Veterinarians Guide to Hedgehogs
We recently added a new pet to our educational animals at the Animal Family. “Gnomeo” is an African Pygmy Hedgehog. In spite of his prickly nature, he is not related to porcupines. Even though Hedgehogs spines are quite sharp, unlike porcupines, their spines do not shed and will not become lodged in the skin. If frightened, a hedgehog will defend itself by rolling into a tiny, prickly ball. In the wild, they are generally solitary in nature. They seem to prefer solitude in captivity as well. Although Hedgehogs can be handled with bare hands, gloves are recommended.
As a pet, Hedgehogs are a small, reasonably clean, relatively odor free and non-aggressive. They will vocalize through quiet snorting, whistling or huffing sounds. If handled on a routine basis from a young age most will become quite friendly. It is easy to see why we are seeing more of them in practice
The average pet hedgehog can be expected to live from 3-8 years. In captivity Hedgehogs are nocturnal but will emerge during the day. They hibernate in the wild but this is not necessary in captivity and will not occur as long as temperatures are maintained at 75 to 80 F.
Hedgehogs have some unique qualities. They have a unique protein which inhibits the activity of snake venom. This allows them to attack and eat snakes in the wild. Another unusual hedgehog trait is “anointing”. If a hedgehog is exposed to a strong smelling substance, they will produce large amounts of saliva which they use to coat their spines. Nobody knows why they do this but if you find your hedgehog covered in the cat’s fishy food, don’t become alarmed.
Hedgehogs require smooth walled, enclosure with a minimum floor space of 2’ X2’. They can climb so make any enclosure tall enough so that the animal can’t reach the top with its front feet. Do not put your Hedgehog in a wire enclosure. Regular cleaning is important if you wish to keep your pet healthy. Newspaper, about 3” in depth, either shredded or pelleted makes good bedding. Corn cob or alfalfa pellets can also be used. Do not use any bedding that clumps or any aromatic wood product such as cedar or pine. Give your hedgehog has a place to hide that is not much larger than he is and easy to disinfect. Plants or rocks can be added as well but should be non toxic and easy to clean. Provide a shallow pan of water for bathing as well as a sipper bottle. Make sure your hedgehog understands how to drink from his bottle.
Hedgehogs require regular exercise. Either a commercial exercise ball that is suitable for Guinea Pigs or an exercise wheel will work. If you choose to let your Hedgehog run loose, be careful of carpets and other cloth material which can get caught up in feet as well as anal/genital areas causing injury.
Your hedgehog can be maintained on either low calorie dog or cat food or commercial hedgehog diet (2 -3 Tsp /day). Make sure to add in small amounts of fruits, veggies (1 tsp) and insects (1 tsp). Do not feed nuts and grains or milk. Like so many of our exotic pets, low calcium is always a concern as is obesity. Clean and refill food and water on a daily basis. To prevent your Hedgehog from becoming overweight make sure to check its weight frequently.
Like all exotics, Hedgehogs will mask illness. Therefore it is important for you to remain vigilant. In general, Hedgehogs are prone to dental disease including oral cancers, Ringworm, obesity and overgrown nails. They can also acquire Leptospirosis, Rabies and Distemper like virus although there are no vaccines available at this time. Mites are the most common external parasite we see in Hedgehogs. A regular health check with a fecal examination is important to maintaining your hedgehog’s health.
This is not meant to be an all inclusive guide to Hedgehogs. We do hope it has answered some questions for you. Feel free to ask us questions and to come in and meet Mr. Gnomeo.