Basic care and husbandry

Most hedgehogs kept as pets in the United States are African hedgehogs, Atelerix albiventris. The European hedgehog is very similar, although slightly larger. African hedgehogs range in weight from 250 to 600 grams (8 to 20 ounces) and vary in color from a sandy/dead grass to nearly black. In the wild, life expectancy is 3 to 4 years, although with good care, captive hedgehogs have been known to live for up to 10 years.

Hedgehogs live in varied environments, but often make their burrows under wood and rock piles, tree roots, and brushy areas. They are nocturnal, sleep during the day and forage for their insect and small mammal prey at night. Their keenest sense is hearing, followed closely by smell. Sudden sounds will cause a hedgehog in an unfamiliar surrounding to quickly tuck into a spiny ball. Their anatomy provides them with a purse-string musculature--a circular muscle group that runs from the back of the head, along their sides, and back to their tails. When contracted, this muscular group pulls the skin together over the hedgehog’s soft furry abdomen, effectively creating a sharp, very unpleasant ball.

Care and Feeding

Hedgehogs naturally eat insects, slugs, snails, worms, and occasional small animals (mice, moles, even small snakes) and fruit. Domestically, hedgehogs have been fed combinations of dry dog and cat food, earthworms, meal worms, and crickets, and small amounts of diced fruits and vegetables. A low-fat, well-balanced diet is important to avoid mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Obesity and fatty liver problems (hepatic lipidosis) are serious and life threatening conditions seen commonly due to fatty diets. High quality maintenance cat food diets can predispose hedgehogs to hepatic lipidosis, so if cat food is used, we recommend a “light” or “less active” high quality cat food. The best diet, available from our clinic (pre order!) or quality pet stores, is a food specially formulated for hedgehogs by Pretty Pets pet food company. Insects, fruits and vegetables, and small amounts of canned food are not necessary, but make nice supplemental treats.

Hedgehogs do best in large, tall, smooth-walled enclosures, with shredded newspaper or wood chips (NOT cedar) for bedding. Bedding needs to be changed frequently(weekly) to avoid urine and fecal buildup, which very easily can lead to skin irritation and infection. Wire flooring and walls are not recommended, as hedgehogs’ tiny feet and toes can become entrapped or injured by the wires. A box or overturned flowerpot provides a nice hiding place from daylight and noises. Temperatures should be maintained in the 70 to 85 degree F range. Hedgehogs that are exposed to temperatures less than 60 degrees F often go into torpor, (similar to hibernation) and in doing so, lower their metabolism and resistance to disease.

Hedgehogs are usually fairly solitary animals, and do need their own space. Hedgehogs can coexist in small groups, although fighting can break out if they are not provided large confinements.