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The Worm Lady - Hedgehogs

Care and Feeding of Hedgehogs 

hedgehog in grassy area

The pet or domesticated hedgehogs, commonly referred to as the African Pygmy Hedgehog, are exceptional animals that are easily cared for and are very friendly (if properly socialized).  The pet hedgehog is a hybrid of  two African species (Atelerix algirus) and (A. albiventris) and is NOT a wild species.  Hedgehogs are insectivorous and in their natural habitat they spend most of their time searching for food.  In captivity, they prove to be curious animals who spend almost all of their time exploring their environment.

Housing

House your hedgehog in a large glass or plastic terrarium, or a tub type guinea pig cage, with smooth walls - high enough to prevent your pet from climbing out.  Wire bottomed cages should be avoided as they can allow their small feet and legs to slip through the spaces, between wires, causing injury.  Your cage/vivarium must have ample floor space to encourage movement and prevent obesity in your new little friend.  Keep the cage in a warm room - A good range of temperature for a hedgehog is from 72-85 degrees Fahrenheit - so use a heater, such as a 'stick-on under-tank heater' (available in the reptile department of most pet shops), on the cage if you live in cool climates - and for the cold months in mild climactic zones.  Cleaning the vivarium weekly will help control unwanted odors, making your hedgehog a good pet to house indoors.

Accessories

Cage bedding should always be nontoxic, absorbent, and definitely 'dust free'.  Avoid cedar or pine shavings for a substrate as they cause respiratory problems in hedgehogs.  Shredded paper works relly well and is also very cost efficient.  Carefresh, a paper bedding that is soft, absorbent, and easy to clean, is also a good bedding material to use.  Hedgehogs need a shelter, or a 'hide', in their cage, so providing a PVC pipe, plastic pot on its side, a tissue or shoe box, or another form of shelter will give your hedgehog a area of security and a good place to sleep.

Hedgehogs require exercise to satisfy their desire to forage - and to avoid obesity. This is easily achieved, due to their curious and inquisitive nature - an exercise wheel made for a hedgehog or chinchilla should be used for this purpose.  Hedgehogs love to push, chew, and manipulate toys, such as hard plastic balls, and paper towel rolls.  Again, be sure the wheel has a solid walking surface so its feet won’t get caught in any spacing or holes.

Water Bottle 

Your prickly little companion needs a source of fresh clean water at all times.  A 'stoppered water bottle' is often the easiest and cleanest way for the water supply.  A heavy bowl, to prevent spilling, is an alternative if your pet does not like the water bottle.

2 Food Bowls

Two food bowls will be required for his home.  One bowl is for dry food and the other for his moist food, and the bowls should be heavy, or easily attached to the enclosure/cage to prevent spilling.

Toys & Enrichment

Your hedgehog needs a variety of toys and items that will keep him happy and entertained.  A large exercise wheel is a necessary appliance for an active hedgehog.  Other useful items of enrichment can be tubing, PVC pipe, ramps, ledges, tunnels, and other suitable decor.

Toys are also needed to keep your pet active so balls, bells, chew toys, and other small animal, cat, or bird toys can be lots of fun for your hedgehog, and may prevent it from being destructive.

Playpen

When you bring your pet out of his cage, a small animal playpen is a good way to keep track of him.  A playpen gives the hedgehog some extra room to run around and explore while preventing him from escaping and possibly suddenly disappearing from sight and becoming lost in your home.

Cleaning

The hedgehog is not a smelly animal and with proper maintenance and weekly cleaning his housing should also be fairly odor free.  The cage will need daily removal of any waste and the food and water bowls will need daily cleaning.  About once a week, the bedding should be totally replaced.  The bottom of the cage and any dirty toys or decor should be washed with warm soapy water but you must make sure the cage and accessories are dry before replacing the bedding.


Handling

The quills on the hedgehog are stiff and sharp to the touch.  They do provide some protection when the animal rolls up in a tight ball - similar to a porcupine.  When attempting to handle your pet, please always approach it slowly and quietly (to avoid startling it), and avoid the quills by lifting the animal from its underside, where the fur is soft, and hold your pet cupped in both hands.  Be sure to handle your pet every day for a few minutes and it will become socialized and much easier to handle.


Common Problems

Mites

Mites are external parasites that feed off your hedgehog and burrow in its skin at the base of the spines, and they can be extremely debilitating to your hedgehog, if they are left untreated.  You'll probably notice loss of quills, or dry patches of skin, when mites are present.  Ask your veterinarian to perform a skin scraping to determine if there are any signs of mites on your hedgehog.

Respiratory Infection

Respiratory infections are common and often associated with too cold an environment or stress.  Some discharge will be seen on the face or wrists of the front legs and respiration may sound wheezy or crackly as well.  Respiratory infections in hedgehogs are life threatening and medical attention should be sought ASAP.  Treatment consists of antibiotics, supportive care, and the correction and remediating of the underlying environmental cause.

Diarrhea

There are several causes of diarrhea in hedgehogs - ranging from dietary indiscretion to bacterial, viral and parasitic infections.  Dehydration associated with diarrhea is a major concern with these small anumals.  Hedgehogs with a soft stool that lasts more than a day or diarrhea associated with other signs that your hedgehog is sick (not eating, inactivity or other change in behavior) should be brought to your veterinarian immediately.

Hibernation

Unlike wild hedgehogs from cooler climates, the pet hedgehog should most likely not hibernate.  Cold temperatures will lead to brumation behavior that all too often ends with pneumonia or other disease problems.

article courtesy of Christine Hancock - www.drexotic.com/care-and-feeding-of-hedgehogs

Physical Gender Differences  

  • Male hedgehogs are called boars.  Their penis is retracted within a penile sheath that is located in the mid-abdominal region of the hedgehog.  The external portion of the sheath most closely resembles a belly button.  The testicles are located in the abdomen and are generally not seen.
  • Female hedgehogs are called sows, and their vulva and anus are very close in proximity to each other.  They have five pairs of mammae or teats.
  • Male and female hedgehogs should be housed separately from the time of weaning and should only be allowed contact for breeding purposes. 


How To Handle, and Tame, A Jumpy / Scared Hedgehog : Hedgehog Taming Video

Hedgehog Handling Tips For New Owners : Hedgehog Handling Tips Video


'Whity' my Albino Hedgehog ... exploring ...! 

Boogie Boogie Hedgehog - Parry Gripp (very funny video)

 Hedgehog Care Facts 

Hedgehogs are nocturnal mammals so they spend most of the day sleeping and become active at dusk, which is a good feeding time for them.

A hedgehog’s most distinctive trait are his quills.  Quills are sharp hollow hairs that are used as a defense when threatened ... a hedgehog is able to curl up into a ball with its quills extended.  The quills usually have white tips with brown bands and also act as camouflage.  Other color variations can be brown, black, cream, gray, and even albino.

Hedgehogs as Pets: The African pygmy hedgehog is the most common type sold as pets.   It is a solitary animal and should live alone ... Four to six years is a normal life span for hedgehogs in their natural habitat, but a pet hedgehog can live up to ten years in captivity and can reach from six to nine inches in length.

A hedgehog is a very active animal that will require a large vivarium/cage even though he is small.  Many cages of adequate size are available at reasonable prices .  Your hedgehog will also need time outside of his cage to explore and run around.

Since hedgehogs are nocturnal, they are best suited for people who are home in the evenings and at night.  A hedgehog might not be a suitable pet for small children because kids can often become overzealous with affection causing the hedgehog to become fearful and deploy its quills, which can lead to injury to the child or the pet.

A hedgehog is fun to watch, quiet, not aggressive, and is fairly easily cared for since it is a clean animal and has very little smell. Its food is easily attainable and inexpensive: a good quality cat kibble and some live feeder insects (mealworms, superworms, balck soldier fly larvae, and waxworms), and some fruit, will keep them happy and healthy.  

A hedgehog can be a wonderful addition for someone who wants a unique and entertaining pet.

Hedgehogs are insectivores (insect eaters) but are actually very opportunistic eaters in the wild eating a wide variety of insects, mollusks (worms and snails), small animals and vegetation, fruits. and greens.  With this information, some commercial hedgehog diets have been created to adjust to their dietary needs for life in captivity.  Many diets may contain chitin, a material found in the exoskeleton of insects (such as mealworms and crickets), which some feel is required in a hedgehog diet.  If a commercial hedgehog diet is unavailable, you can substitute with a high quality, high protein/low fat cat food.  This can be offered with small amounts of mixed fruits and vegetables.  As a treat, hedgehogs will go “hog wild” for live insects, like ReptiWorms, crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, or even some earthworms.  If your hedgehog becomes overweight please limit the quantity of foods and treats your feed it, and increase their exercise.

Note: Some of the most common problems we see with Hedgehogs are the results from being too cold!  They need a minimum in-tank temperature of above 70F (21C).

A good solution is to attach an “under tank heater” (found in the reptile department of your local pet shop) to the underside (near one end of their tank) as a heat source (Be careful not to burn the furniture under the vivarium/cage by placing a fireproof mat or pad under the tank.) This will allow your spiny friend to regulate it’s temperature by either sitting on, or moving away from, the heat source.
hedgehog foraging on greens
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