March 4, 2021

Six Things You Should Know About Hedgehogs Plus Much More

by Robert Hudson


African Pygmy Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris)  has become a popular pet for children, families, and adults as a “pocket pet”  It’s cute looking face and rolly polly body draw much appeal.  It is not however, “cuddly”.


The African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris), also known as the central African, white-bellied, or four-toed hedgehog (Banks 2010), is native to the savannah and steppe regions of Central Africa, extending from Somalia in the East and Senegal in the West (Cassola 2016, Banks 2010, Reeve 1994).  It is thought that what went into the pet trade was a hybrid of two species North African or Algerian hedgehog (A. algirus) and the African hedgehog. This has not been documented and verified.


In 1991, it became illegal to import hedgehogs from Africa into the United States because African hedgehogs can carry foot and mouth disease and it is transmittal to cattle. By this time hedgehogs had become completely domesticated and breeders developed new colors and patterns including an albino.


All African Pygmy Hedgehogs in the United States are domestic American bred.



6 must knows


Hedgehogs are illegal or restricted in some areas…usually where there are cattle….because of the potential risk of passing on foot and mouth disease.  Check your local laws.  Breeders must be licensed.



Health risks.  Hedgehogs are sometimes carriers of several strains of Salmonella, particularly
Salmonella tilene, S. typhimurium, and S. enteritiditis.    The risk is lowered if you keep the animal healthy and its enclosure  is well ventilated and cleaned meticulously.  A thorough washing/sanitizing  of your hands after handling the animal should prevent any issues,  but for absolute protection wear light leather gloves when holding your african pygmy hedgehog.




Housing is critical to the health of an African pygmy hedgehog.   They love to dig and burrow. A good absorbent bedding gives them something to dig in and after absorbing waste and bacteria it is easy to remove and replace with fresh bedding.  They also need plenty of space.  We recommend four square feet  per animal.  Ventilation is critical. Wire cages offer the best ventilation,  but must have a solid floor to prevent injury to their feet. Aquariums or plastic tubs may be used but ventilation becomes a problem.  Poor ventilation causes respiratory problems, eye infections, (eye loss) and other serious health issues.

What to put in your cage


Bedding:  recycled paper or Aspen shavings. Do NOT use cedar or newspaper.


Safe box.  Have a safe/hide box in the form of a cardboard box with one open end, or a plastic flower pot, hollow tubes, such as PVC piping, plants, or logs. If multiple hedgehogs are housed together, provide one hide box per animal. These are relatively solitary animals and males tend to fight and injure each other.  If  multiple hedgehogs are kept together you will need a very large enclosure!


Enrichment. Enrichment items can include swimming tubs, climbing structures, straw or hay, and cardboard tubes  and toys such as balls.

Exercise wheel- a must have!  Exercise wheels help prevent obesity, (the most common health issue) and must have a solid surface. No wire or mesh wheels that their little feet can get caught in.



Common health issues.  

Obesity– African Pygmy Hedgehogs are very easily prone to obesity. When they can no longer roll into a ball, then they are too fat.

Corneal ulceration
Dental disease, including periodontal disease
Dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly affects males over 1 year of age
Leg and foot injury (wire cages and running wheels)
Neoplasia, including oral neoplasia, skin neoplasia, and uterine tumors
Ocular proptosis
Wobbly hedgehog syndrome Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is a progressive, demyelinating paralysis condition first described in the 1990s in captive African hedgehogs (Garner and Graesser 2006, Banks 2010, Graesser 2006, Ivey & Carpenter 2012). The incidence of disease is approximately 10% in North America (Ivey & Carpenter 2012, Graesser 2006). Onset typically occurs between 1-36 months of age. Clinical signs include falling to one side, hunched posture, seizure activity, tremors, exophthalmos, muscle atrophy, dysphagia, and paresis which leads to ascending paralysis. One of the earliest signs is an inability to roll up (Ivey & carpenter 2012).Intervertebral disc disease has been reported in hedgehogs and is an important differential diagnosis for neurologic signs (D’Agostino).



DIET.  Hedgehogs are omnivores however they mainly consume a variety of invertebrates. Hedgehogs also feed on frogs, lizards, snakes, small mammals,, carrion, as well as vegetables, and fruit in the wild. Domestic hedgehogs are fed protein sources such as high-quality, reduced-calorie cat food (2-3 tsp), live insects (5-6 mealworms or 1-2 crickets 3-4 times weekly), avoid waxworms; bird of prey diet, insectivore diet , or hedgehog diet.
Produce such as chopped mixed vegetables and/or fruits (1-2 tsp)

Mealworms and crickets are a hedgehog’s favorite live food, but the critters should be fed a high quality diet:  fruit, vegetables, and dog food, before being fed to your hedgehog. This is called gut loading and gives your hedgie a more nutritious diet.


Temperament:  Even a hand raised African Pygmy hedgehog needs to get used to you. Be patient. If scared or startled it will roll up in a ball. Hold it gently in your hand until it relaxes and uncoils. Allow the animal to get used to your smell so it will recognize you and not be afraid. If handled gently from a young age the animal will accept you. When your hedgehog realizes you mean no harm, it will seem more active and its spines will lay flat. They generally do not like to he patted on the head, but may enjoy having its belly rubbed. Remember it has poor eyesight and goes more by smell than anything else.


Is an African pygmy hedgehog the right pet for you?

Hedgehogs are nocturnal so they do not interfere with your workday.

They are a low maintenance pet.  Keeping the cage clean and not allowing ammonia build up is the most important task in the normal care routine. Their nails should be trimmed by your vet, (the hedgehog  needs to go under anesthesia to have it done).  Watch for signs of mites. Be very careful not to overfeed your hedgehog.  He will not stop eating until he has gorged himself to sleep.

Please share your experiences and comments below.

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