog needs its own cage, which must be cleaned regularly, vet care, food, water, a wheel, hiding places, litter, a heat lamp and heat pad, and lots of loving attention from you. The more hedgehogs the more difficult this is. Set aside at least a half hour daily for quiet time with each hedgehog. If two or three get along, you can hold them at the same time. No more than three, however, as supervision gets very tricky!

The bottom line is, if you can find room in your home, heart, and wallet for twenty hedgehogs and their needs, then go ahead and keep twenty hedgehogs. It's a good idea to talk to your vet before any attempts at breeding, however. If you honestly look at yourself and find that you would not be able to keep two hedgehogs happy, then consider setting up a play date for your pet and another hedgie in your area. You might even start a hedgehog owners' club, alternating houses to meet for mealworms, (hedgehogs) cookies (people) and socialization. (both)

Can I let my hedgehogs play together?

Absolutely, if you make sure that they will be safe. Before introducing two animals, make sure that both have had a recent vet exam to prevent diseases or parasites being passed back and forth. Choose a play area to introduce them in which there is room to go their separate ways if they don't "click." Allow the pair to slowly get acquainted. Hissing should not be considered a problem, merely a part of understanding the other's boundaries. If the hedgehogs are seriously fighting, biting eachother's spines and hanging on, separate them and put them a little ways apart. If this continues to be a problem, keep the particular two apart. Hedgehogs are as individual as humans. It is also a good idea not to give treats to newly introduced hogs while both can see, otherwise a fight may start. Remember, before allowing a male and female to meet for more than a few minutes make sure you are prepared for the possibility of babies. Hedgehog overnights are a possibility between two females or a female and a male, but do not keep two males in close quarters. As with any rule, there are exceptions to this. Some males can become great friends! With any overnight, make sure the hedgheogs know each other and both have their own food dish and hideaway for the night. If the hogs get different food, separate them for an hour or so at feeding time. In addition, do not schedule a hedgehog sleepover between a male and a female unless you are prepared to deal with babies. It's unlikely, but Pike proved that it's possible for a female to become pregnant after only one night.

Are hedgehogs good with children?

Yes. Hedghehogs enjoy playing with children. If you wish to allow a hedgehog to be owned or held by a young child, first make sure the child in question has shown themself to be responsible and gentle with animals. A hedgehog is not a good first pet; consider something a little less spiny and perhaps a little more durable for a very young child or inexperienced pet owner. If a hedgehog is bought for a child, try to get a calm and tame individual. Older animal lovers may enjoy the challenge of winning the trust of a less tame hedgie, but it takes patience. Does the owner have this quality?

I suggest the following rules for handling the hedgehog. These are flexible depending on the kid and the hedgehog. These could be posted on an index card taped to the cage if you have very young children who will need a reminder. Also, no child under eight and no child whom you do not trust or who is meeting the pet for the first time should be left alone.

Stick to these rules, and make sure they are understood before letting the child hold the hedgehog for more than a minute or so or without supervision.

What If I Go Out of Town?

If you have to leave town, it's usually best not to take a hedgehog along. A superbly calm animal might tolerate a short trip, but hedgehogs do not do well in the cargo area of planes. Sneaking a hedgie on board in a fanny pack is an option, but everything depends on how good natured your fellow passengers are, since it's absolutely necessary to offer a hedgehog food, water, and exercise frequently.

The best option in most circumstances is hiring a hedgehog sitter. If possible, this person should have hedgehogs of their own. Never entrust your pet to someone who treats their own hedgies badly, of course. In the best of all possible worlds, your sitter would take your hog into his or her home while you are gone, cage, toys and all. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible. Other pets, lack of space, roommates, or any number of other things can make it hard for someone to take a new pet for several days. In this case, your hedgehog sitter should visit your pet at least once a day to feed, water if necessary, and play with your hedgehog.

Make it easy for the sitter. Write or type up feeding instructions, the hedgehog's name, and emergency numbers. Paste this document to the hedgehog's cage to make sure the sitter can see exactly where it is. Leave and adequate quantity of food, and show your friend where it is. If the hedgehog is tempermental, leave work gloves by the cage. If you follow these instructions, you can enjoy your trip knowing that your beloved hog is safe with a responsible caretaker.

How do I show my hedgehog?

If you bought your hedgehog from a breeder, he or she may know where to find a hedgehog show organization in your area. Show hedgehogs should be registered; to register a hedgie, go to the International Hedgehog Registry. Owners should join the International Hedgehog Club. Both these organizations can help you find a hedgehog show. Once both human and pet are registered and you have looked for shows in your area, go to Hedgehog Central for info on show standards.

It's difficult to find hedgehog shows. It may be necessary to travel out of state or to organize your own hedgehog club for your area. If you do this, either find a judge from the International Hedgehog Club. Hedgehog Central's page on "putting on a show" tells you how to do so. Most of all, have fun!

Where can I learn more about hedgehogs?

Hedgehogs are growing in popularity, even though the hedgehog trend has slowed. This is a good thing! More and more websites are popping up about hedgehogs. Your local library may have several hedgehog books. I recommend the three links above. You have shown great taste by your interest in hedgehogs, and I hope you pursue this venture. Feel free to email me to tell me about your hedgehogs or anything hedgie related! CONTACT THE HOGMISTRESS