Keeping Hedgehogs as Pets – 10 Things You Need To Know

You might have noticed the cute hedgehogs are your local pet store or online marketplace, but how much do you know about them?

The most common pet hedgehog has been coined by breeders as the African Pygmy Hedgehog. They are native to Africa but have been quickly joining homes all over North America. But before you commit to an adorable pet hedgehog of your own, here are 10 Things You Need to Know About Keeping Hedgehogs as Pets.

1. Hedgehogs Are Territorial Animals

Unlike other “pocket pets” like rats or bunnies, hedgehogs are solitary animals and should be housed alone.

Even in the wild, hedgehogs are territorial and will only seek company during the breeding season. Some people have had success raising two female hedgehogs together and theorize that they prefer having company.

However, it is not necessary to have more than one hedgehog so don’t feel bad for keeping yours solo! Failure to keep hedgehogs alone could result in death or injury especially if two males are housed together.

2. Hedgehogs Have Between 5000 And 7000 Quills

Instead of soft fur, hedgehogs have stiff hollow hairs on their back called quills. Another word for quills is ‘spines’ and pet hedgehogs have between 5000 and 7000 of them! It’s normal to be fearful of handling a hedgehog because their quills are certainly intimidating, but once you learn how to pick them up safely, you will find that when a hedgehog is relaxed, their quills are not sharp.

When hedgehogs are in their defense position curled up, their quills spread out and become sharp, but they shouldn’t break the skin. You might find that the sharp poke of a hedgehog’s quills feels like touching the end of a bunch of toothpicks.

3. Hedgehogs Can’t Digest Milk Or Bread

Pet hedgehogs with snacks they can't eat

In the wild, hedgehogs do not have access to dairy or grain products, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that their domesticated counterparts are lactose and wheat intolerant. If your pet hedgehog consumes milk or bread, they will experience upset stomach and diarrhea. This could lead to premature death dependent on the hedgehog’s health and amount consumed.

4. Hibernation Is Life Threatening For Pet Hedgehogs

Although hibernation is a natural occurrence for a wild hedgehog, it is potentially fatal for a pet hedgehog to hibernate. No one is 100% sure why this is the case, but some people hypothesize that it’s because hedgehogs don’t prepare for hibernation by stocking up on food.

The good news is you can help your pet hedgehog avoid hibernation by keeping their environment warm, around 70 to 86 degrees F. Some signs of hibernation in your pet hedgehog you should look for are: cool to the touch, difficulties moving, and lack of appetite.

If you think your hedgehog is going into hibernation you will need to warm their body slowly using a safe heating pad or covered hot water bottle.

5. Pet Hedgehogs Are Omnivores

In the wild, hedgehogs are insectivores. This means they consume a diet of mostly insects. Pet hedgehogs will gladly eat insects when given the opportunity, but they are considered omnivores because they have access to different types of food than their wild counterparts don’t. If you want to keep your pet hedgehog healthy, you will need to feed them a diet rich in protein.

Some foods your hedgehead might love include: dry hedgehog or cat food, canned cat/dog food, and small amounts of fruits & vegetables. You can feel free to feed your hedgehog some insects too, but you will want to make sure they are free of insecticides.

6. A Common Disease Affecting Hedgehogs Is Called “Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome”

Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome or WHS, is a neurodegenerative disease affecting the nervous system. This non-curable disease affects approximately 10% of pet hedgehogs in North America with the onset of symptoms beginning between 2 and 3 years of age.

Symptoms of WHS include instability when standing, gradual weight loss, seizures, falling to one side, partial paralysis, and muscle atrophy. The progression rate of this disease varies between hedgehogs, but the outcome is sadly the same. You can help your pet hedgehog feel comfortable but eventually you will need to look at humane options like euthanasia when the time comes.

7. Hedgehogs Are Shy

Hedgehogs are considered shy animals so if you are hoping for a social pet, you might be out of luck. This doesn’t mean all pet hedgehogs are shy, some just need a bit more attention and patience than others.

Shy little hedgehog

Some tips for helping your hedgehog feel comfortable include: setting up their environment with proper temperature, bedding, places to hide, food/water, and a light cycle with 12 hours of light during the day. Regular bonding time between you and your pet hedgehog will help accustom your new pal to human interaction but some will require more attention than others.

8. The Average Lifespan Of A Pet Hedgehog Is 4 To 6 Years

Most pet hedgehogs will live between 4 to 6 years of age, but they can live as long as 10 years. Some variables that affect the longevity of a pet hedgehog’s life are stress level, diet, disease/illness, genetics, quality of life, exercise, and veterinary care.

9. Hedgehogs Make “spitballs” When They Encounter A New Scent

A common behavior for pet hedgehogs is called “self-anointing”. This can be alarming to see because your hedgehog will suddenly stop what they are doing to twist their body and begin foaming at the mouth.

They will then lick the foam mixture onto their quills. However, it is completely normal and harmless, so you don’t need to worry. It is a behavior they will do whenever they encounter an unfamiliar scent, so you will notice it more often in young hedgehogs than older ones.

No one is completely sure why hedgehogs do this, but some believe it is a protective measure used to determine if what they are smelling is harmful. This behavior is helpful when it comes to determining the toxicity of a food source.

10. Pet Hedgehogs Can Transmit Major Infections To Humans

If you are going to keep pet hedgehogs at home, there are certain health risks you should be aware of. Hedgehogs are capable of transmitting major infections to humans such as Salmonella and Mycobacteria as well as some fungal and viral infections.

This is particularly concerning for young children and people with compromised immune systems. Some hedgehogs will show symptoms of Salmonella in weight loss, low appetite, and diarrhea but as many as 28% are asymptomatic carriers.

You can help reduce your risk of contracting an infection from your pet hedgehog by following proper hand washing techniques and avoiding direct contact with their feces.

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