Cage Heating and Lighting
Preventing hibernation and keeping your hedgehog at a proper environmental temperature is absolutely crucial to his well being. African hedgehogs, after living in the deserts for ages and ages, did not evolve for a great ability to hibernate through cold weather. They don’t build up “brown fat” for the winter, and are simply not equipped for hibernation like other hedgehog species. Pet African hedgehogs, when faced with a cold environment, will attempt to hibernate and if not caught quickly, will die. Too cold or hot of an environment or an insufficient light cycle (more on this later), along with triggering hibernation or aestivation, also can lower activity levels and prevent your hedgehog from exercising properly, eating enough, and can lower his immune system. Think about if you were expected to live in a 40F house with only shorts and a t-shirt. You wouldn’t want to get out of bed either!
It isn’t hard to prevent hibernation, and once you have heating and lighting set up, it isn’t much effort other than just checking that the temperature is good each day. We’ll start with lighting, since it’s the most simple to set up.
You know how if you take a long flight somewhere, the time change can throw you off and make you feel tired, disoriented, or sick? Hedgehogs feel the exact same way if their “sun” doesn’t rise and set at the same time each day. Even if your hedgie is kept warm enough, he can still attempt hibernation from poor lighting alone. One of the main reasons hedgehogs should have an artificial light source is to override the natural light cycles. Shortening daylight hours in winter can trigger hibernation.
A proper lighting setup only needs to consist of a light (which can be a reptile light, a desk lamp, or even the room lights) and a timer. Some owners choose to turn the lights on and off at the same time every day, but it’s much easier to not worry about forgetting each day. Set your timer to be on for 1214 hours (7 am to 9 pm, for example) and plug your light source into that. Don’t worry about having a “special” light for your hedgie. They are asleep all day in their blankets, they won’t be sitting out needing fancy UVB lighting. As long as it’s light, it works.
There are a few ways to make sure your hedgehog’s cage maintains a good temperature. The best heaters to use are ceramic heat emitters and space heaters. You could heat your whole home, but that gets very expensive and often people are uncomfortable in such warm temperatures (and with the expense associated with it!). Remember that different heaters are better suited to different cages. No heat setup when used properly should pose a significant fire risk.
Types of Heaters
Your Home’s Heating System
To use your home’s heating system you would just turn up the thermostat to keep the entire house at an appropriate temperature. This option is suitable for all cage types as the entire room would be kept warm.
Pros: Heats the air well, doesn’t require additional equipment.
Cons: Can be extremely expensive, if you have a wood burning fireplace it can be hard to keep the temperature constant, it may not be comfortable for people to live in such high temperatures.
Ceramic Heat Emitter
A CHE screws into a lamp just like a light bulb, but produces only heat, no light. They look like a flat ceramic light bulb. Buying the bulb online is recommended if you want to save money, in stores they are usually about twice the cost as you can find online. Because they are usually screwed into a metal dome lamp, it’s necessary to either have wire bars (like the cage top) to put the lamp on or find a way to attach it securely to prevent it from falling and burning anything. As long as you use a thermostat properly, they can work with all cages, though you should take extra caution that tub style cages don’t overheat since they can hold in heat so well.
Pros: Good for heating the cage and not the whole room, uses significantly less energy than other options so is cheap to operate, simple to use.
Cons: If you buy the CHE bulb in store it may be fairly expensive. If the room your hedgie is in is usually very cold, a CHE may not be enough to keep the temperature up. A CHE requires more equipment than other options: the CHE bulb, the lamp, and the thermostat to regulate the heat.
There are many, many kinds of space heaters, from oil filled to ceramic to infrared and more. Most models have a thermostat and you just plug it into the wall, set the temperature, and it takes care of the rest. Space heaters are also suitable for all cage types as the entire room would be kept warm.
Pros: Great if you want to heat the whole room, easy to operate, usually have a built in thermostat, easily portable.
Cons: Use significantly more electricity than a CHE so are more expensive to operate. Older models can be more of a fire hazard, but one with appropriate safety features (such as automatic shut off if it tips over) should not be a serious concern.
“Why can’t I use a heat pad?”
While heat pads are nice for supplying additional heat for sick or elderly hogs, they aren’t enough to heat the whole cage. They only heat the cage floor, not the air, which is what hedgehogs need. Using them for additional heat in sleeping areas is fine, but keep in mind that your hedgie may not want to leave the warmth of his bed, or the temperature change from his bed to the rest of his cage could trigger hibernation. There are lots of different heat pads, from reptile heat pads or tape, human heat pads, nursery (used for plant seedlings) pads, or even under-the-desk foot warmers. If you do decide to use a heat pad for something, it’s best to get one without an automatic shut off after a certain amount of time, and be sure it has temperature control, or buy a rheostat to turn the energy down manually. It’s better to have a heat pad on low all the time, instead of it getting very hot, turning off, turning on again, over and over. Heat pads are also prone to shorting out and can be a fire hazard.
Regardless of what kind of heat setup you decide on, remember to use common sense and be safe about burns and fire hazards. Don’t put flammable things near heating elements and be sure your hedgie can’t climb up anywhere where he could be burned. Make sure your smoke alarms have good batteries and are working properly. If you must use extension cords (especially for space heaters), make sure they are a good thick gauge (12-14 gauge or larger is recommended). Finally, make sure that any appliances that need grounded (have three prongs instead of two) are hooked up properly to prevent fires.
Fabric vs. Particulate Bedding
The debate of what bedding is best for pet hedgehogs has been ongoing since they were first kept as pets. The general consensus is that fabric liners are the safest, most comfortable, and most cost effective choice. The extensive list of problems with shavings and other loose bedding make them a less popular choice with most hedgehog owners.
Cage liners are made from fabric to fit the bottom of the cage. These are changed twice a week or so, and are washable. Most fabrics are durable and the liners will last a very long time. You will likely only need to buy them once for your hedgie’s life. They can be made of fleece (most popular), flannel, corduroy, or vellux. Vellux is more easily shredded if your hedgie decides to dig. Fleece also seems to like to make little “pills” of fluff which you may find caught on your hedgie’s nails or in his quills. Fleece and vellux do not need to be hemmed at the edges because they will not fray. Flannel or corduroy should be hemmed so no loose threads can catch limbs. Light colored liners are great for monitoring a hedgie’s health, because you can easily notice any blood or unusual changes in urine or feces. Some people don’t like the idea of washing something covered in hedgie poop in the same washer that they do their clothes. That is a personal preference but if you spot clean and shake off the liners before washing, they should not be too bad. It’s best to use unscented laundry detergent to avoid bothering your hedgie’s sensitive nose.
Pros: Comfortable for hedgie, easy to change, cost effective, no loose pieces to be kicked into the water dish, easy to notice health problems, aesthetically pleasing, are a good choice for people with allergies to wood bedding.
Cons: Can smell if not changed often, possible washing inconvenience, hedgies might burrow under them and tip over dishes and accessories.
If you are using shavings, you will want a cage with a base several inches deep so they don’t spill out everywhere. Aspen shavings are the safest to use, with kiln-dried pine in second as acceptable. Aspen shavings are the only phenol-free shavings available. This is the reason for not using cedar or any untreated pine or other type of shavings. The aromatic oils are toxic to small animals and cause serious respiratory problems. With kiln-dried pine, most of these phenols are removed, but some are still there after the treatment. Shavings can be messy and dusty, but for someone more concerned for odor control this may be a popular choice. Remember though that you shouldn’t ever put off cleaning to the point where you are relying on the wood scent to keep the smell down. You should spot clean daily and completely clean the cage and replace shavings once a week or so.
Pros: Allows a hedgie to dig around in a loose substrate, may help minimize odor.
Cons: Messy, dusty, pieces can get caught in eyes/nose/genitals, can harbor mites, can have harmful phenols, food dumped out of the dish will fall to the bottom of the shavings and be wasted or make it harder to monitor eating habits, hard to use a water dish since shavings will constantly be kicked into it, harder to observe health issues if you can’t easily see if your hedgie is bleeding or relieving himself regularly, more expensive than liners.
Pelleted Wood Bedding
Pelleted wood bedding such as non clumping Feline Pine or Equine Fresh are similar to using shavings, but in a healthier form. Pellets are usually less dusty, and most products are kiln dried to remove most of the phenols from the wood. Because the pieces are larger than shavings, there is less of a chance for pieces to get stuck in genitals and in general they stick to things less (since shavings are notorious for getting stuck on hedgehogs, their sleeping sacks, even in your carpet).
Pros: Cleaner and healthier than shavings, very absorbent, similar in price to paper bedding.
Cons: More expensive than shavings, risk of blockage if ingested.
CareFresh, Yesterday’s News, and Cell-Sorb are a few popular recycled paper products. These substrates are similar to shavings and wood pellets, but without any harmful phenols. They are often extremely dusty though (some products more than others) and can contribute to dry skin. Some hedgehogs decide that the bedding is tasty and will eat it. This is dangerous and can cause a potentially fatal blockage. If you notice your hedgie eating the bedding (note eating, not anointing with), switch to something that they decide doesn’t taste as good.
Pros: Less harsh on the respiratory system as shavings, allows digging.
Cons: Dusty, more expensive than shavings, food can still be wasted and health concerns less easily observed just like shavings.
Corn cob is not recommended. It does not absorb urine, and molds easily. The pieces also easily get stuck uncomfortably in a hedgie’s genitals. Using no bedding at all is not a good idea because whatever surface your hedgie is on (plastic, metal, etc.) would likely get cold and not be comfortable. As previously clarified, hedgehogs must not be kept on wire floors because their feet and nails are not made for anything but solid surfaces, and they are painful and dangerous to walk on. Newspaper is acceptable for temporary bedding but not ideal for long term use. As it gets wet the ink will stain your hedgie, it isn’t very absorbent, and depending on your location the ink may be toxic.
So what bedding is best to use?
Considering nothing but your hedgehog’s health, fabric liners are the best bedding. They are not dusty, don’t have sharp pieces to lodge in places they don’t belong, are comfortable to walk on, and enable you to offer food and water in dishes (which is best for your hedgie) and makes it easier to monitor any health issues. Second up would be pelleted wood and paper bedding, for their lower risks of respiratory problems compared to untreated wood. Thirdly, shavings come in as fine to use but not as desirable, and then any other bedding (like corncob and newspaper) are not popular for good reason! Choose a bedding based on your hedgie’s health and comfort, and your cleaning needs.
Choosing a Cage
Now that you know what heating setup and bedding will work best for you, you can choose what cage will suit your needs as well. Two square feet used to be considered the bare minimum for a cage size, but a cage that small cannot even fit all the necessities (wheel, igloo, dishes, etc.) your hedgie will need. The more widely-accepted bare minimum is four square feet of floor space, which offers enough room for all the supplies and a bit of room to move between them. Six or more square feet is preferred. If you are able to have two square feet or more of empty space left after adding the wheel, hiding place, and other accessories, that would be ideal. Get or make the largest cage you can afford and be able to properly heat.
The floor must be solid with no bars or gaps for the hedgie to walk on. Hedgie feet are not built for walking on anything but solid surfaces. Forcing them to live on a wire grate or similar surface is very difficult/uncomfortable and will likely result in bloody, mutilated paws. Also, it would be much easier for a hedgie to become too cold and attempt hibernation.
Avoid unsealed wood for any part of the cage. It can harbor mite or other parasites, as well as smell strongly of phenols which can irritate a hedgie’s sensitive nose and lungs. It is very difficult to keep clean if your hedgie is living on it because it will soak up urine and other liquid. If you are making or buying a cage with wood, use a non-toxic sealant and be sure to let it air out before using.
Don’t get a cage that has large spaces (more than 1 inch wide or so) between the bars on the sides. Small hedgies can squeeze through these holes, or worse, get stuck halfway. If you want, you can find a way to block off the sides so your hedgie can’t fit through.
Make sure that the cage has large doors or is easy to take apart to reach inside. Many cages have doors that are too small to fit a regular sized wheel in and out for cleaning. It is very inconvenient to try to pick up your hedgie if he is sleeping in the corner and you can’t reach him either.
If you decide to use a second level, it needs to be entirely enclosed. If it is open on one side, it is necessary to make a wall and enclose the ramp as well. Falls from only inches have proven fatal. Make sure that the ramp or tube up is not too steep, or your hedgie may have trouble getting down. Also, keep in mind that many hedgies will not use another level. Hedgehogs don’t naturally climb around and utilize vertical space, so a single-level cage is ideal.
Ventilation is also crucial. While you want to prevent drafts and retain some heat by enclosing the sides of the cage, be sure they aren’t too enclosed. A hedgehog running on his wheel can generate lots of odor at night and it’s best for the cage to be able to air out. A reasonably sized cage (4 square feet or larger) will be open enough on top to not require ventilation in the cage sides – such as using plastic storage bins or a C&C (cubes and coroplast) cage with coroplast lining the inside of the cage walls to prevent climbing. Smaller cages like glass tanks (which are not recommended for a variety of reasons) that are totally enclosed except for the top do not have enough ventilation, and unless you can drill holes in the sides, they are nearly impossible to make suitable.
Buying a commercially made cage is a great choice for those who are less handy and not excited about building their own cage, and want something that may be more sturdy or escape proof than one custom made. Bought new, these cages can sometimes be unreasonably expensive, but often you can find used cages in great condition for fair prices. Try checking your local classifieds (like craigslist, Kijiji, Hoobly, eBay Local, etc.) or nearby thrift stores for a good deal. You might be able to get good prices on cages online as well, but watch out for high shipping charges. The most popular commercial cages are plastic based, wire topped cages made for rabbits or guinea pigs. They are the cheapest of commercial cages and very suitable for hedgies. Ferret or chinchilla cages are also often used, but require a bit of modification to be safe. Aquariums and glass tanks are not recommended for many reasons, listed below.
- Plastic Base, Wire Top: These cages, usually designed for ground-dwelling rabbits and cavies, are convenient to use for hedgies since all the floor space is on one level. They have great ventilation, usually deep pans that will prevent bedding from spilling on the floor if you use loose substrate, are easy to heat. However, they also can have small doors that restrict easy cleaning, the bars may need to be blocked out of your hedgehog’s reach to prevent climbing (and subsequently, falling and getting injured), and many cages are too small. You’ll probably want to buy a large or extra large model. Super Pet and Marchioro are popular brands.
- Ferret / Chinchilla Cages: Some ferret and chinchilla cages are becoming more popular as people like the larger doors for ease of cleaning, and the ability to use multiple levels to house individual hedgehogs. Midwest’s Ferret Nation and Critter Nation cages work great for hedgies. However, you can’t use them the same way you would for a ferret. The ramps they provide to reach the extra shelves are made with wire bars and not safe. You would have to build a gradual, entirely enclosed ramp up to the shelf or additional level, which also must be entirely enclosed. Many people just remove the additional levels, or remove the ramp and just keep them out of their hedgie’s reach and store supplies on them. Vinyl dryer vent tubes or ones made for ferrets make fine “enclosed ramps”, though keep in mind it will be difficult to get your hedgie out of a tube if he decides to sleep inside it. Lofts and additional levels can be enclosed using coroplast, cardboard, or other materials as a wall. Also, some hedgies will simply refuse to use an extra level. If your hedgehog doesn’t seem to want to use his loft, don’t force him to go up there by putting his food and water on a different level. Just keep his supplies on the main level and either leave the loft, or remove it if it doesn’t get any use.
- Aquariums / Glass Tanks: Many new owners are misinformed by pet stores and told that hedgies can live in small glass tanks. Unfortunately, there are many problems associated with using tanks as a cage and they are strongly opposed by the hedgehog community. There are no benefits to using a tank that you can’t achieve using a different type of cage. The main problem with using tanks is simply that people don’t want to buy ones that are actually large enough for their hedgie. Large tanks are incredibly expensive and unless you are a wizard, nearly impossible to move with just one person. This makes thorough cleaning much more difficult. Many tanks that have enough floor space for a hedgie are too short to accommodate a large enough wheel, and then the ones that are tall enough, have very poor ventilation. Imagine running through your own excrement all night and having that stench just sitting in the bottom of your cage for you to inhale.
Tanks are also harder to keep warm. Reptile owners are used to using heat pads with tanks, but heat pads don’t heat the air the way hedgies need and can burn your hedgehog if he lays directly on it. Because they are only open on top, space heaters may not heat the inside of the tank sufficiently. CHEs are pretty much the only option, and you have to be careful where you set it up, since placing it directly on the tank lid might be too close (burning hazard) or too heavy for the lid to support, depending on the material the lid is made of. You may be able to double up your lighting cycle and heating by using a reptile heat lamp during the day, though you will need a separate heat source for night. Overall, it’s just a pain compared to heating other cage types. The smallest size tank that would fit a hedgehog’s wheel and supplies comfortably would be a “40 gallon breeder” sized tank, with dimensions 36 3/16” long by 18 1/4” wide by 16 15/16” tall.
Building your own cage is nearly as popular as buying a commercially made one. Many people who want to save money, give their hedgie a larger living space, or want to make a more creative home often are able to do all of the above by making a cage out of nontraditional materials. C&C cages, tub cages, and vivariums all are fantastic choices when assembled safely. It’s easy to give your hedgie a lot of floor space with a C&C cage; tubs connected together can be creative and cost effective, and custom made vivariums are an attractive choice for those who value how aesthetically pleasing their hedgie’s accommodations are. Building a home for your hedgie is a great way to make sure the cage fits everyone’s standards.
- C&C Cages: C&C, or Cubes & Coroplast, are widespread cages made of wire storage cube grids and corrugated plastic to prevent climbing. These cages were originally conceived by the guinea pig community to offer their pets more space to roam. To build one, you will need three squares minimum for the floor of the cage (the grids are usually a bit over one foot square). Since hedgies are great escape artists, you’ll also need to make a lid. You can use grids for this, wire closet shelving, or get creative with something else that allows airflow. If you have a small hedgie (under 300 grams), be especially careful about escapes. Some can fit right through the squares, and others may try but get stuck. If you think your hedgie might try to escape, block off the grids within reach with coroplast, plastic placemats, plexiglass, or something similar.
- Tubs: Tub cages are most commonly used by breeders who need cages that are quickly cleaned, easy to stack or put on racks, and are cost effective. They have caught on with owners who are attracted to the low cost of buying the plastic tubs, and the possibility of connecting many together into a cage with different “rooms”. Tubs are lightweight and if you use multiple, can be disassembled and nested together for easy transport. The plastic is easy to clean, and the way most tubs are wider on top than bottom offers a bit more ventilation than cages with straight solid sides, like glass tanks. To prevent escapes, it’s best not to leave the lid off, so a bit of modification is necessary. Most plastics are soft enough for you to cut “windows” out of the tub lid or the sides of the tub using a dremel, exacto knife, etc. You can then drill small holes around the edge of this window and wire on 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch hardware cloth, window screening, or a similar material to allow airflow. It’s best to either have a large “window” in the lid, or at least two on different sides of the cage to allow air to pass through. Simply drilling holes in the sides of the cage will not allow enough airflow if you have the lid on.
- Vivariums: Vivariums have not yet caught on in North America as much as in Europe. These custom made cages are ideal for hedgehogs when built properly and can be made to match the decor of your house. The main drawback of vivariums is the high cost of purchasing one custom made, or the large amount of effort that goes into designing and building one yourself. There are some commercially made for reptiles, but they usually lack sufficient ventilation. Practical design when building a vivarium is extremely important to make sure your cage is safe and comfortable for your hedgehog, and also functional for you. Ventilation is very important: it is not recommended that the front of the viv is solid glass or plexiglass. Instead, you should use a wire mesh that allows airflow. Vents on the back or sides of the cage alone will not provide enough ventilation for your hedgie. Because most are made of wood, you will want to be sure you seal any wood that your hedgehog will be in contact with (so you can sanitize it) and let it air out before use. There are many examples you can find online for ideas for building your own vivarium. Just be sure you are confident in your DIY skills or in the skills of the person building it for you!
What about no cage at all?
Having your hedgie roam the house is pretty unrealistic for the average household, but is possible for someone aware of the risks involved and willing to compromise their usual comforts and routines for their hedgehog. Allowing your hedgie to have free reign of a room or several rooms in your house is great because they get a chance to run around naturally, and not just on a wheel. There are many precautions you should take though before setting your hedgie loose.
The first concern with free roaming is your hedgehog’s safety. In a cage, you know your hedgie is confined to a safe environment. In a larger space, there are many things that can go wrong.
- Firstly would be keeping the entire area warm enough. Your hedgie will be running around on the floor, and since heat rises, it’ll always be colder on the ground. Will you be able to heat the whole room, or the whole several rooms you’ll be using? That means having space heaters set up to keep that space heated constantly. You have to be careful to block off the space heater from your hedgie, so he can’t burn himself on it.
- What furniture is in the area you’ll be dedicating to your hedgie? Be careful of anything he can squeeze under or behind, especially reclining furniture, which are notorious for crushing small pets in the gears when an unsuspecting owner sits down. You may have to find a way to block off certain areas of a room.
- You have to be relentless in your cleaning, since any threads or hairs on the ground can wrap around your hedgie’s limbs and cut off circulation.
- What about encountering pests? Will your hedgie run across any potentially diseased or poisoned insects, mice, etc?
- What cleaning solutions will you use? You’ll have to be sure anything within your hedgie’s reach is cleaned with safe, nontoxic cleaning products.
Along with your hedgehog’s safety is your own comfort. Are you willing to spend so much time cleaning? Will you get furious every time you accidentally step on a shed hedgehog quill?
- Hedgehogs poop, pee, and shed quills. None of these are particularly fun to step on, or look good to unexpected guests. You’ll need to be okay with the fact that there will be messes.
- What about the floor? Is it carpet? Keep in mind that your hedgehog will be pooping and peeing all over this area, and won’t reliably use a litter box. You probably don’t want quills getting buried or urine soaking into your carpet. Wood or linoleum is better suited for cleaning.
- If the area you’re using is a part of your living space, will you be comfortable at those warm temperatures?
- Additionally, will you be able to keep the floor clear from any dangers to your hedgie? You won’t be able to just toss a laundry basket on the ground and leave it. Some people might struggle to remember they can’t just throw things on the ground.
You can find more suggestions and information about pet-proofing your house online. Try searching “ferret proofing” or “rat proofing” a room; you can find personal experiences and more specific instructions for sharing your living space with a pet.
So by now you should have an idea of what cage you’ll use, how you’ll heat it, and what type of bedding you’ll use. Now all you need to add are accessories and a hedgie!
Here’s a quick recap of the necessary cage accessories:
Your hedgie should have a place to sleep in security and comfort. It’s best to give your hedgie a shelter to sleep in, but also fill the shelter with blankets to curl up in as well. It’s much more comfortable for them and helps them stay warm. The hiding place can be a:
- Plastic igloo – the large size is best for hedgehogs. The medium is too small for most hedgies, and the extra large gives a bit too much space (unless you are housing two hedgies that like to sleep in the same area, then the space would probably be appreciated).
- Ice cream bucket – you can cut a hole in the side of one of these as long as you make sure the edges are not sharp. You can sand them down or cover them with a safe tape.
- Cardboard box – make sure it doesn’t have any odd smells. Aired out shoe boxes work well.
- 4” diameter PVC fittings – not ideal, but you can use elbow PVC fittings for your hedgie. The main downside to these is that they are open on both sides and don’t offer your hedgie much escape from the light to sleep.
- Sleeping bag/blanket – usually you’d put the bag or blanket inside one of the above, but some hedgies don’t mind just using a blanket or hedgie hat without a “shelter” above it.
The food dish should be low to the ground (preferably under 2” tall for your hedgie’s comfort) and wide to prevent tipping, and be made of a safe plastic, glass, or ceramic material. Check where the dish is made before purchasing if you are concerned about lead content.
If you decide to use a dish, follow the above advice for food dishes. For a water bottle, be sure to get one that is reliable and won’t leak randomly. Many cheaper brands of water bottles have a habit of “sticking” and not letting the water out, or dripping if it is rattled (or for seemingly no reason at all).
Water bottle use is very controversial. While some find that hedgies get enough water from them, others find that hedgies drink much more from a bowl, and will drink from them over a bottle if given the choice. Water dishes are easier to clean and you are less likely to leave it for several days without refilling with fresh water. The drinking position is more natural from a dish. Some incidents have been reported of hedgehogs cutting their tongues and chipping their teeth between the nozzle and ball. If you do use a bottle, be sure to place it so the nozzle is at your hedgie’s level. If he has to tilt his head up to reach it, it’s too high.
Litter box, wheel & toys
You can find information about wheels and toys in the Activity section, and information on litter boxes and training are further down this page.
If you use liners:
You should change liners every few days. These can be shaken off outside and put in a hamper or trash bag, and saved until you wash. You should also change your hedgie’s blanket/hat/bag often.
If you use loose bedding:
You should throw out all bedding and clean the cage weekly at least. A common mistake with this bedding is putting off cleaning too long. Just because you can’t see it/smell it, doesn’t mean it isn’t dirty. If your hedgie uses one corner mainly for bathroom duties, you can scoop that area out daily.
When cleaning, avoid using any scented soaps or cleaners for your hedgie’s supplies. Hedgehogs have very sensitive noses, and if you can smell it, he can really smell it.
The cleaners listed below are by no means the only things you should use they are just some of the more common ones. There are lots of great cleaners out there. Check the bottle, be sure it doesn’t smell too strongly, rinse and dry, and you should be good.
Commonly used cleaning supplies
- Dish soap: Dish soap is safe and widely used. Remember to rinse the object well to remove all residue.
- Vinegar: Regular white vinegar is great for cleaning and deodorizing. Since it is a weak acid, it helps reduce and prevent bacteria growth. Many people use a half water, half vinegar solution for cleaning wheels and other accessories. Diluted vinegar works better for loosening up dried messes than water alone. The vinegar smell (which a lot of people don’t like) dissipates quickly once dry.
- Bleach: Bleach can be used for sanitizing, but needs to be diluted according to the directions on the container. Make sure you rinse the object very well and let it dry and air out before returning it to your hedgie.
- Chlorhexidine solution: This antimicrobal chemical is safe to use for cleaning. (It is also used as a topical disinfectant for animal wounds) Two tablespoons of concentrate per gallon of water is the appropriate dilution. Chlorhexidine also goes by the names Nolvasan and Chlorhexiderm.
- Unscented baby wipes: If you just need to wipe off a few toys, or the wheel if it isn’t too dirty, baby wipes work well. They can also be used to give a quick “foot bath” if your hedgie needs it.
Many people are disappointed to hear that the majority of hedgehogs will not consistently and reliably use a litter box. While some will get into the habit of using one, most hedgies will relieve themselves on their wheel and wherever else they please. Oftentimes they’ll find a place in their cage they like to potty best. It’s easiest to just put the litter box there, instead of trying to convince him to use a different spot. If you are spot cleaning regularly anyhow, it shouldn’t make too much of a difference if he uses a litter box or not. Please note that you should never expect to be able to train your hedgie to refrain from relieving himself on his exercise wheel. Pooping on the wheel is just what hedgies do, there’s no changing it. Occasionally there will be an exceptionally bright hedgehog who will think to hang his or her butt over the edge of the wheel to poop, but those individuals are few and far between. Litter training is usually an effort made by owners to contain the messes their hedgie makes outside of his or her wheel.
What Box to Use
Using a shallow box or pan is best. Find one that will keep the litter in well, but will also be easy for your hedgie to get into. If it takes a lot of effort to climb into the litter pan, your hedgie isn’t going to go through the trouble. Plastic pans are best, since they can be washed and reused over and over. Cardboard boxes or trays work as well, but need to be replaced frequently. Two popular litter box options are ferret sized corner litter boxes, and simply putting a tray (cardboard, old cookie sheet, etc.) under the wheel that sticks out a few inches in the front, leaving room to catch poop. Wherever you place the box, don’t put it too close to your hedgie’s sleeping or eating quarters, most animals don’t like to eat and sleep in the same place they poop.
What Litter to Use
Most people use a loose bedding in the litter box, along with liners or a different substrate as the main bedding. Paper products, wood pellets, and wood shavings are all possibilities. Head back a few sections to read up on the pros and cons of different types of bedding if you like. It’s good to have a litter that contrasts from the bedding in the rest of the cage. This will help your hedgie distinguish between the “potty area” and “keep clean area”.
How to Promote Using the Litter Box
The easiest way is to just put the litter box wherever your hedgie is used to going. Under the wheel is a common place, or in a corner of the cage. Some people pick up droppings from around the cage and put them in the litter box so their hedgie will associate the box with relieving himself. Some hedgies may be brighter than others and catch on to this, others may not. Another trick people have tried is to take the droppings from another hedgehog and putting them in the litter pan in hopes of instigating a territorial response where their hedgie will potty over the top of the other droppings to cover up the inferior scent. It’s debatable whether our pet hedgehogs would even act in that manner in the wild, so there’s no guarantee that approach will work. If it would, though, it’d work best with males, and using the droppings of another male. Finally, if you catch your hedgie using the pan, you can offer him a mealie or another form of positive reinforcement. If you catch your hedgie about to eliminate in the wrong place, you can quickly pick him up and place him in the litter box to finish his business.
Don’t feel bad if your hedgie never catches on. Some are more compliant than others, it just depends on the hedgehog.
Housing Hedgehogs Together
Despite the fact that hedgehogs are solitary creatures, some people get it in their heads that their pet must have a friend. It is important to know that this is simply not the case. Hedgehogs do not need or crave companions, and are happiest to have their own living space. It IS possible to have two or more hedgehogs cohabit successfully, but then you have the problem of the hedgehogs bonding and becoming depressed and lonely when one dies. Keeping hedgehogs together, to put it simply, complicates things. You have to worry about whether they get along, and then you have to worry about how they’ll cope on their own after inevitable separation. You have the worry of not knowing exactly how much each hedgie eats or drinks or runs because they share the same dishes and wheels. When one has a health problem, it’s harder to pinpoint the cause when you’re looking at the actions of multiple animals and not just one. If you’re determined to keep hedgehogs together despite these concerns, please also consider the requirements below:
Firstly, the most common pairings to make are a female-female pair. Females are more likely to get along than males, who rarely will tolerate each other. It’s also possible to do a male-female pair, though one of them MUST be spayed or neutered. It is absolutely NOT acceptable to have an opposite sex pair where both are unaltered. The female will constantly be pursued by the male, become pregnant, birth the babies, and then most likely the parents will cannibalize the litter from the mother’s stress of not having her own space. This seriously increases her chances of reproductive problems and risks her life each time she gets pregnant. For your pets’ sake, do not keep mixed sex pairs together, even temporarily. It only takes a moment and your thoughtlessness could be the end of your female as she dies of birthing complications. Additionally, male-male pairings are rarely successful and usually only by people who have extensive experience with hedgehogs and are capable of understanding and acting on the individual animal’s needs. Please only keep females together or males and females where one or both are spayed and neutered.
Next, there isn’t much of a benefit to housing hedgies together space or supplies-wise. You should have an even larger cage, because you will need to offer two of everything: two sleeping places, two wheels, two water bowls, two food dishes, etc. If you force your hedgehogs to share all the same supplies, there’s a much higher chance of fighting due to competition for food or the wheel. Make sure you have two of everything and a large enough cage to fit all these supplies. A C&C cage may be best because it is easily expandable to a good size for multiple hedgies.
Finally, you should have a second cage on hand in case you do need to separate them. There are no guarantees that two hedgehogs will get along, even if raised together from birth. If there is bloodshed, separate them. Minor shoving and tussles may not be cause for concern, but as soon as the fighting gets serious (biting, injuries, constant pestering and following around) you’ll need to separate them. It may take a week or more for two hedgehogs to become acquainted and respect one another. It’s best to introduce them on neutral ground (where neither feels the need to defend their own territory). Until you are certain they are not bickering with each other, keep a very close eye on them for injuries. It’s best if you can have their cage in your bedroom so if they squeak or scream you will hear it and can separate them immediately. Please note that hedgehogs that have gotten along for months, even years, can suddenly turn on one another and cause serious injury or even death. Always be prepared to house them individually.