Is a Hedgehog the Right Pet for You?
Before making any impulse decisions or bringing any animal home, you should first see if the animal will fit well with your personality and lifestyle, as well as you with the animal’s. With hedgehogs, there are many crucial points that potential owners must understand before taking on the responsibility of getting a new pet. Purchasing or adopting an animal should be a life commitment, not a “get rid of it when you’re done” type of decision.
Your Other Pets
First and foremost you should be sure you have enough time and space for a hedgehog. If you have other pets, think about how well you take care of them. Do you sometimes let cages sit for a few days longer than necessary before cleaning? Do you handle them as often as you should?
If you aren’t taking the best care of the pets you have already, getting a hedgie is not a good idea. In addition, the smell of some pets is extremely stressful to hedgehogs. The smell of dogs or ferrets might be a constant nightmare for a timid hedgehog. If you have curious cats that you can’t block off from the cage, they might also terrorize your hedgie and get up to trouble.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal. Rarely will a hedgehog come out during the day, and make a habit out of it. Hedgies naturally get up at night, and sleep during the day. Some are grumpy when woken up during the day when they want to sleep. You should make sure that you are comfortable with not seeing your pet “out and about”. Parents who are looking for an interesting animal for their younger children, may want to look into other small animals that are active during the day. Children can quickly become bored with a pet that isn’t awake when they are, and the novelty will wear off eventually. Also, if you are keeping the hedgehog in your bedroom or near where you sleep, consider the noises the hedgie may make.
Even though some people claim that they have changed their hedgie’s schedules so that they come out during the day, it’s an awful idea that should never be done. Altering light schedules, feeding only during the day, forcing the hedgehog to stay awake so they are tired at night, are all very cruel techniques to make a hedgie something they are not. Doing so can cause extreme stress, lower the hedgie’s immune system, cause them to be constantly sick, attempt hibernation, and potentially die.
To keep hedgehogs from attempting hibernation, they must be kept at warm temperatures. The entire cage should be kept at 73°-78°F (23°-25°C) constantly, avoiding fluctuation as much as possible. You will need a space heater, ceramic heat emitter, or other type of heating setup to keep the cage at this temperature. Hibernation is very dangerous (fatal if not caught early enough), can lower your hedgie’s immune system, as well as make additional attempts more likely.
It’s best to visit a reputable breeder or someone who owns hedgehogs and handle one, to see what the quills are like. Hedgehogs rely on their coat of quills for protection from predators. They are sharper than you might think! Make sure you are not allergic to the hedgehog, especially when the quills penetrate the skin.
This will be unavoidable during ownership and you definitely don’t want to be stuck with a pet you are unable to handle.
Hedgehogs do not need or crave companions. Males should never be housed together. They are territorial and almost never get along. Even supervised playtime is dangerous. Male-female pairings, unless one is altered, is also unacceptable. The female would constantly become pregnant and the parents will kill and eat the babies. This is horrible for her reproductive system and can make her very sick, not to mention it risks her life every time she gives birth. Opposite-sex play-time, as with males, is a very bad idea. It only takes moments for an “oops” mating to take place.
Do not ever put two opposite sex hedgehogs in the same cage, carrier, or playpen unless you are planning on breeding, are an experienced hedgehog owner, have pedigrees on your animals, have a large amount of money saved for emergency procedures, and have a mentor to help you. Female-female pairing can work, under the right circumstances. Mothers and young females that are raised together are most likely to get along. Daughters, as well as sisters, usually get along best. Introducing a new female to an existing one may work out, but sometimes they will harm or kill one another.
Never assume because two hedgehogs got along for one day, or even weeks, that they won’t harm each other if housed together. Hedgies that have gotten along for years, can suddenly turn on each other and can kill the other. Likewise it’s common for girls to get along outside of the cage, but fight when they have to share a cage. If you want an animal you can house multiple of together, a hedgehog is probably not for you.
Another major thing to consider before looking into getting any pet is if you can afford one. Hedgehogs can be very expensive to keep, and vet bills can quickly add up. You should always have money saved for vet bills (a few hundred is sufficient) and be prepared to spend it. The initial cost of getting a hedgehog can be quite high as well, with the supplies adding up to around $450 and $150-$250 for the hedgehog. You should never assume you won’t have to pay for vet care. If you don’t want to spend money on vet bills, a hedgehog is definitely not for you.
Along with the above, you need to make sure you have a good vet before acquiring a hedgehog. Call around to see if there is an experienced exotic vet or other small animal clinic. Not all clinics that say they will see hedgehogs will actually be able to help with anything at all. Good vets are hard to find and unfortunately, many veterinarians still rely on dangerous, outdated material.
In some places, hedgehogs are not legal to own. If you live in any of the following states (updated July 2016) you are prohibited from owning a hedgehog: California, Georgia, Hawaii, and the five boroughs of New York City. For the animal’s sake, please do not try to keep one. When found, they are confiscated and oftentimes euthanized, and there’s a good chance you’ll be fined. It is also difficult to find vet care in these places. In some areas hedgehogs are legal to own, but require a permit. And some places only make it illegal to import hedgehogs into the state. Please check for any local laws before getting a hedgehog.
Choosing a Veterinarian
Finding a good vet before problems arise is the key to keeping your hedgehog healtIf something goes wrong, you want to be able to go straight to the vet for immediate treatment instead of searching around for a clinic that will even see hedgehogs. The best way to find a vet is by recommendation. If you have a reputable breeder near you, ask who they use and if they have references to other vets as well. Same with rescue stations, ask who they use or recommend.
It’s best to find a vet who has prior experience with hedgehogs if possible. Many will accept them, but haven’t actually ever seen a hedgie before. These vets are still good for medical knowledge, but it’d be good to check with the hedgehog community before treatment in case they prescribe something not safe for hedgies (for example, vets often try to treat parasites with Ivermectin, though it’s very easy to overdose and can be lethal).
Other suggestions for finding a good vet would be checking in with local wildlife rescues. They often work with good wildlife veterinarians that specialize in small unusual animals. Other small pet rescues for animals like ferrets or rats might have good recommendations for vets with experience with small exotic pets.
While quality is obviously the most important aspect of a vet clinic to look for, also try to stick close to home. You don’t want to have to drive hours to get there. See if you can talk with the vet before setting an appointment. Make sure you can communicate well with them, and see if they take offense if you try to educate them about hedgehog care. A vet that is defensive about a client acting like they know more than they do, or telling you that their way is the only way is probably not a good bet – you want a doctor that is open to learning more, especially since care information changes so often.
Last but definitely not least, be sure to find your local 24/7 emergency hospital. If something goes wrong in the middle of the night, your usual vet (unless they’re awesome and will come in at all hours) will be closed. Know where to take your hedgehog when you need immediate care and your vet isn’t available.
Listed below are the bare necessities for owning a hedgehog. These are the bare minimum for your hedgehog’s quality of life. Try to gather everything up before bringing your hedgie home.
Cage: The cage should be at least 4 square feet in size, the bigger the better. It must have a solid floor, not wire flooring (like some rabbit or cavy cages). Also avoid unsealed wood, it is difficult to clean completely and can harbor mites.
Bedding: You can use particulate or fabric bedding. Particulate would include wood shavings (such as aspen or kiln-dried pine; avoid corn cob, never use cedar), or recycled paper products (such as CareFresh or Yesterday’s News). Fabric liners are made of fleece, corduroy, flannel, or other safe materials. Liners are preferred for a variety of reasons. Also because they are washable, they can last for a very long time. More information in
Wheel: Whether you use a commercially made or custom made wheel, it should have a solid running surface, no crossbars and be at least 12” in diameter.
Hiding Place: This can be as simple as a shoebox with a hole in the side, plastic igloo, or sleeping sack. Your hedgehog just needs room to sleep and feel secure. If you use a box or igloo you still need to provide a blanket or bag to hide in as well.
Food Dish: The dish should be somewhat shallow and heavy so it doesn’t tip. Hard plastic, ceramic and glass all work well.
Water Dish or Bottle: You can use a dish or bottle to provide water. In general dishes are preferred and hedgehogs will drink more and are more comfortable with bowls, but if you are using particulate bedding it may be easier to use a bottle. You want something you can easily clean and refill often.
Heat Source: Ceramic heat emitters and space heaters are the most popular choices for keeping your hedgie’s cage warm. Ceramic heat emitters look like a flat light bulb and screw into a light fixture. They produce only heat and no light. They should be hooked up to a thermostat so they turn on and off to regulate temperature. Space heaters heat the whole room. Heating pads alone don’t provide enough heat. You will also need a digital thermometer to check the cage temperature.
Food: The average price for a 2-3lb bag of great quality cat food is around $10-$20, though if you are mixing several foods remember to consider the cost of each bag.
Vet Fund: Make sure you have money saved for emergency vet visits before getting a hedgie. You never know when something might go wrong. Make sure this is money that you will not spend on anything else!
Here is a secondary list of supplies. They aren’t absolutely mandatory, but usually get good use and make life easier on you and your hedgehog.
Kitchen or Postal Scale: You will want a scale to weigh your hedgie once a week or more often. Sudden weight changes are usually caused by health problems and catching them early on may save your hedgehog’s life. The scale should weigh in 2 gram increments or less, for accuracy.
First Aid Kit: Having a first aid kit prepared for emergencies is a very good idea. Some things to put in your kit would be vet information, oral syringes, Hill’s A/D food, hand warmers, gauze pads, tweezers, etc.
Toys: Good toys for hedgies include toilet paper tubes cut down one side, cat toys, and anything that does not have pieces that could come off, strings that could loosen, or gaps that could catch on hedgie’s jaw or limbs.
Litter Box: The litter box can be a low-cut cardboard box, an old cookie sheet, or one made for ferrets or rabbits. For litter you can use paper towels, CareFresh, or shavings, etc. Not all hedgies will use a litter box, but at least you’ll have a place to put him or her when they need to potty during handling.
Where to Get a Hedgehog
There really are only three choices here: from a breeder, a pet store, or an individual who no longer wants theirs. If possible, you should always buy from a reputable breeder. A good breeder will keep pedigrees and health records of all their breeding animals, whether they register with the International Hedgehog Registry (IHR) or not. In general, most licensed breeders are trying to improve the breed by raising healthy, friendly hedgehogs.
Pet stores, on the other hand, are almost always a disaster. There are virtually none that actually know what they are doing and take good care of their hedgies. Unfortunately, hedgehogs at pet stores often come from mass-breeding mills where they are inbred and not cared for well.
Even if a pet store tells you they do not buy from mills, don’t take their word for it. Most ship them in from mills that they refer to as “good breeders”. Even if they breed the hedgies themselves, the conditions are likely not much better.
Some pet stores mean well, but just don’t have the right information. Most of the books available are outdated, and many websites give the wrong advice. Along with the misinformation, most pet store employees are not educated on how to sex the hedgehogs and do not regularly handle them.
Hedgies are often kept in mixed-sex groups in pet stores, and the young females often go to a home and give birth, far too young for their growing bodies. They also contract mites or respiratory infections very easily in the unsanitary conditions.
In general if you are looking for a healthy hedgehog, a pet store is the last place to look.
Unless you know that after the hedgehog is sold that the store will not restock with more, please do not buy an animal out of pity. Feeling bad for the hedgie in the poor conditions and buying it is only telling the store that there is a market for the hedgehogs and that they should buy even more and treat them the same. While it may seem you are doing it a favor, you may be putting many more hedgies through the same thing.
Buying from a friend or a person on Craigslist has its pros and cons. When buying from someone who is selling a hedgehog for cheap, or even giving it away, don’t automatically assume you are going to save money. Sometimes hedgehogs come to you sick and the vet bills can be much more than the cost of a healthy hedgehog from anywhere else. The people rehoming the hedgie are sometimes very uneducated on proper hedgehog care, and the hedgie may be very grumpy, malnourished, or overweight. However, sometimes the owners are just unable to keep their pet and want it to go to a good home. It depends on each individual case. Just because the hedgie is older or from another home does not mean it won’t turn out to be an excellent, friendly pet.
Male or Female?
Both male and female hedgehogs make excellent pets. There are very few differences between the genders, and they are only anatomical. Personality depends on the individual hedgehog; neither sex is friendlier than the other.
Males don’t smell stronger than females, as in some other small animals. Females are induced ovulators and do not go into heat or have a “period” (if you find any blood, you should get to a vet immediately). Females seem to be more prone to reproductive cancers, but this is just an assumption based on the number of cases that have been reported. Many males like to masturbate, and while some are discrete about the behavior, some aren’t shy at all. This may bother some people. Males do not have prominent testicles like other intact male animals, such as dogs or rats.
If you want to try to keep two hedgehogs together, you will want two females or a male-female pair where one or both is altered.
Remember that housing hedgehogs together does not always work and that you need to be prepared to separate them at the first sign of aggression or violence. This means having two of everything: two cages, two wheels, two sleeping places, etc. If you’re having trouble identifying the sex of your hedgie, you can try letting him sit in a clear container and looking from underneath.
Each hedgehog has its own personality and habits. One type of personality may fit with yours better than another. General “groups” people can use to categorize are: Cuddlers, Explorers, Loners, and Huffers.
“Cuddlers”: These hedgehogs are laid back and like to relax. They enjoy bonding and just snoozing in your lap. These are good hedgehogs for beginner owners or someone wanting a hedgie that will appreciate company and handling.
“Explorers”: These hedgehogs are active and don’t like to sit still. During handling they will constantly be trying to run out of your hands, off your lap, and anywhere else they can. They sometimes need extra fat in their diet because they will burn so much off during their nightly run.
“Loners”: These hedgehogs are perfectly content to be left alone. They are happiest in their cage at night, running around without being bothered. While they likely won’t be totally offended by being handled, they much prefer to keep their own schedule and regard you as the “food, water, and clean-cage giver” only.
“Huffers”: These hedgehogs are constantly afraid or just plain grumpy. They will almost always be balled up and hissing and clicking at you. With time they can come around, but it will require a lot of patience. New owners, unless they feel they are prepared for the challenge, would probably not want their first hedgehog to be this unsocial. Make sure you do not mistake a sickness or injury as a reclusive personality.
A hedgehog’s personality may depend on several factors. The main contributor would be handling. A hedgie that is used to being gently handled, frequently, is often far more friendly than one that is never handled, or is handled with gloves, or in an intimidating manner. The hedgehog’s mother’s personality likely contributes to how comfortable the baby is with humans as well.