The most common species of domesticated hedgehog is the white-bellied or four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris). It is smaller than the European hedgehog, and thus is sometimes called African pygmy hedgehog. Other species kept as pets are the Egyptian long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus auritus) and the Indian long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus collaris).
Hedgehog domestication became popular in the early 1980s. They still have much of their wild behavior, including a fear of predators—especially humans—but buying from a respo
nsible breeder and proper handling will do a lot to ensure a friendly relationship. Since domestication began, several new colours of hedgehogs have been created or become common, including albino and pinto hedgehogs.
Domesticated species prefer a warm climate (above 22 °C, 72 °F) and do not naturally hibernate. Attempts to hibernate due to lowered body temperatures can be fatal, but are easily reversed if caught within a few days. In the wild they eat a diet of mainly insects, but pet owners generally prefer a diet composed primarily of high-protein, low-fat, high-quality cat food, with regular treats such as mealworms, fruits, vegetables, and cooked unseasoned meats.
Roman domesticated hedgehog
The Romans domesticated a relative of the Algerian hedgehog in the 4th century BC. They were raised for meat and quills. The quills were used in the training of other animals, such as keeping a calf from suckling after it had been weaned.
Hedgehog quills were used for card paper and dissection pins long after the Romans actively bred and raised hedgehogs.
Because a hedgehog is commonly kept in a cage or similar enclosure, it is allowed in some residences where cats and dogs are not allowed.
It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in some US states and some Canadian municipalities, and a license is needed to legally breed them. These restrictions may have been enacted due to the ability of some hedgehog species to carry foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious disease of cloven-hooved animals. No such restrictions exist in most European countries.
The following is a list of locations where it is illegal to own a hedgehog. By African Pygmy hedgehog, this list is referring to the domesticated hedgehog commonly bred and sold as pets, not a specific breed of hedgehog from Africa. All locations are in the United States.
- New York City, New York
Other legal issues:
- Australia: All hedgehogs are classified as exotic pets that are illegal to import.
- In Quebec, European hedgehogs are illegal. African Pygmy hedgehogs are legal.
- Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain and United Kingdom: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. African Pygmy hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- United States:
- In Idaho and Oregon, European hedgehogs are illegal. African Pygmy hedgehogs are legal.
- In Maine, New Jersey and Wyoming, a permit is required.
- In Wisconsin, an import permit from the state department of agriculture is required to bring a hedgehog into the state.
- In Fairfax County, Virginia, all hedgehogs are illegal.
- In Pennsylvania, hedgehogs may not be imported into the state, but hedgehogs in the state as of 1992 and their descendants are at least theoretically allowed. In practice, enforcement of this law has been rumored to be arbitrary and ill-informed.
- Turkey: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. African Pygmy hedgehogs may not legally be kept as pets.
In the wild, a hedgehog will cover many miles each night. Keeping this in mind, a hedgehog requires as much room as possible. Without room, a hedgehog will show signs of depression, such as excessive sleeping, refusal to eat, repetitious behaviour, and self-mutilation. Due to their small size obesity is a very dangerous problem and hedgehogs require a fair amount of exercise to avoid liver problems due to excess weight.
Pet cages with a floor area measuring 5 square feet (0.46 m2) or more are suitable for pet hedgehogs. Cages with wired floors are dangerous for hedgehogs because they can easily slip and get a limb caught in the wire. Multi-level ferret or rabbit cages can allow a hedgehog more room to explore without taking up extra floor space, but when using multiple levels, keep in mind that a hedgehog has poor eyesight, can climb easily, but has difficulty descending and often does not seem to understand heights, so it is highly recommended that ramps and levels be completely enclosed to prevent a fall. Some people use large glass aquariums but these can be heavy and awkward to clean and offer little ventilation. Very large plastic totes are a common DIY cage and are inexpensive, easy to clean, and versatile, but they must be of a considerable size and must be ventilated properly. Another popular do it yourself cage is a “C & C” cage made out of cubes and coroplast, also called corrugated plastic. C & C cages can be made larger than store-bought cages and can be built one on top of the other to house multiple hedgehogs vertically without the need for shelving.
A wheel is necessary to provide hedgehogs with exercise. Some hedgehogs refuse to run in a wheel, so other forms of exercise must be substituted. When choosing a wheel, it must have a solid floor. If an open-wire wheel is used, the hedgehog will continually fall between the bars and possibly break a leg. Wheels with crossbars can also cause facial injuries as hedgehogs have been known to look sideways out of the wheel while running. For this reason “bucket” type wheels are preferred by many hedgehog owners, and they are available from many breeders. DIY articles are also readily available for those wishing to attempt making one themselves.
Vellux blanket material is preferred for bedding by many because it does not fray and is easy to clean up. This is a plush velour-like material often used for hotel blankets. Strings from frayed edges on blankets have been known to wrap around hedgehog’s legs, causing amputation, so any frayed fabric that is to be near the hedgehog must be checked thoroughly to avoid problems. Fleece blankets can also be used, but the edges should be sewn so that there are no stray threads in which a hedgehog could catch itself. Recycled newspaper beddings are also popular. Cedar and pine bedding have wood oils that are dangerous to hedgehogs and can cause lung issues and even sores. However, aspen shavings contain no such oils and are safe for use in hedgehog enclosures. Some beddings can be dangerous due to dust content or propensity to clump up on the hedgehog, others may even get stuck in the hedgehog’s genitals. Careful research is necessary before using any unusual bedding materials.
The enclosure should be kept above 70 °F (21 °C) or the hedgehog will attempt to hibernate.
In the wild, a hedgehog is opportunistic and will eat many things, but the majority of the diet comprises insects.
As insectivores, hedgehogs need a diet that is high in protein and low in fat. They also require chitin, which comes from the exoskeleton of insects; fiber in the diet may substitute for the chitin component. There are prepared foods specifically for pet hedgehogs and insectivores, including foods made from insect components. Also available are alimentary powders to sprinkle on other food which provide chitin and other nutrients. Hedgehog caretakers should read labels on packaged food to ensure a basis of protein, rather than a basis of carbohydrate.
A dry cat-food mix can serve as a daily base food. Most caretakers mix several high-quality (mostly meat and little meat byproduct), low-fat cat foods to ensure nutrition and aim for a protein content of higher than 30% and a fat content of no greater than 12%. Approximately 10 to 12% fiber is also suggested. Normal cat food is high in fat and iron, so indoor or light formulations are generally more appropriate. Most breeders also suggest foods derived primarily from chicken. There are hedgehog foods available at many pet shops, but most do not seem to be good quality formulations and will not provide the quality and level of nutritional contents necessary for a healthy hedgehog. One should always check the ingredients list for good quality ingredients and nutritional information for high protein and low fat content.
Pet hedgehogs may eat such table foods as cooked, lean chicken, turkey, beef or pork (in moderation due to fat content). Hedgehogs will often eat small amounts of vegetable and can be given small amounts of fruit as treats. Baby food is a common way to feed treats. Hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant and will have stomach problems after consuming most dairy products, though occasional plain lowfat yogurt (yogurt contains bacteria that naturally process lactose) or cottage cheese seem to be well tolerated. Sugar intake should be restricted to fruits, and treats with added sugar avoided.
Fresh, canned, or freeze-dried mealworms, waxworms, and crickets are appropriate as limited treats though in moderation as many feed insects are high in fat. Many pet stores carry these feed insects. Hedgehog caretakers should avoid bait-shop or wild caught insects, which may be contaminated with insecticides.
Hedgehogs can easily become obese. If a pet hedgehog appears to be gaining too much weight, it is important that the hedgehog’s caretaker cut back on high fat foods and increase exercise. Hedgehogs vary in size so there is no “goal weight” for a hedgehog, but if they can no longer roll completely into a ball it is a pretty clear sign of obesity. Many people believe that there is a relation between a high-fat diet and fatty-liver disease in hedgehogs.
Due to their mouth shape hedgehogs should not be fed any nuts. Nut butters are acceptable, but are very high in fat so they should probably be avoided. Hedgehogs should never be fed avocados, onions, grapes or raisins, chocolate, any raw meat or egg yolks, or any canned or processed food.
Hedgehogs produce very little dander. It is possible to be allergic to items surrounding the hedgehog, such as the hedgehog’s food or bedding, but it is rare that a person would be allergic to the hedgehog itself.
After handling hedgehogs, some have claimed that pink dots on their hands is an allergic reaction. This is more likely caused by small pricks from the hedgehog’s quills. If a hedgehog is not clean, the pricks can become infected. The infection is from contaminants on the hedgehog or on the surface of the hands, not from an allergic reaction to the hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are commonly allergic to wood oils. Wood bedding should be avoided, specifically cedar. The oil found in cedar can cause severe upper respiratory problems. Aspen however is widely accepted as a safe substitute.
Hedgehogs are prone to many diseases, including cancer, which spreads quickly in hedgehogs, and wobbly hedgehog syndrome, a neurological syndrome. Some symptoms of wobbly hedgehog syndrome resemble those of multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans, therefore the condition the animal experiences can be compared with what MS patients experience. A possible cause of WHS is a genetic flaw allowing a virus to attack the hedgehog’s nervous system. The nose can display a variety of symptoms of a troubled hedgehog, especially respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. In many cases, the form of pneumonia that affects hedgehogs is bacterial in nature. If acted upon quickly, antibiotics can have a very positive effect. Signs to watch for include bubbles, excessive dripping, or constant sneezing.
Hedgehogs usually react to stress with temporary digestive disorders that include vomiting and green feces.
Want a Pet Hedgehog? Here’s What You Need to Know