Exercise and Stimulation
Choosing A Wheel
The exercise wheel is absolutely crucial to a pet hedgehog’s well-being. They will spend hours running miles and miles each night. Without a wheel, some hedgehogs will pace and run in circles, or find other (often dangerous) outlets for their energy. Other will simply sleep when they would be exercising and become overweight.
A suitable wheel will be at least 12” in diameter, have a solid running surface, and not have crossbars (bars that support the wheel and reach across the diameter of the wheel).
Most commercially made wheels have 12” diameter as their largest size. It’s important to get the biggest one you can because a hedgie will quickly outgrow anything smaller. Forcing them to run in a too-small wheel can cause serious back issues (because they have to arch their backs to run), prevent them from running at a normal healthy pace, and might prevent them from wheeling altogether.
The solid running surface is equally important. Wire mesh wheels, the cheap ones usually used for rodents, aren’t ideal for hedgies. Along with their dangerous crossbars the wire mesh can snag and pull out toe nails, and is less comfortable than a smooth surface to run on. Wheels like the Silent Spinner have a groove down the middle that can also catch toes. A totally solid plastic surface is ideal.
The crossbars on wheels that are open on both sides are dangerous for hedgies, who are less agile than mice or rats and more likely to hurt themselves. Some hedgies will fling themselves off of their wheel, jump off suddenly, etc. which gives them ample opportunity to smack their faces with the bar whizzing past them. Depending on the structure of the wheel stand, it’s also possible to snag and break a leg between the crossbars and the stand.
The most ideal wheels are ones custom made for hedgies. Not only are they safe, they are also catered to hedgie owners and much easier to clean than commercial wheels. They may cost slightly more than buying a wheel in your local pet store, but the time you’ll save cleaning and the comfort of knowing your hedgie won’t harm himself should make up for the difference.
Commercially Available Wheels
Comfort Wheels by SuperPet
These are widely available and can be found at almost any pet store. You will need the largest size (12”). They come with a coated wire stand, but should be attached to the cage as well as they can tip over.
Pros: Solid running surface, no crossbars, widely available.
Cons: Can be noisy (squeaking/rattling), the grooves may be uncomfortable on a hedgehog’s feet after extensive running.
Silent Spinners by SuperPet
Also widely available but less popular, the Silent Spinner is a controversial wheel. Some people like it because it can be less expensive than other wheels. There have been cases where the yellow nut in the middle of the wheel had unscrewed and the wheel has fallen on the hedgehog, as well as the groove in the center of the running surface ripping off toenails. It comes with a wire stand as and should be attached to the side of the cage as well to prevent it from tipping over.
Pros: Semi-solid running surface, no crossbars, widely available.
Cons: Gap in center of the wheel which can catch nails, has been known to fall apart, can be noisy, harder to thoroughly clean than other wheels.
Run-Around Wheels by SuperPet
These mesh-surfaced wheels are the worst option out there. They don’t have a solid running surface, do have dangerous crossbars, and can be really hard to clean. They also don’t stand up well to constant use and cleaning and are prone to rusting.
Cons: wire mesh surface is uncomfortable to run on and can rip out nails, crossbars, metal can rust and tends to squeak horrifically, difficult to clean.
Flying Saucers by Ware Manufacturing
These wheels are unique in their disc-like shape. Originally designed in metal for chinchillas, these wheels are made of hard plastic and sit directly on the stand. Because they are relatively new to the hedgehog scene, it is not certain whether running on the slight angle has any negative effects on hedgies, though most hedgehogs will run both directions on the wheel which may “level out” these potential effects.
Pros: Silent, easy to clean, no bearings, no crossbars, solid running surface, shorter than upright wheels which may be ideal for shorter cages, inexpensive.
Cons: Larger hedgies (400 grams +) may cause it to rattle or loosen the plastic holding it onto the stand, possible joint concerns due to the running style, may fling poop off the wheel around or even out of the cage.
Wodent Wheels by Transoniq
Wodent Wheels, as their name implies, are more made for rodents than hedgehogs, who are less agile. The enclosed nature can help trap in fumes from when the hedgie eliminates, and it can be a pain to take apart to clean. For hedgies that like to jump on and off at random times, the alternating doors on the entrance side might cause some problems.
Pros: Solid running surface.
Cons: Have to take apart to clean, enclosed, multiple “doors” are considered crossbars.
Quality Cage Wheels by Quality Cage
Quality Cage wheels are made of powder coated sheet metal and are similar to the wire mesh wheels, just with a solid metal surface.
Pros: Solid running surface.
Cons: Crossbars, poorly placed supports, metal can be cold.
Custom Made Wheels
Homemade Cake Cover Wheels
Bucket wheels used to be the most popular until Sterilite cake covers were discovered as an amazing option for making wheels. These have become the most popular wheel for hedgies and are the ideal. They are large enough, have a smooth surface, no crossbars, have a lip around the edge that keeps them from warping (a problem with bucket wheels), the non-stick surface makes them easier to clean, and are usually made with silent bearings. They are also made to have height and angle adjustments to accommodate for different needs. There are several people who sell homemade cake cover wheels that you can buy from, or if you trust your DIY skills you can make one yourself.
Pros: Silent, solid and wide surface, no crossbars, easy to clean, angle and height adjustable, customizable.
Cons: A bit larger than other wheels, though not unreasonably large.
Homemade Bucket Wheels
These bucket wheels are very similar to the cake cover wheels, just made with a modified bucket instead. They have been used and enjoyed for years and are a great option along with the cake cover wheels. There are several people who sell homemade bucket wheels that you can buy from, or if you trust your DIY skills you can make one yourself.
Pros: Silent, solid and wide surface, no crossbars, easy to clean, angle and height adjustable, customizable.
Cons: Cheap buckets may warp with time, small buckets may not be a comfortable size for hedgies.
Cleaning the Wheel
Unfortunately, nearly all hedgehogs have the inconvenient habit of relieving themselves on their wheel. There’s no way to train them not to do this, it just happens naturally. So, cleaning the “excrement cement” covered wheel is an unavoidable part of hedgehog ownership.
You should clean your hedgie’s wheel every day if possible, otherwise, every other day. Leaving the wheel covered in poop for your hedgie to run on each night is not cool. If you have trouble keeping up with the wheel cleaning, you might consider buying two wheels that way each night you can swap them out, providing your hedgie with a clean wheel and having the chance to wash the dirty one later.
Every owner tends to come up with their own wheel cleaning routine, depending on the type of wheel they have, the messiness of their hedgie, and where they are able to clean it off (some people are willing to use the bathtub or kitchen sink, some are not!). Essentially you just need to get the wheel wet (by spraying it or running it under water), letting the mess “loosen up”, and then scrub and wipe it off. If you are cleaning frequently, this shouldn’t be hard at all. It’s recommended to use a vinegar solution or something similar for cleaning the wheel, it will work better than water alone.
If you use any strong or dangerous cleaning products (such as bleach), make sure you rinse the wheel extra well before returning it to your hedgie’s cage. Hedgehog noses are sensitive and close to the wheel’s surface when running. Inhaling or ingesting any fumes or residue can be dangerous and unhealthy.
Aside from the wheel, most hedgies aren’t terribly enthusiastic to play with toys. Some are more adventurous than others, but some just prefer to spend time running, so don’t feel bad if your hedgie doesn’t seem interested in the toys you provide. Your hedgie isn’t going to fetch a ball or jump through hoops for you, but they’ll still interact with things. Some will play tug-of-war, or push things around. Many like to “tube”, sticking their head into one end of a toilet paper roll and running around wildly.
Below is a partial list of toys people have used in the past.
- Toilet paper tubes (cut open lengthwise)
- Toy balls (cat, ping pong, etc)
- Small stuffed animals
- Boxes large enough to fit inside
- PVC pipes, 4”+
- Dig boxes filled with fleece fabric pieces, rice, or smooth rocks large enough not to be a choking hazard
Safety Precautions: Any toys should be carefully inspected before giving to a hedgie. Sharp edges, holes, and loose pieces are especially dangerous. Make sure there is nothing dangerous inside if your hedgie happens to be able to tear it apart.
Some people use playpens to provide additional exercise room outside of their hedgie’s cage. Most pens made for ferrets or rabbits are escape-proof enough for use with hedgies. Ones for smaller animals like hamsters may not be tall or heavy enough to contain a hedgehog. The main concerns are that your hedgie can’t climb out (to avoid this, make sure the bars are vertical and tall enough) and that he can’t root under (make sure it’s heavy enough and there aren’t gaps at the bottom (such as if you placed it in grass) for him to squeeze out of). Hedgies are experts at disappearing the moment you turn your back! Depending on the type of pen you have, you might want to come up with some fabric or mesh top/bottom to make absolutely sure your hedgie can’t escape.
Some options to consider other than an actual pet playpen are making a pen out of C&C cubes, wire closet shelving, large cardboard boxes, kiddie pools, children’s playpens, or even pop-up puppy playpens that have mesh sides. Some of these are easier to escape from than others (notably the kiddie pools which should be supervised at all times or enclosed somehow) so they might need some modification before you can leave your hedgie in one unattended.
Taking your hedgehog outside can be very fun if you do it safely. Before taking your hedgie out, consider these things:
- Is there a chance of insecticides/pesticides where my hedgie will be?
- Are there other animals or insects that could harm my hedgie?
- Is my hedgie going to find and eat any harmful bugs?
- Will I be able to catch my hedgie if he decides to make a run for it?
- Is it warm enough outside? Remember that the ground is colder than air temperature.
- Are the plants safe?
Remember to keep your eye on him at all times! Looking away for just a second is long enough for him to dart out of sight. Our pet hedgies are also usually friendly enough not to ball up to their “full potential” when in danger. An unsuspecting, laid-back hedgie could be injured or killed by another animal as easily as any other small pet.
Most hedgies become overweight from lack of exercise or food too high in fat. It is rare for a hedgehog to overeat and gain excessive weight, but it happens occasionally. If you get a rescue/ rehome hedgie that needs to lose weight, remember that it is very stressful to be switching homes and that you shouldn’t change too many things at once. Oftentimes very obese hedgehogs have other health issues and you need to be careful with them and their care.
First, make sure your hedgie is indeed overweight and not just large. Hedgies can range from 250-1000 grams for a healthy adult weight. As long as your hedgehog does not have fat pockets under the armpits and can roll into a full ball, he is probably not overweight. Some overweight hedgies will have a “hump” of fat over their shoulders, so that can be used as an identifier as well. Hedgies are naturally “teardrop” shaped, so looking a bit round is not a huge concern. Having a little bit of extra weight is actually very helpful in case your hedgie gets sick. A very skinny hedgie that gets sick can’t afford to lose any weight.
Lastly, if your efforts end up fruitless and your hedgie just won’t shed those extra grams, try not to worry too much. Yes, it’s not healthy for him or her to be obese, but unfortunately some hedgies are just genetically prone to be obese. “Hefty” hogs can still live long and happy lives. Just be sure you do what you can to keep him healthy.
Lack of exercise
Make sure your hedgie has an appropriately sized cage and a good wheel. If your hedgie refuses to use the wheel or exercise in general, you can scatter the pieces of food around the cage so he has to move to get to them. Swimming is a good low-impact exercise, though should be used with caution as many hedgies don’t like the water and frequent “swims” can dry out the skin. Letting your hedgie run around in a playpen or other enclosed area each day is good too, in general just encouraging activity is best.
The obvious solution to this is to switch foods to a lower fat diet. Your hedgie will probably want to eat only the old food because the higher fat tastes better, but be persistent and make him eat the new food. Pet hedgies should have under 15% fat in their diet. Cut back on treats if you feed fatty treats like mealworms.
Usually this is not the reason a hedgehog is overweight. If you switch to a lower fat food, your hedgie should eat about the same quantity but lose weight. If they don’t lose weight through exercise and a lower fat diet, you can try limiting their food intake. Use common sense when deciding how much you want to offer each night. You don’t want to starve your hedgie, just prevent him from overeating. You might want to discuss options with your vet before deciding to do this.