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Domestic or Pet Hedgehog

Hedgehogs were named in Britain around 1450. This unusual looking animal has spines and a hog-like snout and could often be found foraging and rooting like a hog, in hedgerows. English folk would refer to this animal as a Hedgehog. Soon the name “Hedgehog” was used to describe all animals that fit this description, worldwide.


Understanding the Basics of Caring for the Domestic Hedgehog

Hedgehogs in Nature

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Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Eulipotyphla

Family: Erinaceidae

Genus: Atelerix

Species: A. albiventris

Binomial Name: Atelerix albiventris

Common Name: Domestic Hedgehog


Other Common Names:

Four-toed Hedgehog, African Pygmy Hedgehog, Algerian Hedgehog, (Algerian is also used interchangeably to describe a colour pattern for domestic Hedgehogs that have darker cheek patches.) White bellied Hedgehog.

  • An adult male Hedgehog is referred to as a ‘Boar’
  • An adult female Hedgehog is referred to as a ‘Sow’
  • A breeding colony of Hedgehogs is often referred to as a ‘Herd’
  • A group of babies are commonly referred to as a nest, array or a prickle and a single baby Hedgehog is referred to as a ‘piglet, hoglet or pup’.

Natural Distribution in the wild:

They are a native of Africa and smaller populations have also become established in some parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. In the wild the Hedgehog’s home range varies from the steppes located at the edge of the savannah to the Mediterranean coastal areas.


Conservation Status in the wild:

As per the I.U.C.N., this species is considered of least concern. It is established and widespread and the current population appears to be stable.


Natural habitat:

Being that they are from a hot, semi arid climate they do require a constantly warm and dry environment. Hedgehogs prefer arid conditions and they don’t like to be wet. They try to avoid running water such as rivers and streams and open water like large pools and ponds. However, when they must, they can swim for short distances. They don’t enjoy it but if they need to escape from something they will sometimes cross a small stream or pond. Hedgehogs prefer to stay dry!


Hedgehogs tend to stick fairly close to home. They build a couple of nests that they will frequent to sleep in during the day and to use when raising a family. Their nests can be found in rock crevices, hollow trees and in disturbed areas, they even will nest under homes and wood piles.


Hedgehogs are near the bottom of the food chain and they on the menu for large birds of prey, jackals, hyenas and many other savannah predators. They prefer to forage near rocks and under sedges which helps them avoid becoming prey. 


Natural diet:

They are mainly insectivores (insect eaters). They will also eat snakes and small reptiles and amphibians. Being opportunistic feeders they will eat carrion, small rodents, bird’s eggs as well as a small amount of fruit and vegetable matter. Those living near ponds and streams also eat small crustaceans, invertebrates and small fish that have been stranded on the shoreline.


It is believed that Hedgehogs have a protein in their body that help neutralize the effects of some poisons and venoms. Scorpions, spiders, centipedes, slugs and venomous snakes are readily eaten, if they can catch them.


Personality / Social structure:

Hedgehogs live life autonomously. They prefer living alone and on their own terms. Although females seldom venture more than a couple of hundred meters away from their nest-site, sometimes their territories do overlap with another female’s territory. When multiple females meet, both usually display aggression but combat is unlikely at first. They will likely huff and puff to threaten intruders away. If the intruder does not retreat, fighting can occur and can be brutal. Pregnant and nursing mothers are less tolerant of intruders and will defend their nest with brute force. Male Hedgehogs have a larger home range and live life more like hobos. They tend to be always wandering in search of food or in search of a female to mate with. Males are extremely territorial with other males and they will fight aggressively to defend their territory.


Sleeping habits:

Hedgehogs are naturally nocturnal, meaning that they are more active during the darkness of night. They wake up shortly after the sun goes down to begin a night of foraging and romping around in search of a mate. Before the sun comes up they return to their nesting den to relax and sleep during the light hours. Hedgehogs need a balance of light and darkness but where we might prefer darkness to sleep they prefer sleeping and relaxing during the light of day. (in captivity even though they are truly nocturnal, some Hedgehogs are starting to become a bit more diurnal or crepuscular)


Activity level:

It might come as a surprise to some people but the cute little Hedgehog is actually quite active. They may not look like they can move quickly but looks can be deceiving; they move very quickly and they can run for long distances.


Hedgehogs can climb but they are not very good at it. They can easily climb up small shrubs and over logs and rock ledges with ease but they lack the coordination to climb back down. They don’t usually get stuck while trying to climb down, instead they let go while balling up and then they just drop. Their spikes (quills), in conjunction with some body fat, act a bit like a shock absorber and being that they don’t usually climb too high, they seldom get injured. However, if a Hedgehog were to fall from high places, injury would likely occur and it could be fatal. 


Physical description:

The African Hedgehog has an oval shaped body that is supported by short legs. Their back is covered in tiny, non-barbed spines that are brown or gray with cream tips. Unlike other animals that have quills, Hedgehogs’ spines are like quills but they are not barbed. When a Hedgehog is in a relaxed state, their quills lie flat against their body. The face, tail, legs and underside lack spines. Their eyes are small and round. Their ears and nose lack any covering but their face legs and underside is areas are covered with a soft, white or cream coloured fur. Some domestic Hedgehogs have darker facial markings. Their tails are visible but are very short. Their nose is a rather pointed snout.


When threatened, the Hedgehog can contract its body muscles, enabling it to roll itself into a compact, tight ball shape, forcing its spines out in all directions. This ability is a self-defense mechanism that all Hedgehogs are born with. When rolled into defensive ball, they are approximately the size of a large grapefruit. 


Hedgehogs have relatively good eyesight but lack some degree of colour vision. They rely on their advanced senses of smell and hearing and use these senses to detect prey a couple of inches below the ground.


When Hedgehogs started to gain popularity as pets, a couple of distinct species were occasionally collected and housed together. Hybridizing sometimes occurred which resulted in many distinct colour patterns randomly occurring. Now with selective breeding practices, domestic Hedgehogs are available in a wide variety of colours and colour patterns.


The Hedgehog is Sexually Dimorphic:

Distinguishing the sex of a hedgehog is easy. The male’s penis is located closer to where a belly button might be whereas a females genital opening is closer to the tail, almost connecting to the anus.


Adult Weight:

Domestic Hedgehogs are small, usually only weighing between 1 to 2 lbs. Females are often slightly larger than a male. Males usually weigh between 450 to 700 grams (1 to 1.5 pounds) Females usually weigh approximately 450 grams to 900 grams (1.5 to 2lbs) Hedgehogs live out a meager existence in the wild and have evolved with the ability to be able to consume a large quantity of food whenever the opportunity presents itself. Therefore, if food is always available they can become obese easily. It is important to watch their weight in captivity and to make adjustments to the quantity of food, when needed.


Adult Size/Length:

Both male and female, measure approximately 18 to 23 cm (7 to 9 inches)


Average Life Expectancy in the wild:

They mature quickly and die at a relatively young age in the wild. Typically, they live around a year, seldom more than 2 years and their short life expectancy is partially due to disease and parasites, environmental conditions and because they are heavily preyed upon by other animals. They can live a lot longer in captivity!


Self-anointing:

Hedgehogs lick and taste objects that sometimes have unfamiliar odors or possess bothersome substances then they swish it around in their mouth, producing quantities of foamy saliva that they spread over their spines. This is known as “self-anointing” and it is believed to be a way for them to deter predators and sometimes, parasites.



Life in Captivity

Exotic mammals are seldom like domesticated cats and dogs.


People thinking of keeping Hedgehogs as pets, need to consider that whereas a dog loves constant attention, a Hedgehog is far more likely to appreciate its own space and familiar human company. They are not usually the type of animal that you can teach to be obedient. They don't really care if you, their owner, is pleased or displeased and do not care how much you love it or how much it would mean to you, if he / she would love you back. It cares about its own survival!

It takes a bit of time for them to become accustomed to new people but they are known to form a bond with their caregivers. Constant attention, patience and lots of socialization are the key to building a trust between you and a Hedgehog. Once a Hedgehog recognizes your voice and smell and realizes that you are not a threat it will look to you as a provider of food and as a safe place to be.

Being that they are capable of bonding with their caregiver and because they are not as demanding as a dog or a cat, many people feel that there is no better pet than a Hedgehog. Just because they are not domesticated like dogs and cats are, does not mean they will not make a nice pet. For some people who prefer a pet that is fairly undemanding then this is the perfect type of pet for them!

A Nocturnal Pet

Day time versus night time

They are naturally nocturnal creatures who are often seen searching for a meal or looking for a mate at night. Hoping not to become dinner for birds of prey and other predators hedgehogs prefer to do most of their scurrying around their territory after dark, where they remain in the shadows of moonlight.

In captivity, they remain most active after sundown but it appears that after many generations living in captivity hedgehogs seem to be adapting and becoming a bit more relaxed during the day. Some are adjusting their habits and slowly becoming a little more diurnal. Nonetheless being that they are naturally nocturnal, they are still usually more active at night.

Try to plan the time you choose to interact with it by synchronizing your schedule to adapt to his or her nocturnal schedule. Scheduling, well timed visits during the evenings and early mornings and your pet hedgehog will eventually likely begin to adapt to your personal schedule and enjoy your visits.

If you wake an animal up and it is tired it probably won’t want to be bothered by you. It just wants to sleep and if you disturb him, he can get quite grumpy.


Life Expectancy in Captivity

In captivity, Hedgehogs are considered by many to be a relatively long-lived pocket pet but in the wild they seldom live to be two years of age. Although their normal life expectancy is relatively short, in captivity many Hedgehogs live to be 4-5 years of age. I have heard of some living a few years longer, however that is a rarity. This is just one example of how the domestication process can benefit some species of animals.

Keeping One versus Two Hedgehogs

In the wild, Hedgehogs are not social beings!


Typically, wild Hedgehogs are naturally shy, nervous little creatures who live solitary lives. In fact, they prefer and choose to live alone, away from other members of their own species, even chasing other Hedgehogs away from their own territory. Sometimes siblings will cohabitate for a short time but eventually they too will go their own ways and seek out somewhere more secluded, where they can make their own little den.

They are solitary animals who only come together to breed. They prefer not to live in the company of another Hedgehog. Two or more males will almost always fight. On occasion females, may co-exist together in what appears to us as companionship but they are just two animals who have been put together by well-intended humans and forced to tolerate living with each other but this seldom works out as well as we hoped. Even after living together for extended periods of time two females may, without provocation, turn on each other.

Although Hedgehogs are not nasty with other species they can become very aggressive towards their own kind and can cause serious physical injury to one another.

We strongly suggest that all Hedgehogs be housed in separate cages at all times. 


Choosing a male versus a female

One of the most common questions we get asked is whether a male or a female makes a better pet.

Although when they are cared for properly, both genders can make excellent pets. However, there are a couple of differences that probably should be taken into consideration before deciding on a specific gender.


Do you want to breed? If so, we suggest that you consider making the male the primary pet. Females should not be disturbed during the final weeks of pregnancy and the first few weeks after giving birth. During this time she may become a bit grumpy and being that hedgehogs do require daily interaction she may never be the same after she has raised a litter.


It is very important that everyone who is considering purchasing a Hedgehog to be aware that it is not uncommon for a Hedgehog to breed while they are still in the nest. In the wild, hedgehogs have a short life expectancy. They mature quick, breed young and live life quickly. We have personally known of females giving birth as young as 10 weeks of age. Of course this is too young and very hard on the female. Most often when the a female gives birth at such a young age the babies are a result of a sibling breeding. Females that become pregnant at such a young age do run a much higher risk of complications and death and they often do not make good mothers. Usually at this age the mother has not mentally or physically developed fully and often the babies do not survive. Sometimes the new mother cannibalizes her babies and this can quickly end her maternal instincts and her reliability in a long term breeding program. We all need to keep in mind that nature and evolution allowed hedgehogs to breed at a young age and there is not much a breeder can do to change that. Both males and females in a litter to stay with and nurse from mom until they are at an age that they can be fully weaned which sometimes is too late to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.  


Therefore, to avoid unexpected surprises a male would obviously be a better choice for those who absolutely do not want to raise an unexpected litter. 


At some point in a female hedgehogs life she will likely experience wanting to raise a family. This is a natural cycle and when hormonal changes signal that it is time to nest then sometimes they can become a bit moody and become nest (cage) protective. Usually this is only temporary and when her hormones change back to non breeding mode providing she still receives daily interaction, her personality usually returns to "normal".


Like many other species, the male Hedgehog tends to be a little more of a risk taker than a female. In the wild he is either looking for food or looking for a mate. His wanderlust in search for a mate, constantly exposes him to different situations and different surroundings, therefore he needs to be adaptable and somewhat more flexible. Sometimes a female can be more rigid in her routine. She sticks closer to home and is likely thinking of raising a family, building the nest / home and protecting her small territory.

I think that if I were to pick a Hedgehog to keep as a single pet, then based on gender, I would likely choose a male. But, without considering all the other factors (some of which I have listed in the next section) that contribute to the development of their personalities, choosing a pet based on gender alone is not the ideal way to pick out a Hedgehog.

     Besides gender, I have listed a few other factors that influence & play a role in developing the personality of a hedgehog.

Every Hedgehog has its own unique personality. To some degree, gender does play a role in personality but there are many other things that influence their unique personality.


Health - A Hedgehog that feels under the weather will likely not want to be disturbed.


Heredity - Genetics is certainly an important factor in predetermining the personality of pet Hedgehogs but learned behaviors can greatly influence personality especially when learned at a young age. Being that Hedgehogs have naturally evolved to be self-reliant and loners and these traits are passed on to the next generation. It is important that when breeders are planning a new litter, that they carefully select the calmest, healthiest parents before pairing them together for mating. This selective breeding practice will increase the chances that these desirable traits will be passed on to their offspring. It is known that personality is written ‘in part’ in an animal’s DNA but babies also learn how to react to various situations from copying their parents.


Habitat - If housed improperly, especially when an animal is born in an enclosed habitat; a bin, box, crate or a confined space that he or she cannot see out of, the baby does not have the opportunity to experience much and often develops an introverted and nervous personality. When it is taken out of its' enclosure to be played with by its' caregiver  the whole experience will be very shocking and the little hedgehog will likely be scared and in turn, it will react defensively. When housed properly; in an open-air cage, located in a place within the home whereby it can experience different movements, new sounds, smells and other changes on a regular basis, Hedgehogs housed in open-air habitats tend to become a bit more social. Most of the adults that are turned over to us to be fostered tend to be a lot more anti-social if they have been kept in an enclosed space (usually bins). They have been deprived of normal smells, light, external movements and sounds that only an open-air cage provides. 


This fearful reaction to everything new is often mistaken as an anti-social personality but when housed properly, with a bit of time and patience, they can become less nervous, scared, shy and "grumpy".


Socialization- It is important to start at a very young age. You must familiarize your pet Hedgehog with humans at a slow but steady pace. The best time to get them accustomed to human companionship is done even before they are fully weaned from their mother.

If a Hedgehog has not been handled from a young age you can still work at befriending it by visiting and spending time interacting with it slowly. Then increasing the amount of interaction time, you spend with it each day. You will need to force your love on it but be patient because it will likely take time for your new pet to start trusting you. Try to use repetition as a tool for training and establishing a new report with your pet. This can be done by doing the same things every day for a few days until your pet gets used to whatever it is your doing. Offerings of food as a bribe often works as a distraction because food is an excellent motivator for Hedgehogs. When they are comfortable with your presence (voice and smell) they will likely become, friendlier and start looking forward to your daily visits. "Socialization takes patience".


Sleep Time -Being that they are naturally nocturnal, if you wake an animal up and it is tired it probably won’t be in the best of moods. If this is done repeatedly and the animal is not getting the rest it needs, it will likely become irritable.


Seasonal Changes - Temperature and light changes can have a huge effect on the personality of Hedgehogs and many other tropical animals. Hedgehogs are survivalists! During the time of plenty, which is usually rainy season (spring and summer) you may notice that your pet is a little more active then he or she would be during the fall and winter (when food is harder to come by). This is because many animals have an internal clock hardwired as part of their genetic makeup and they are preprogrammed to conserve energy by being less active at certain times of the year. This is especially noticeable in Hedgehogs. When the weather is starting to get cooler and the days are darker these changes send a message to them that food will not be as readily available and that they need to conserve energy by resting and being less active. (Hedgehogs in captivity are still preprogramed and function the same way a wild Hedgehog does, it doesn’t realize that food will still be as readily available year-round in captivity). When they start to prepare themselves for winter they slow down, sleep a lot more and they do not want to be disturbed.

Some animals will instinctively hibernate while others such as Hedgehogs can go into a state of torpor. (Torpor is discussed in more detail elsewhere on our site)


Home Environmental Conditions Required

think of a hot, dry, bright, savannah in the wild

Hedgehogs will enter a state of torpor when the temperatures fluctuate or sometimes when light and humidity levels change. If it gets too cool or if they lack adequate lighting and humidity they may enter a state of torpor. If it gets too hot it may enter a state of estivation which can also be dangerous.

Temperature: Hedgehogs are sensitive to extreme temperatures but are extremely sensitive to quick fluctuations. Ideally, they prefer temperatures that are maintained between 22 to 25 degrees Celsius. Higher temperatures 29 degrees Celsius or above can induce heat related estivation while temperatures lower than 19 can induce torpor.

Light: Hedgehogs require an equal balance of day light and nighttime darkness to thrive best. Avoid putting your pets’ cage in direct sunlight. Hedgehogs that are housed in a dimly lit room within the home should be provided with addition bright but indirect light for several hours per day. They depend on daylight to tell them it is time to sleep.

Humidity: They thrive best when the humidity level is between 40% to 60%.

Self-anointing

(A peculiar and fascinating part of Hedgehog’s behaviour)

At times when a Hedgehog encounters an unfamiliar smell or taste, such as fruit juices, soaps etc., it may lick, bite or chew at the object, attempting to accumulate some of unusual substance in it’s mouth. Then the Hedgehog, using its tongue, produces a mass of frothy saliva, and spreads the saliva over it’s quills.

While this is a natural behaviour it is more often observed in baby Hedgehogs’ who often find everything new and exciting. As pet Hedgehogs mature and become accustom to numerous smells and tastes they tend to self-anoint less often. Some of our teenage and adult Hedgehogs never bother to self-anoint. We have noticed that when Hedgehogs that are not socialized or accustomed to being handled, no matter what their age, will self-anoint more often when they are first introduced to new items and may continue to do so throughout their lives.

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The saliva dries quickly and is not noticeable. We do not find self-anointing bothersome. However, whenever one of our Hedgehogs does self-anoint we will sometimes give him or her a quick rinse with slightly warm water, just to make sure they are clean and not sticky.

No one knows for certain why Hedgehogs do this. Some people speculate that:

  • The Hedgehog is trying to disguise their own scent with the environment, thus helping to hide from predators.
  • The Hedgehog feels if this tastes bad to himself then maybe it will taste bad to other predators and they will leave me alone.
  • The foam of the saliva acts as an irritant to the Hedgehog's enemies. When the quills meet the delicate skin on the nose or paws of a bothersome creature it will cause a minor irritation making the creature leave in search of another source of entertainment.
  • Hedgehogs may be using some of the substances in the frothy saliva to control parasites.

While the reasons why Hedgehogs self-anoint may never be fully understood, it truly is a little bizarre and yet a fascinating part of their behaviour. Some people find this behaviour a bit unnerving, distasteful and even a little alarming but it is important to realize that there is nothing to be alarmed about, it is quite normal.

Vocalization

Hedgehogs are usually very quiet animals. It is believed that up to 40 % of the sounds they make are inaudible to the human ear. However, they are able to make some sounds that we can hear if we listen closely.

  • Snorting, grunting, huffing and hissing sounds are made when they are displaying disapproval.
  • Screaming is a sure indicator that a Hedgehog is in severe distress and in need of immediate attention.
  • Twittering, clucking and whistling can be heard when courtship is occurring and
  • Snuffing can be heard when a Hedgehog is searching for food.

Enclosure / Habitat Requirements

Hedgehogs need open-air well ventilated, clean, roomy cages. They need to experience natural light, they need to experience smells and they need to become familiar with non muffled sounds in order to develop properly.


Although bins are often promoted by some breeders, these enclosed plastic or glass bins are generally unsuitable to keep a hedgehog in for any length of time. Hedgehogs need to experience life. They need to be exposed to light, air movement and some things that they can identify i.e.  different sounds, noises and smells that are surrounding their environment. Depriving them the use of these key senses will undoubtedly have long term psychological effects that may result in behavioural issues and mental injury.


A few breeders or pet caregivers will sometimes recommend using a bin often telling people that they are safer for the animal. Apparently this is because the animal can't hurt itself.  Sure, if you don't choose the proper cage it is always possible for an accident to happen but keep in mind that keeping an animal in an enclosed humid space where bacteria, molds and fungus can grow is surely nothing more than an accident waiting to happen.


It is also very important to realize that if  we live in fear of 'what ifs' we neglect many of the more important things. Sometimes we caringly but unintentionally are conditioning a pet to become fearful and / or anti social. 


Some injuries such as mental, social and psychological injuries are much harder to cure than a bruise.  Once a pet is mentally / emotionally damaged and their personality has had time to develop, they just do not make great pets. This may very well be one of the most common reasons for people to lose interest in keeping their pet and try to rehome them.  

Before getting any new pet, try to make the right choice by using common sense and not be misled by breeders or anyone telling you that it is okay to keep an animal in a bin. It is not! 


if you are truly concerned that keeping your pet hedgehog in a cage is not for you then why not consider a screened habitat. They are available at pet supply stores . I have posted a picture of a Zoo Med Repti-Breeze Open Air Screen Cage, Extra Large . It offers a safe open air enclosure  which is far superior to any bin.


What ever habitat that you decide to choose for your pet ...

common sense needs to prevail!

Environmental Enrichment Activities

(Exercise/Toys)

Provide solid levels and large size tubes and tunnels for your Hedgehogs to play and explore in while they are in their cage and change the set up often. Solid platforms and huts or safe untreated cardboard tubes stuffed with treats will help keep your Hedgehog entertained. Hedgehogs will also enjoy using any additional exercise wheels that are a bit different to the one they are used to. Offer a variety of pet safe toys but avoid giving things that your pet can get stuck in or anything that you feel is unsafe. Safe toys should be provided for your Hedgehog to root in. They enjoy pushing toys and objects around in its cage. To keep your pet interested in playing with things, be sure to change these toys regularly

Hedgehogs do not seem to enjoy chewing and seldom invest any time into it.

Hedgehogs can be very active and enjoy exploring. Your Hedgehog should be given time outside of the cage daily, to run around and explore. Always make sure the area is safe for your pet. Ensure there are no places that a Hedgehog can access and get stuck in that you can not get to or where the animal can fall and injure itself.

Socialization & Handling

Hedgehogs are creatures of habit and don’t adapt well to drastic changes in their environment or without first being exposed to new things, repetitively. Although they give us the impression that they are shy, they are quite timid. That is why they will ball up. They are grumpy, they feel threatened or scared and are in a protective mode. When they roll up and huff it is not to be aggressive or grumpy it is just their way they use to warn us that they are aware of our presence and that his spines are sharp.

Although they naturally territorial creatures who prefer living alone and seldom form bonds and cannot be trusted to live with another Hedgehogs, they can form tight bonds with their caregiver. 

Whenever purchasing your first Hedgehog try to obtain one that is 7 to 12 weeks of age. This is the ideal age because they are just used to living life without their mother and siblings and they are at an impressionable age, able to start learning and forming new habits.

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Older Hedgehogs can usually be worked with to gain their trust but it will likely take more time and are more suited for people who have some experience caring for exotics.

Before you start training your pet you must first understand and respect some of the things they have naturally evolved to be. Then, begin to work within the realm of these traits and do so by paying close attention to its schedule. Be patient! Give it time to learn that it can trust you. Hedgehogs instinctively rely on their sense of smell and hearing to identify you and accept you as a friend.

When collecting your new pet so that you can spend time with it out of its’ cage, first try enticing it with treats hoping to get it to trust you. When it starts to trust, you can start picking it up but never grab it quickly. Doing so will stress the animal and it could start to fear you.

Never pick your Hedgehog from above because predators come from above and Hedgehogs are pre-programmed to respond accordingly. Always gently scoop your Hedgehog from below. Try to avoid using gloves when holding your Hedgehog. If you wear gloves to pick up your Hedgehog you are in fact teaching your pet to get used to the glove, not your hand or your smell.

Talk to it when entering the room that it is in. It will get accustomed to your voice and start to look forward to your visit.

Sometimes no matter what you do many Hedgehog may be grumpy / timid, at times. It is all apart of their natural instincts. If they don’t like you in the beginning you’ll need to force a little of your love on it. do that in small steps repeating it several times a day, until it gets to trust you more and knows that you are not going to harm it.

Be patient, bonding with a Hedgehog is not likely going to happen overnight. It takes time. Repetition is usually the key to success. After all they are creatures of habit. 

Grooming a Hedgehog

Bathing - Hedgehogs do not like water and they seldom enjoy having a bath.

Don’t be surprised if your pet Hedgehog panics a bit when you first introduce him or her to a bath. Hedgehogs do not like being in water. They prefer not to be bathed and although some people will tell you that their pets enjoy a bath, I highly doubt that they like being bathed but have instead, learned to tolerate it.

Bathe your Hedgehog every 7-14 days or as needed, if it gets dirty. Most animal bedding is somewhat dusty. They are formulated to neutralize odor and to absorb moisture from your pets’ environment. Although the bedding is doing what it is meant to do, it will also be absorbing moisture from your pet’s skin. Over time, if left unwashed, a fine layer of dust and dirt particles builds up, not allowing the animal’s skin to ‘breathe’ properly. If left untreated you may start to notice dry flaky skin or other more serious health problems.

Choosing the right shampoo and conditioner -Whenever possible, use a natural vegetable based, chemical/alcohol/fragrance free shampoo and conditioner that does not contain tea tree oil. (TEA TREE OIL may be fatal to Hedgehogs!). Many of these natural and premium shampoos can be purchased at your local pet store, pharmacy or health food stores.

Bathing a Hedgehog

  1. Fill a small sink or your pet’s bathtub with an inch or two of slightly warmed water. The water should not feel hot or cold when you touch it with the back of your hand.
  2. Remove any pieces of bedding or particles of food from your pet.
  3. Gently place your pet in the bath and gently apply water over his entire body.
  4. Apply a small (dime size) amount of shampoo to the palm of your hands and lather the shampoo in your hands. When used properly a small nailbrush is perfect to gently remove quill stains.
  5. Gently apply the shampoo to the Hedgehog. Be sure to massage and rub the shampoo all over the Hedgehog including the quills, feet and underside but avoiding the mouth and eyes.
  6. Rinse your Hedgehog with fresh warm water.
  7. Repeat steps #3, through #5 only this time apply a small amount of conditioner.
  8. Dry your Hedgehog with a soft towel.

Do not allow your pet to become chilled! – Use a chamois to help absorb water when drying your Hedgehog. Wait until your pet is thoroughly dry before placing him or her back into their cage.

Many Hedgehogs are capable of swimming for short distances but if given the option, most prefer to stay away from deep water. Never leave any animal unattended in or near open water.


Nail Trimming


On some Hedgehogs, their toenails grow very quickly and need to be trimmed every 10 to 14 days. Most of their toenails are opaque which makes it easy to recognize where the quick stops; therefore, easier to avoid cutting too much off at one time. The hard part is getting your Hedgehog to remain still long enough to let you get the job done quickly and safely. It is likely, that when you attempt to trim your Hedgehog’s nails for the first few times that he or she will attempt to roll in a ball. Sometimes, after they become accustomed to having their nails trimmed they start to relax, which makes the chore a little less challenging.

Things you'll need to trim their toe nails are:

  1. Antibacterial or Alcohol wipes… To clean the feet and help control harmful bacteria. These can be purchased from Pharmacies and are inexpensive.
  2. Toenail trimmers … There are several pet nail trimmers on the market but we have found that most of them are a little large and bulky to use on such small feet. We use human fingernail trimmers, which seem more precise and easier to maneuver.
  3. Nick stop or antiseptic powder is something you should always keep available. It can be very handy to stop small bleeds and can be used if you accidentally trim too close and make a small nick to the quick causing it to bleed. You can purchase several brand names from your local pet store. For serious cuts, you should seek the advice of your veterinarian.
  4. OPTIONAL…A friend! Two people will make the chore much easier.

Option # 1 ...

  1. Person #1…Hold the Hedgehog gently but firmly, allowing one leg to drop over the edge of your hand.
  2. Person #2 …Hold your Hedgehogs’ leg firmly with one hand while wiping the foot with an alcohol or antibacterial wipe with the other hand.
  3. Person #2 …While continuing to hold the leg with one hand, trim the toenails with the other hand.
  4. Repeat with each foot until every nail that needs to be trimmed has been completed.

Option #2 (This is how we do it!)...

  1. Place the Hedgehog on the top of an inverted cage-top. Being that cages-tops are made of wire they will be awkward for your pet to balance on. The Hedgehog, trying to keep steady will likely drop one of its’ legs through the wire which you can then grab and hold gently enough so that the Hedgehog can not roll into a ball and tuck its’ leg in.
  2. Gently hold your Hedgehogs’ leg firmly with one hand while wiping the foot with an alcohol or antibacterial wipe with the other hand.
  3. While continuing to hold the leg with one hand, trim the toenails with the other hand.
  4. Repeat with each foot until every nail that needs to be trimmed has been completed. Whenever possible get a friend to help.

No matter which method you choose, when clipping the nails on any pet, always be very careful not to trim too closely. Cutting the nail too short may result in cutting into the quick and it will likely start to bleed. The quick is the soft, blood-filled tissue that is inside the claw. If you have ever cut the quick of your own fingernail you have a pretty good idea of what cutting your pets’ quick will feel like to your pet. OUCH!

On occasion, accidents do happen. When you cut to close if the quick does start to bleed you  need to stop the bleeding asap.  To stop the bleeding gently disinfect the nail and dry it quickly then apply antiseptic powder directly to the toenail. Press it firmly on the wound and hold it there until you are certain that the bleeding has stopped. If the bleeding does not stop contact your Veterinarian. If the bleeding stops fairly easily be sure to keep an eye on the nail for several days to make sure that there is no infection. Keep the wound clean by using Antibacterial or Alcohol wipes several times a day. If you notice any signs of infection contact your Veterinarian immediately.

Litter Box Training

Some breeders and pet store employees promote Hedgehogs as the type of pet that is easy to litter train, but we can tell you that Hedgehogs are "creatures of habit", litter training a Hedgehog is not easy. Some Hedgehogs will learn to use a litter box and if you are lucky enough to have one that is litter trained, consider it as kind of a "bonus". Caring for the cage is so much easier and a lot less time consuming.

Some of our Hedgehogs are very clean and take to litter training fairly easily. Others just do not care and are either hard to train or they will never use a litter box. This trait does not seem to be a genetic/family trait but more of an individual animal’s preference.

Litter training a Hedgehog takes perseverance and a lot of luck but if you succeed, the benefits are certainly worth a try. We suggest to people who purchase one of our Hedgehogs to try to litter train their pet and ‘just maybe’… you will be lucky and get yours trained.

To train a Hedgehog you’ll need to place a small litter pan with low sides, with a bit of litter in it, in the corner of the cage. We suggest using a different litter than what it is used to having, as it’s normal bedding. Often, the feeling of a different litter, sometimes entices the Hedgehog into using this spot as it’s litter box. For the first while during the training period, clean the litter box regularly but if possible try to avoid changing the litter entirely. When possible spot clean and top up with the fresh litter. The smell (although we may not be able to notice it) might be just enough to attract your Hedgehog to that area. Never let a litter box sit too long between totally disinfecting it, just long enough to see if the Hedgehog is attracted to it. As soon as you notice that your pet is using it regularly, totally wash and disinfect the litter box often.

~ Good luck!

Nutritional requirements

Water: Not all types of animals consume a large quantity of water everyday, but none-the-less, they need to have access to clean drinking water whenever they need it. Therefore, all animals must have access to fresh clean water ALWAYS! Many Hedgehogs deliberately overturn their water and food dishes during their never-ending search for more food so it is probably best that water is supplied in drinking bottles.


Feeding: Being that they are predominantly insectivorous their diet must primarily consist of good quality, highly digestible animal protein. In captivity, this can be achieved by providing them with a premium quality, commercial cat food, supplemented by boiled chicken, egg, shrimp, beef heart or other cooked meats. Many breeders choose to feed live insects but this is not necessary if you are feeding a good high quality meat based diet. There are several brands of commercially prepared Hedgehog foods on the market but Hedgehogs can be fussy and many of them refuse to eat many commercially prepared “special” Hedgehog diets.

Small quantities of fruits and veggies should be included regularly as these items help vary and compliment their diet, as do small amounts of low fat cheese, yogurt and skim milk powder.

All Hedgehog owners already know, Hedgehogs can be very fussy. Many, adamantly refuse to eat certain prepared foods, certain fruits, veggies and even treats. You may need to be patient when offering new food items to your pet. For very fussy Hedgehogs, I find the best way to coax them into trying new food items is to keep offering it at regular scheduled times.

After 25 years of trying various foods and constantly analyzing/studying them … WE ARE NOT CONVINCED that commercial brands of hedgehog foods are completely balanced and therefore we DO NOT USE ANY COMMERCIALLY PREPARED BRANDS OF HEDGEHOG FOOD!

For so many reasons we feel that prepared premium quality cat foods are a better choice when considering what to feed Hedgehogs. Hedgehogs thrive on a diet similar to that of a carnivore, which consists mostly of protein that they get from consuming other animal matter. Typically, insectivores and carnivores do not eat grain. However, some Hedgehogs occasionally do eat a bit more fruit and vegetable matter than some of the other types of other insectivores & carnivores.


We recommend a premium high quality, fish protein based, grain free and low fat cat food that is age appropriate.

We suggest offering:

  1. KITTEN FORMULA cat foods to Hedgehogs under 16 weeks of age or to pregnant and nursing mothers.
  2. ADULT CAT FORMULA if over 16 weeks of age. (Except to pregnant and nursing mothers).
  3. ADULT LIGHT CAT FORMULA or SENIOR CAT FORMULA may be a better choice for Hedgehogs that have obesity issues. Obesity is very common in Hedgehogs, although it can be controlled, it is usually a direct result of quality, quantity and a lack of exercise.

Ultimately the decision on what to feed your Hedgehog is up to you. If you choose to feed Hedgehog food or any food to your pet, always be sure it is fresh by being sure to check the expiry date. (If it has one!)

Treats: Treats are not a meal replacement and because Hedgehogs have such tiny stomachs treats need to be strictly rationed. We prefer using organic whenever possible when we offer freeze dried liver treats, kiln dried chicken, shrimp, salmon etc.

Be careful not to over feed your Hedgehogs, they tend to become obese very quickly… they certainly do love to eat! Hedgehogs will eat more in the autumn hoping to prepare for the possible food shortages that winter can bring. Although in captivity food shortages are seldom a problem they still do what their wild ancestors did to survive.

Vitamins, Supplements & Treats: A varied diet is always best! If you are always offering a premium brand of quality pet food additional supplements are not usually required unless a Veterinarian finds that your pet needs them and recommends using them

FYI ... Mealworms

You may want to Re-evaluate whether you want to offer them.

Mealworms had previously been on the list of recommended foods. While more research is needed, it is believed that the high phosphate levels in the worms deplete the hedgehogs of calcium, thus weakening their bones and leaving them struggling to walk.

Hedgehog Preservation Society has asked people to stop feeding mealworms as treats for hedgehogs. It appears that numerous Hedgehogs are suffering crippling bone disease which may be caused because of this common treat.

Although this study currently applies to European hedgehogs, feeding mealworms is a frequent practice done out of kindness by many pet hedgehog caregivers. Perhaps it is time to re-think this! We may need to reconsider the types of treats we offer our pets and we may need to adjust the quantity of treats that we offer them.

As mentioned we do not feed our hedgehogs any insects (mealworms) but if we did, until more conclusive research has been completed we would certainly limit them to one mealworm every week or two (or none at all)

FYI…Peanuts, sunflower hearts, raisins, dried fruit, milk and processed foods are not a wise choice for hedgehogs and may even be toxic.

You can read more about this topic in an article that was published October 25, 2017 in the dailymail.co.uk (sciencetech -article-5014573)

Some of the things you may need to buy for your pet

The following are not all must haves for every hedgehog owner

but are some things we may want to consider.

Open-air Cage- NO plastic bins, NO aquariums, NO wire bottom cages and NO wooden cages!

When we choose which cage is best to house a Hedgehog, we prefer open air, wire top cages that are equipped with solid floors and bases. Ideally the sides are four to five inches deep which helps to minimize the mess by preventing shavings/bedding from being scattered outside the cage.

Hedgehogs climb but they are not always good at it. To help avoid serious injury the wiring should be spaced far enough apart that an average adult humans’ fingers could easily slide between the bars but not too far apart that one’s knuckles can fit through. To prevent escape, the cage should be equipped with a tight-fitting lid.

The larger the cage, the better! The cage should be large enough to allow ample room for your pet and his cage accessories. But not so large that it is unmanageable when trying to keep it properly cleaned. The minimum size of any cage used for a single hedgehog should be around 25" x 17" = 2.9 sq. feet

Water Bottle - Eight ounce, leak proof, plastic water bottles are ideal. We like using the ‘Oasis’ brand water bottles because they are made of a hard plastic with a stainless-steel spout. These don’t tend to leak as much as other styles of water bottles do and they attach to the pet cage quite easily.

There are many other brand names & several styles to choose from. If you get one that leaks you may want to try and tilt the bottom of the bottle outward. A lot of the time, leaks are caused by slight slopes in a room or cage and not so much because of the bottle.


All of our babies are introduced to an open crock style bowl of water and we continue offering them both a bowl and a bottle until we are sure they are comfortable using a water bottle.

Food Dish - Hedgehogs like to root and shove things in their cage. We find that heavy, ceramic, non-tip, crock style, food bowls are the best choice. They are a little heavier and seem not to tip so easy.

Some people prefer food dishes that clip to the cage. These types of cups work fine but they need to be able to be secured low enough in the cage for the hedgehog to have easy access to them.

Hiding Hut - We use Guinea Pig size ‘Igloos’. They work great! They are made of plastic, which is easy to clean, and they are bottomless so you have easy access to the little guy and you won’t have too many issues removing him when it is time to clean his cage. Some people use hide-sacks or fleece bags, which the Hedgehog will use, but it can be a bit of a challenge getting a sleepy Hedgehog out of it when you need to check on him. Cloth sleeping bags need to be laundered regularly.

Exercise Wheel -… A MUST! - All animals need exercise! Hedgehogs like and need to run!

We probably own or at the very least we have tried using just about every wheel design ever marketed. Except wire rung wheels, most modern styles will be put to good use by your Hedgehog. The more common wire wheels, that most of us are familiar with: the type with the rungs (bar) that were promoted in the 80’s, can be dangerous. Runged wheels are suitable for small rodents which have dexterous toes as they can grip the rungs but Hedgehogs are not able to grip and therefore can get injured. Rung style wheels are not suitable for Hedgehogs.

When choosing an exercise wheel, it is important that it does not easily tip. Also, we need to consider the ease of cleaning, squeaky wheel noise, ease of access, how it attaches to the cage and the size. Will the animal be comfortable in it and able to fully stretch while running in it every night, for hours at a time?

There are many exercise wheel designs to choose from. If the wheels are solid or are designed with tightly screened floor for safety and it is large enough for them to fit in comfortably most styles are fine. While we like the concept of a solid wheel it seems that we always go back to using the "Round -A-Bout” for babies. It is a screen mesh style wheel that allows urine to escape through the screen. Babies run and defecate a lot. They think they left the mess behind not knowing it is going to come back to them full circle. It has a practical design. It easily clips to the side of the wire cage. It is made of durable steel and has a fine metal screen mesh as the running base. The mesh weave is tightly woven and is small enough to stop the animals’ feet from going through it but still allows the urine and feces to escape. Babies have a lot of bathroom accidents and we find this style more hygienic and very practical!

Bedding - There are many choices of bedding that can be used to place on the floor of your pet’s cage. Aspen, Pine, Yesterdays News, Carefresh all work fine.


Avoid using products and bedding made out of cedar because cedar is an irritant and it can be toxic. It can cause breathing difficulties and eye problems.


Avoid using corn cob or pelleted types of bedding. These tend to harbor mold and fungus quickly. They can be accidentally ingested and they are also very uncomfortable for hedgehogs to walk on.


Unless there is a need to use them, we do not recommend using cage liners unless you are willing to change and replace it everyday. However, fabric cage liners are sometimes beneficial for people who are allergic to dust. The drawback when using fabric liners is that the cloth liners get soiled very quickly. Unless you are sure that they will be changed and replaced daily, we suggest choosing something more natural and environmentally friendly.

Hiding Hut - We use Guinea Pig size ‘Igloos’. They work great! They are made of plastic, which is easy to clean, and they are bottomless so you have easy access to the little guy and you won’t have too many issues removing him when it is time to clean his cage. Some people use hide-sacks or fleece bags, which the Hedgehog will use, but it can be a bit of a challenge getting a sleepy Hedgehog out of it when you need to check on him. Cloth sleeping bags need to be laundered regularly.

Toys- Hedgehogs enjoy rooting and moving things around. Ping Pong balls and lightweight solid plastic toys like small Kong toys, and small animal treat balls that dispense goodies help stimulate them and keep them busy.

Most Hedgehogs enjoy plastic tubes and tunnels for crawling through. Just be sure they are large enough that she can fit through them easily.

Litter Pan and Litter- "if you are lucky enough to have one that is litter trained, consider it as kind of a "bonus".

The litter pan should be low enough for the animal to walk in and small enough to fit into one corner of the cage.

It is better to use a natural unscented litter but one that is a little different from the one you use as a bedding.

Avoid clumping cat litter.

Grooming Aids

(previously mentioned)

Nail Clippers-Small ‘Cat Claw Scissors’ will do the trick but to us just your typical small human fingernail clippers are better. They are more maneuverable and to us are easier to use.

Pet Shampoo- All natural, vegetable-based organic pet shampoos are inexpensive & safe. Important…Do not use products containing Tea Tree Oils. In a pinch,  Dawn original which is used to help save wildlife, can be used.

Chamois or a "CHAMWOWS" - is by far the best type of cloth to use on your Hedgehog after he or she has had a bath. They are inexpensive and seem to be extremely good at extracting and absorbing most of the excess water after he or she has been bathed.

Exercise Pens- Not a “must have” but very convenient!

There are several styles of portable exercise pens that can be purchased or of you are handy you may be able to construct one out of chloroplast or plexi-glass. These pens should be able to be folded to be put away when not in use and they need to be roomy enough to allow your pet to play in a safe and secure space while you are not able to watch him. Some have solid plastic walls and others are made of thick gauge wire. They need to be tall enough that the hedgehog can not climb over it. If it is wire you should also have a secure lid so that the hedgehog can not escape .

Supplemental Heat Source-

Most Hedgehogs do just fine living in a home where the ambient room temperature is between 21 to 25 degrees Celsius. When sudden drops in temperatures occur, Hedgehogs can go into a state of Torpor. (The word hibernation is often used to describe Torpor) When small animals go into and out of torpor too often, it can be very stressful on their body; it can weaken them, which can result in extremely unhealthy consequences (even death).

Therefore, we suggest that if you live in area where temperature fluctuations are common and cool spells are unpredictable that you always have a supplemental heating source available.

A microwaveable 'snugglesafe' warming disk can help warm a hedgehog if it becomes chilled and there are several types of products that are available that can provide extra heat for prolonged periods, when needed. We have found that when used properly, heat lamps are probably the most convenient way to provide an extra heat for your pet.

Always use caution with these heating products. If they are not used and cared for properly, heat lamps have been known to cause overheating and eye damage. Never place any light too close to the animal. If you do need to use the heat lamp or other heat source, make sure that it only heats one side of the cage. This allows the Hedgehog to move away from the heat to cool down at the other end of the cage.


Pet Carrier-

It is advisable to have a pet carrier available for travelling with your pet. It will also come in handy when you pick up your pet, from the breeder or whenever you have to take it to your Veterinarian and for overnight getaways.


The carrier should be large enough to be equipped with food and water utensils. Typically, the size should be just large enough for the Hedgehog to stand up, turn around and get to the food and water dish. Any larger and the Hedgehog might get too jostled around when it is being transported.


If you intend on shipping your Hedgehog by air, then there are a variety of carriers to choose from but when air shipping the type and style of the carrier needed is very specific and individual airline stipulations need to be followed. Not all airlines have the exact same requirements and their requirements do change regularly.


It is advisable to check with the airlines prior to making your purchase.

Using FABRIC cage paraphernalia ...Things to consider if using fabric with pets.


Furnishing and accessorizing your pet’s cage with items made of fabric can be fun. The fabric or cloth that is used must be safe. Some cloth items certainly add a ‘human feel’ to the overall look of the cage. Many Hedgehogs easily adjust to fabric liners and will use snuggle sacks and other cloth items.

Fabric liners are not dusty and because they need to be changed daily, perhaps for a few of many pet owners, who suffer from allergies, products made of cloth may be a bit more allergy friendly.

If you are set on using any cloth products be sure to use those that are safe and that don’t shed threads. Loose threads that can get ingested by your pet or become entangled in your pets’ feet, quills, or mouth.

IMPORTANT …Cloth snuggle sacks are appealing to a lot of pet owners. They are often promoted by a lot of breeders attempting to humanize pets and promoted by pet store people who are trying to make an add-on sale. It is important to note that cloth gets dirty quickly. It absorbs urine, feces and saliva which if it is left unchecked, provides a perfect dark, warm, humid environment, which can accelerate the growth of molds, fungus and bacteria. All cloth items need to be changed and washed/disinfected daily, so be prepared to do a lot of laundry.

I can not stress the importance of practicing good hygiene. It is especially important to educate our children regarding proper hygiene because they often don’t realize the importance of washing their hands, after playing with a pet.

Fabric cage liners and other items, when used properly can be a nice finishing touch to a Hedgehog’s habitat, but for us considering that we have numerous pets, the time needed to maintain each cage everyday with fabric products, it is not practical. Being that baby animals poop a lot and to reduce some of the health risks that could result from poor sanitation, we prefer to use recycled paper or natural wood and biodegradable grass products that we scoop and completely change often. We find natural bedding products very easy to scoop and less expensive to use. The bonus to us is that when they need to be replaced these products can be disposed of by putting into our gardens or compost bins.

If you are dead set on using fabric in your pet’s cage there are some fun, safe products that are made of good quality fleeces, that don’t shred. Buy many and change them often!



Allergies (Are Hedgehogs Hypoallergenic?)


If you have heard that Hedgehogs are hypoallergenic… it is a false statement. Hedgehogs may be a better choice for people who are allergic to dogs and cats but Hedgehogs are not hypoallergenic. Just like anything else, a person can be allergic to Hedgehogs. Like other animals, a Hedgehog’s saliva contains proteins, some of which many people do react to. Although allergic reactions to Hedgehogs are not considered a common allergy, a person also needs to consider that Hedgehogs are not really that common of a pet. Before choosing a pet Hedgehog, be sure to spend a bit of time with the animal before you bring it home. If you do react to it negatively you may be allergic to it. If you are determined and still want to keep a Hedgehog as a pet, there are a few ways to help you build up a tolerance and perhaps you might react less to them. Try bathing the animal regularly with an organic shampoo (that does not contain TEA TREE oil), which may help by removing the excess dander. Tea tree oil is believed to be toxic to Hedgehogs.

Health Care

"an annual veterinary exam is suggested for every animal"

Every live animal can get sick, diseased or suffer from injury. Illness can happen at any time and at any age. People often ask us if you can catch anything from your pet. Yes! While it is not that common, you can catch things from your pets and sometimes we can unknowingly transfer illness to our own pets! I can not stress enough that personal hygiene is probably the most important habit to get into. Before handling, after handling and while caring for any pet be sure to wash your hands and keep your pets’ environment clean!



Sometimes specific species are prone to certain diseases and afflictions more than other species. Cancer, bacteria, viruses, molds and funguses can negatively affect every living thing and sometimes these are things that we have no control over. Even under ideal conditions, there is not much that we can do to prevent these things from happening but whenever an animal shows signs of illness or injury it is important to take it to your Veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Preventative care usually makes a huge difference in the long-term health of your pet. Good nutrition, cleanliness, exercise and a regular Veterinary check up are just a few things that we can do to help keep our pet healthy.

Parasites can be introduced to you pet through food, bedding or by living in a dirty environment. But sometimes even the best cared for animal can contract parasites through other pets, soil or food. If you think that you pet has parasites bring a stool sample to your vet who can prescribe treatment. Never self medicate your pet.

External parasites such as fleas, lice and mites can live on any animal but there are several easy ways to prevent or treat it. Hedgehogs because of the spacing of their quills and the protection that the quills provide make Hedgehogs the perfect host for mites. It is not always easy to prevent because mites live everywhere in our environment and they are easily transferred to your Hedgehog. Prescribed mite prevention is available with a prescription, through your Veterinarian and it makes it very easy to prevent and control mite infestations. We feel that that prevention is the best solution therefore, we treat all of animals on the 1st day of every month year-round.

Skin diseases, funguses, pneumonia can be caused by excess moisture, humidity and dampness. While this may not be a direct result of your pets’ environment always keep, your pets cage clean and dry.

Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (W.H.S.)

Typically, we choose not to get into the specific aspects of Veterinary care. In the case of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, we feel that we need to share some basic information with the people who are considering getting a Hedgehog; some of the facts and myths surrounding the disease.

W.H.S. often presents the same symptoms as a Hedgehog who is coming out of torpor, they shake and wobble and look sickly. However, torpor is not a syndrome and usually goes away after the animal fully wakes out of it whereas, Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is permanent. It is a progressive disease, which over time attacks the gray matter of the brain and usually causes the muscle tissue to deteriorate. Visual symptoms include muscle atrophy and shaking, often accompanied by loss of appetite and general lethargy. Typically, the atrophy becomes apparent in the hindquarters before graduating to other parts of the body. The disease exists in wild and captive populations and is most often associated with African and European Hedgehogs.

At this time, there is not a guaranteed way to prevent W.H.S. and there are no known tests that can be done on living Hedgehogs and to-date there are still no cures for it. The only way to confirm W.H.S. is after the animal dies. A necropsy is the only way you can find out for sure if a Hedgehog has succumbed to W.H.S.

It is simply an awful disease that we know very little about. Thankfully, it is not as common as one might think! Far too often W.H.S. is suspected and self diagnosed by people who are not qualified to make the diagnosis. When this happens, it can cause panic and may mislead people into believing that W.H.S. is prevalent in all Hedgehogs. This is just not the case!

There is a lot of speculation regarding W.H.S... Some people believe it has a viral component, others believe it is an inherited disease like diseases such as heart disease, some cancers, diabetes etc. Some speculate that both parents need to carry the gene or maybe just one of them needs to carry it, for it to be passed on. Some people feel that it could be related to diet, pollution, etc., but the reality is that no one really knows for sure.

In some cases, W.H.S. may show up in a litter by affecting one sibling but not other littermates, even though it has never been suspected or diagnosed in previous generations.

It is not likely that you can tell from a pedigree that W.H.S. or other genetic pre-depositions exist in a line. Whenever anyone is considering taking on the responsibility of a new pet, we must rely on the level of trust we have towards the breeder. If the breeder tells you that they have concerns about a certain line, I suggest that you investigate their motivation for telling you that and then you will need to decide if you are a person willing to take the risk. Personally, I strongly suggest that you choose another animal from a different line and perhaps even from an altogether different breeder. A professional breeder who spreads gossip is likely not really a professional breeder.

No Hedgehog breeder can guarantee that a Hedgehog does not have W.H.S. However, if they choose to, they can simply guarantee that if your Hedgehog dies and a necropsy is performed (usually at your expense) they will replace the Hedgehog for you. Breeders know that necropsies are not cheap and they are often inconclusive. So, you will need to decide for yourself if it is worth investing in

When a pet lover loses a pet, very few choose to pay to have a necropsy performed. They are grieving their lost pet and are not even in the right state of mind to think about getting a replacement pet.

If you suspect that your Hedgehog has W.H.S. you really need to seek out the advice from your Veterinarian. But don’t expect a cure or a confirmed diagnosis! A diagnosis for WHS is done post mortem. In some cases, there are a few things you can do to help your pet to be more comfortable and your Veterinarian may be able to suggest an action plan that can help your pet live as comfortably as possible. Diet supplements, muscle massage, temperature and humidity control can help with comfort but will not cure the disease.

All disease progress at different rates. Although your level of commitment may make the difference to your pet’s quality of life, we humans need to realize that there are so many diseases that we know so very little about. Sometimes we need to realize that diseases are very much a part of all life. Many of which are beyond our control.

With any form of disease, if after all attempts have been made to keep an animal comfortable and pain free, you and your Veterinarian may need to discuss Euthanasia (such a nasty word) as it may end up being the most humane option.

Our Advice regarding WHS to other breeders: Never breed any animal if you suspect it to be unhealthy. Never breed any animal that knowingly can or will pass on any health risks or genetic flaws to it’s offspring.

Never sell any animal to anyone without full disclosure. The more informed the buyers are the better they are prepared for anything that can happen.

Purchasers be aware WHS Facts: Some breeders do guarantee against this disease but we suggest that you do not allow yourself to be misled or fooled into believing that any Hedgehog is free from this awful disease.

Most, breeders who guarantee against this disease, insist that if your Hedgehog dies you will need to have a necropsy performed by a Veterinarian at your own expense. Then if it is found to have died from this disease, they will replace the Hedgehog. Be very careful; necropsies are quite expensive. Often, they are more expensive than the original cost of the pet and usually breeders will not pay for a necropsy.

Since 1986 we have never had a confirmed case of W.H.S. BUT... If we ever even suspected W.H.S in one of our breeding lines, we would not continue breeding that line. Because of the nature of disease, we know it is a disease that we could never fully (100%) guarantee as there is always a possibility that one day even one of our own Hedgehogs will be diagnosed with W.H.S.

We give a written Health Guarantee with all the animals we sell. Our Health Guarantee is not limited to any specific disease but covers all hereditary defects and illness. Although our Health Guarantee does expire within a specific time frame, if anyone who purchases / purchased a Hedgehog from us that has succumbed to W.H.S. and a licensed veterinarian has confirmed a diagnosis via a necropsy, we would certainly appreciate being notified. That way we can make the necessary decisions when selecting our future breeding stock. (I am sure most ethical breeders would appreciate knowing too).

Cost you may want to consider

(When considering getting a pet Hedgehog)

Hedgehogs are not an expensive animal to keep as a pet but if a breeder does not cut corners, they are a bit costly to raise and breed. To purchase a pet Hedgehog from a good breeder you can expect to pay around $175.00 and up for a normal coloured Hedgehog. Often males are a little more available and less costly than females. Some of the newer more unusual colour morphs tend to be rarer and therefore costlier than a normal grey or brown Hedgehog. Hedgehogs are still considered a reasonably priced pet to purchase and care for but to purchase a nicely marked pinto or other rarer fancy colours you can expect to pay from $250.00 and up, depending on the lineage of the animal.

Initially, you can also expect to pay around $150.00 and up for a suitable habitat and supplies

Breeding

Sexual Maturity: Hedgehogs can breed with their siblings or mother while they still in the nest box. This needs to be considered when purchasing any female animal. Breeders can’t always stop this from occurring but weaning at 6 weeks of age should be a standard breeding practice. Weaning earlier than 6 weeks should only be done under extreme circumstances.

Males: 5 to 8 weeks of age

Females: 5 to 8 weeks of age


Suggested Breeding Age in Captivity: While sexual maturity occurs when they are around 5-8 weeks of age it is better to wait until they are 5 to 8 months of age and fully mature before they should be allowed to raise a litter. Before breeding any animal, it is important that the animal is in shape, in good breeding condition and excellent health, prior to introducing them for breeding.


Estrus Cycle: Pet Hedgehogs that are in good health, are polyestrous meaning, they have several heat cycles throughout a breeding year. A female in heat, may display a variety of behavioral changes which signals that she is ready to mate. Males who can breed at any time can recognize a female is in heat by smell.

Estrous cycles continue for the life of an animal if it is in good health and prime condition. Heat cycles usually lasts about 4 or 5 days. Ovulation is induced upon penetration. If they do not breed and become pregnant a female will likely go into heat again approximately 4 or 5 days later.


Gestation Period: Pregnancy lasts an average of 35 days

Average Litter Size: Although the litter size can vary between 1 and 6 babies, 3 or 4 is more common.


Weaning age: Baby Hedgehogs are called hoglets. Their eyes open when they are around 14 days old and their teeth start to erupt when they are around 18 days old. They start sampling food at 21 days old but don’t start eating properly for several more weeks during which time they continue to nurse. They can usually be totally weaned from their mothers when they are 6 weeks old.