Table of Contents:
- The Challenges of Caring for Hedgehogs
- Physical Maintenance for Hedgehogs
- Veterinary Care for Hedgehogs
Craig Lewin, Hedgehog Dad and mastermind behind the Instagram account @quillinwithgusandbert, has learned a lot about African pygmy hedgehogs in the last 3.5 years. Although Lewin had dogs growing up, he never really considered himself an exotic pet person.
“My wife decided that she wanted a hedgehog because a friend of hers had one,” said Lewin. “We did a lot of research and found a reputable breeder to get our first hedgehog, Gus. About six months later, the breeder called to tell us that Gus’ biological brother, Bert, had been surrendered by his original owners and wanted to see if we would take him in as a rescue. Gus was really fun to have around and had a ton of personality, so we were open to taking in another hedgehog.”
Before committing to bringing Bert home, however, Lewin and his wife decided to take Gus to meet his brother to see how the two interacted together. Despite some sibling rivalry, they ultimately decided to add Bert to their growing family.
“They both have very different personalities and are really fun even though caring for them is a lot of work,” Lewin said. “I don’t think we’ll get another hedgehog, but I am happy that we decided to take these two guys into our home.”
The Challenges of Caring for Hedgehogs
“Hedgehogs, while fun, do require a good amount of maintenance and a very specific environment to thrive,” Lewin said.
- They require daily human contact to socialize properly. They are nocturnal, so they sleep during the day and come out at night. It’s important not to mess with their sleep schedule too much, so Lewin says that you’ll have to find ways to play with them during their waking hours. “You can take them out during the day and let them sleep on you in a sleep sack or a warm blanket so that they get comfortable around you,” said Lewin.
- Be wary of antisocial behavior and don’t give in to “temper tantrums.” Male hedgehogs in particular can be pretty antisocial, explained Lewin, so they will act out to try to encourage you to leave them alone. “They will huff and pop at you, and may even try to bite you,” Lewin said. “If you ‘punish’ them by putting them back in their cage, they will just start associating that type of behavior with getting what they want, which is to be put back in their cage and left alone. But don’t give into them! Keep holding them gently so they know that their antisocial tricks won’t work on you.”
- Daily bonding time with you is important. The bonding between hedgehog parents and hedgehogs is necessary to aid in their socialization. Lewin recommends using treats to help this process. “Handfeeding your hedgie a few treats while sitting with you can go a long way,” said Lewin.
Although this can be time consuming, these emotional connections are an important part of hedgehog pet parenthood.
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Physical Maintenance for Hedgehogs
In addition to the emotional bonding that has to happen to successfully care for hedgehogs, there is also a good amount of physical maintenance that has to be performed in order to keep your pet healthy.
- Keep their cages warm. African pygmy hedgehogs in particular thrive in a warm climate, so placing a ceramic, non-light emitting heat source and thermostat in their cage is essential to maintaining their environment. “African pygmy hedgehogs need to stay warm, so keeping their cage between 72-80℉ is ideal,” Lewin said. “You have to invest in a ceramic bulb that does not emit a red glow or light, as it will disrupt the hedgehog’s sleep and can cause many health issues. If the cage falls below 72℉, then your hedgehog may start to hibernate. This is life threatening for African pygmy hedgehogs because it slows their metabolism, which can lead to infection, dehydration, and starvation. Some hedgehogs will never wake up from hibernation and others that do survive can become very sick and are never the same.”
- Clip their toenails. “Hedgies run a lot–pretty much all night long–so you have to keep their nails short to prevent them from getting hurt while running,” Lewin told us. He recommends clipping them every couple of weeks for regular maintenance.
- Keep them active. Since hedgehogs like to run, but also need to spend time in their cage as a pet, placing a wheel inside their cage can help keep them active. “We highly recommend the wheels made by Carolina Storm Wheels because they are silent, fit hedgehogs of all sizes, are safe and easy to clean, and can fit a litter pad underneath to catch whatever they might…release on their run,” Lewin said. “Regardless of which brand you choose, it’s important to avoid a wire wheel, because hedgehogs can easily get hurt by catching their toes or legs in the holes in the wiring. Also, silent spinners and rodent wheels should never be used for hedgehogs.”
- Tend to their cages. Like other cage-bound house pets, a hedgehog’s cage should be lined to create a comfortable home for them, as well as regularly maintained to make the environment hygienic. “We recommend fleece liners because we can wash them, and they’re pretty easy to find on Etsy,” Lewin said. “They’ll also need a food and water dish that are both filled daily.” Beyond daily maintenance, Lewin stresses the importance of regular full-cage cleans. “Cages should be thoroughly cleaned once a week for one male hedgehog, or twice a week for two or more female hedgehogs.”
- Check them for loose hairs before going to bed at night. Since hedgehogs are nocturnal, you should always check their legs for loose human hairs that may have become wrapped around them during your bonding time with them. “Hedgehogs may climb in your hair or just pick up loose hairs in the house that get wrapped around their legs,” explained Lewin. “It’s important to remove these if you see them wrapped around their legs, because they can cut off the circulation to your hedgehog’s legs. As a result, their legs can become severely damaged and may even require amputation if left untreated.”
- Pay attention to their weight. Large fluctuations in your hedgehog’s weight can be a sign of illness and requires a visit to the vet. Lewin has found that weighing your hedgehog daily is the best practice. “Hedgehogs are really good at hiding pain and illness,” Lewin said. “They will run on broken legs and will act like everything is fine when they are actually deathly ill, so paying close attention to their weight can literally mean the difference between life and death.”
- Bathe them regularly. According to Lewin, hedgehogs like to make “poop boots,” because they will release fecal matter as they run and end up stomping around in their own waste for an extended period of time. It’s for this reason that Lewin suggests regular foot baths for your hedgehog, which entails placing them in warm water, and using a toothbrush to scrub their feet. “Hedgehogs should get full baths every 3-4 weeks to wash their quills and belly, along with their feet,” said Lewin. “And never put your hedgehog on its back in the water. It may look cute, but it is an extremely stressful position for them, and they can get hurt trying to flip back over to their stomachs.” Lewin also notes that you should always bathe them in hedgehog-safe soap.
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Veterinary Care for Hedgehogs
Like other pets (and even humans), hedgehogs should have annual veterinary exams for a general wellness check. Lewin notes that hedgehogs should also be treated for mites, which is something your veterinarian can do at a wellness check by administering a medication directly to your hedgehog’s skin.
Other than regular wellness checks, there are a variety of situations that would require veterinary intervention:
- Changes in eating and bathroom habits. “If you notice your hedgehog stops eating, peeing, or pooping, it’s an emergency,” Lewin said. “Get your hedgehog to the vet ASAP, because something is really, really wrong.”
- Loss of quills without regrowth. “If you notice quill loss with no new quills replacing them, it’s time to see the vet.”
- Eye injuries. “Eye injuries are fairly common among hedgehogs, so if you see blood, excessive tearing, or swelling near the eyes, it’s important to contact your vet.”
Aside from these major issues, Lewin reports that hedgehogs don’t typically necessitate more veterinary attention than other animals, such as dogs or cats. As long as they seem content and healthy, there’s really no need to visit the vet outside of your annual wellness checks.
Lewin does want people to know, however, that hedgehogs are considered exotic animals, and so unlike dogs and cats, they require the attention of an exotic animal veterinarian. “Before bringing a hedgehog home, make sure you have access to a proper exotic veterinarian within a reasonable driving distance of your house,” Lewin said. “Additionally, hedgehogs are not legal in all 50 states, so it’s important to know whether or not they are legal in your state before becoming a hedgehog owner. And if you do get one illegally, know that you probably won’t be able to gain access to proper care for your hedgehog as a result, and may be subject to heavy fines.”
Be sure to connect with Craig and his hedgehogs on Instagram for more insight into what life is like as a hedgehog parent.