by Aimee Gertsch
Hedgehogs are great small pets, but they do need extra care to be happy and healthy. To get started on the right foot, here are 5 basic needs for hedgehog care.
It might surprise you to learn that hedgehogs have special heating needs. Hedgehogs like things warm, and it’s important to keep a a hedgehog’s cage between 72 and 80 degrees F. It can be dangerous, and even fatal, for a hedgehog to get colder than 70 degrees. The drop in temperature can cause a hibernation attempt.
On the flip side, try to keep things from getting too hot as well. Going above 80 degrees can be too hot, and you might see your hedgie “splatting” on their stomach with their legs splayed out. Be sure not to keep your hedgie in direct sunlight, or where there are drafts or other variables that can make the temperature fluctuate.
The easiest way to keep your hedgehog happy is to use a space heater in the room that you are keeping them in. This might get a little hot for you, but it’s easier than heating up the entire house. Be sure to keep a thermometer in the cage so you can be sure the temp is right.
Hedgehogs need a lot more space than other small pets. Solid-sided cages (like large plastic bins without lids) retain heat better, have smooth floors so feet and toes don’t get stuck, and are easy to keep clean. They are also relatively cheap compared to other options, and you won’t have to make adjustments for safety.
Your hedgehog will need a solid plastic wheel, a hideaway (a plastic igloo is a great choice), and of course food and water bowls. Take this into account when picking a bin so there is still room to roam around even with the necessities.
Make sure that your wheel is solid plastic as well to avoid toes getting stuck and injured. Bowls are the best choice, tongues can sometimes get stuck and eyes poked and hurt, if you use a water bottle.
Hedgehogs like to climb, but unsupervised climbing should be prevented to avoid injuries from falls. This is another reason why large plastic bins make great houses, the sides don’t allow for climbing. Large, clear Sterilite bins (105 quart) are our choice, just leave the lid off. Tanks and aquariums should be avoided.
Since hedgehogs are generally solitary, it’s best not to house two together.
Surprisingly an ideal hedgehog food is actually made for cats! Commercial hedgehog foods should be avoided since they lack the nutrition needed.
High quality dry cat food is the best choice. Look for one that lists meat as one of the the first two ingredients. Also look for 28-35% protein, under 15% fat and few “filler” ingredients. Hedgehogs can be picky eaters, so you might have to try a few before finding one your hedgie loves.
Your hedgehog will also need fresh mealworms as a supplement to dry cat food. Feed a few each day, 3-5 depending on the size of the mealworm. Do not feed freeze dried insects to avoid digestion problems, some very serious that can lead to death. Also avoid insects from your garden or other natural areas as they might contain pesticides.
Because they are nocturnal, hedgehogs do best with a consistent source of light for about 12-14 hours each day. It’s a good idea to have a light with a timer near the cage, or keep an overhead light on for the allotted time. This is important since natural light isn’t always consistent, and light is important to avoid triggering a hibernation attempt.
The two best choices for bedding are paper based bedding, or fabric liners made of fleece (easy to make yourself by cutting fleece to size). We like the paper based bedding best because it gives the hedgehog a chance to burrow and dig around. Bedding should be changed 1-2 times a week, and the wheel will need to be cleaned daily.
Wood shavings should NOT be used, because they can cause respiratory issues.
This should help get you on your way to having a happy and healthy hedgehog! Just remember that they need a lot of handling to become more friendly, best done in the evening when they are starting to wake up. And of course, just like people, they each have their own personalities! For more great info on caring for your hedgehog there is a forum called Hedgehog Central that you can visit too.
Best of luck with your new pet!
Guest post from Aimee of 4 The Love of Animals, “hedgemom” to Yuki.