Hedgehogs, like any other pet, need to have the right environment in order for them to thrive. It’s important for their health and well-being that they have the right kind of Pygmy Hedgehog cage, and that everything inside the cage is selected to be safe and comfortable. This chapter will go into detail about everything you need to get in order to keep your hedgehog happy.
The first thing you need to get before bringing a hedgehog into your house is an appropriate cage. Hedgehogs are small, but as mentioned in the previous chapter, they also are nocturnal and accustomed to being very active during the night. For that reason, you will need to get a large cage, somewhere in the vicinity of 36 inches by 18 inches. This size will be big enough to accommodate your hedgehog as well as the other things you need, including:
- Exercise wheel
You may be tempted by a multi-level cage thinking that it will give your pet more room to run around in. However, stick with a single level – otherwise your hedgehog may fall and injure itself.
Make sure to get a cage that has proper ventilation. Glass is not a good choice, as the interior will be too warm for your hedgehog to be comfortable. Wood cages such as vivariums are great but require extra ventilation. My preferred cage is the Zoozone, because it doesn’t have an outside grill which may cause the hedgehog to become stuck.
Inside the Cage
Hedgehogs love to dig and burrow. Because of this, you may be tempted to use cedar shavings at the bottom of the entire cage. However, it is better to use some sort of cloth, such as:
- Cloth linings
- Carpet fabrics
You will need to provide litter, and for this area, I recommend wood-based litter. Make sure to use non-clumping, low dust, unscented litter. This kind of litter will not irritate your hedgehog, or stick to it. They are also less likely to eat it. Avoid clay, as this will actually bother the hedgehog and it may eat the litter.
Choose a shallow litter pan or one with an open front so your hedgehog has easy access to it. Do not choose a pan with a lid. Ideally, place the litter pan underneath or as close as possible to the wheel, as that is where your hedgehog will most likely relieve itself.
Choosing a Wheel
As previously stated, hedgehogs are nocturnal and it is in their nature to travel long distances during the night. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are domesticated, but they are still hard-wired to need a great deal of exercise every night. In a cage, the best way to get that exercise is on a wheel.
When choosing a wheel for your hedgehog, make sure to pick one with a solid base. It’s important to make sure that your hedgehog’s feet and legs won’t slip through the wheel as this may cause energy. It’s also important to choose a sturdy wheel, as your hedgehog will use its wheel extensively on a nightly basis.
In addition to the cage lining, litter and wheel, you will need to get a water dish or food bowl. Do not get a water bottle as they have the potential to damage your hedgehog’s teeth. Provide fresh water every day and wash the dish daily.
Because hedgehogs are nocturnal, you also need to provide them with an enclosed space where they can hide during the day. Any kind of enclosure will do, as long as it is large enough for your hedgehog to be comfortable.
In addition to the wheel, make sure to provide some toys for your new pet. Hedgehogs will play with many different things. Some examples include:
- Empty toilet paper rolls
- Children’s toys
- Cat balls
- Bird toys
Make sure that there are no loose or small parts that the hedgehog might chew off or swallow. Don’t give your hedgehog any toy that might cause its paws or legs to get stuck.
Where to Put the Cage
In addition to setting up the cage properly, it is vital that you choose the right spot to put your hedgehog’s cage. Hedgehogs need between 10-12 hours of light a day, but it does not need to be direct sunlight. You can simply open the curtains to let natural light in, or turn on a lamp.
Hedgehogs need a comfortable temperature of between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops too far below the ideal, they may
attempt to hibernate. For this reason, they should be kept indoors (not in a garage or outdoors.) If the area where the cage is gets chilly, you can use a heating pad to provide extra warmth. I like the Snuggle Safe & Sound Microwave Heatpad or the Petnap Electric heat pad mat the best, as they will work in any cage. Do not use a lightbulb to warm the cage.
A hedgehog that gets too cold may attempt to hibernate. Domesticated hedgehogs do not have the ability to hibernate properly, so it’s important to make sure they stay warm.
If your hedgehog feels cool or cold to the touch, or appears lethargic or wobbly, it is in serious danger. Wild hedgehogs hibernate, but your pet hedgehog cannot hibernate safely. You need to warm it up immediately.
The gentlest and best way to warm a hedgehog is to do it with your own body heat. Pick up your hedgehog and either cup it in your hands or tuck it inside your shirt. If you’re not comfortable with doing that, you can try wrapping it in a warm blanket and cradling it in your lap.
If you prefer not to use direct body heat, you can use other methods. If you have a hedgebag, try warming it up in the dryer and putting your hedgehog inside. Just make sure it’s not too hot. Test it with your hand first to make sure. You can use a heating pad, but it’s very important to monitor the heat if you do so. Your hedgehog is sick and weak, and if the pad gets too hot it may lack the energy to move, which puts it at risk for getting burned.
Once your hedgehog has recovered, you can put it back into its cage. Before you do, though, you need to address whatever caused it to become so cold in the first place. If there are drafts, you may need to cover the vents in the cage with warm blankets. If the house is too cold, turn up the heat.
A hedgehog that has been on the verge of hibernation and recovered is more likely to attempt hibernation again. It is extremely important to maintain a constant, warm temperature and eliminate drafts in order to keep your hedgehog safe.
Smell and Hygiene
Cleaning your hedgehog’s cage regularly is an important part of keeping your new pet happy and healthy. You will need to clean its cage twice a week. That means completely emptying litter, cleaning the litter pan, and replacing the fabric in the rest of the cage as needed. On a daily basis, you will need to:
- Clean the water and food dish with a non-scented pet cleaner and hot water (do not use chemical products as these may harm your hedgehog)
- Clean the wheel
- Spot clean the rest of the cage as needed
What do hedgehogs eat? When you get a new cat or dog, you can just go to your local pet store and buy them what they need – but is there an aisle for hedgehog food?
Fortunately, feeding a hedgehog is not complicated. You can feed them high-quality dry cat food. It is high in protein and low in fat, and because it’s crunchy it will help your hedgehog keep its teeth clean and healthy.
You will also want to supplement your hedgehog’s diet with other foods. For example:
- Fruits and vegetables (apples, carrots, etc.)
- Unseasoned animal protein (chicken, lamb, duck)
- Wet cat food
- Live insects from the pet store (wax worms or meal worms)
These foods should be given in small amounts and no more than once a week as a treat. Do not feed your hedgehog insects you caught outside, as these may contain pesticides or other substances that could be harmful. Only feed your pet live insects from the pet store.
Litter training your new hedgehog will make cleaning its cage much easier. In truth, it’s easy to make sure that most of your hedgehog’s waste lands in the litter tray, simply by placing it underneath the wheel. If the tray is large enough, you can simply place the wheel inside the tray.
When your hedgehog soils an area outside of the litter tray, the best way to train it is to pick up the waste and place it in the litter tray. Unless your hedgehog is particularly stubborn, it will soon realize that the litter tray is the designated area for all potty activity, and will use it exclusively.
Here it’s important to note that litter training is a big part of the reason why you want to use different material in the rest of the cage. If the entire cage is covered in wood shavings or litter, your pet will have a hard time differentiating between potty and non-potty areas. Confining litter to the litter tray will make training easier.
Registering Your Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are considered to be exotic pets. Before you adopt one, make sure you understand what you need to do in order to register or license your hedgehog.
In the UK, you do not need to have a license to own an African Pygmy Hedgehog. It is important to note, though, that European hedgehogs are protected and it is legal to own one as a pet.
In some other parts of the world, it is not legal to own an African Pygmy Hedgehog. For example, in the United States it is illegal in the following places:
- Douglas County, Nebraska
- New York City, New York
They are also illegal in Quebec and Australia. Licensing and permit requirements may vary even within counties or states, so it’s important to do your homework before you buy a pet hedgehog.