As hedgehogs are becoming more popular as pets here in the UK so are the many myths that abound about good husbandry and how best to care for them. Here is some essential information on what you will require to keep your pets happy and healthy.
What is an African Pygmy Hedgehog?
The African Pygmy Hedgehog or APH is a hybrid of the four toed hedgehog and the Algerian hedgehog; it is the most popular species of domesticated hedgehog in the world. Keeping our own native European hedgehogs as a pet is illegal, but the APH is specifically bred for the pet market.
APH are not really suitable as pets for young children. They need gentle, patient handling and you must be willing to spend a minimum of 20 minutes each and every day with your hedgehog or it can become unsociable, grumpy and huffy. APHs, like our native European hedgehogs, are nocturnal so the first question we need to ask is. . . .is a hedgehog the right pet for me?
They have quills, which can hurt, and they need a constant temperature of 24 degrees. This means that, unlike a guinea pig or hamster, your own living temperature may not be enough and they will require additional heat. As they are nocturnal like a hamster they will spend a lot of the night running on a wheel. Will that disturb you if your hedgehog is kept in your bedroom with you? They need to have their wheel cleaned every day of poop and urine. Can you cope with cleaning a messy or smelly wheel every single day? Still reading?
Ideally, they need a Vivarium no smaller than 4 feet in length. The added advantage with Vivarium’s is that they stack easily as hedgehogs are solitary creatures and need to be housed alone. This makes keeping more than one easier.
A Zoozone 2 is also suitable for keeping a hedgehog but in a cold room may be harder to keep warm and maintain a stable temperature. Zoozone 1s are far too small for an adult hedgehog.
Hedgehogs climb but cannot jump. A cage with bars could be dangerous unless a perspex barrier is fixed between the bars and the hedgehog. This would also help to stop draughts and make stable temperature maintenance easier. Rabbit hutches are also unsuitable.
A small litter tray lined with kitchen roll is an easy, cheap and convenient way to keep your hedgehog clean. Although they will still have the occasional accident when the wheel is placed inside the litter tray, it will catch most of it.
Hedgehogs must have an exercise wheel. They need lots of exercise and can very quickly become obese if fed the wrong food and if they do not have enough exercise. You will require a minimum wheel size of 12 inches. Anything smaller could harm your hedgehog’s spine. I only recommend Carolina Storm Wheels; these can now be purchased in the UK through the APH Club or via facebook.
African Pygmy Hedgehogs are classed as an “exotic pet”. Many small animal practice vets are unfamiliar with APHs, so you need to find a vet specialising in exotic pets. Ask if your vet has a monthly payment plan for routine care as this can reduce costs. Being an “exotic”, many vets will also apply an “exotic” price tag for each consultation. So be ready for bills higher than, for example, a guinea pig or rabbit.
As with all small animals, a trip to the vets may be necessary, even if it is just for a nail trim if you cannot manage them yourself, so a small pet carrier is essential. A snuggle safe or similar microwaveable heat mat may be necessary in colder weather. Alternatively, some petnaps come with a handy cigarette lighter adaptor. Petnaps are also suitable for Zoozones.
Blankets or cage liners with a pouch or house for sleeping in are essential (sawdust, hay, straw and wood shavings can harbor mites and the oil can cause respiratory problems). Care Fresh, puppy liners or Finacard are also safe for hedgies. There are many very clever sewers out there but I always use Quills Delight as Nina owns hedgehogs herself and knows how important it is to have internal seams and no threads as these can easily amputate a hedgehog’s leg. Please remember that our hair can too for those of us with longer tresses.
You must check your hedgehog’s bedding daily for anything that may wrap around a leg or toe. Hedgehogs do not chew so would not endeavour to remove the thread or hair themselves, it is up to us their human guardians to do things like that for them. For heating I recommend a Che Lamp with a ceramic holder or a greenhouse heater. Both need to be used in conjunction with a Habistat Pulse Thermostat if you expect the room temperature to fall below 74 degrees Farenheit / 24 degrees Centigrade. Most good reptile shops supply them, but they are also available online at Swell Reptiles and Amazon shops.
Never let your hedgehog hibernate, it could be fatal.
Hedgehogs love to play, so to enrich their lives they need to have somewhere other than their vivarium or zoozone in which to play. A child’s ball pit is cheap and ideal. Cardboard tubes, cuddly toys, crinkle or plastic balls are perfect to play with. A firm favourite with mine is a forage tray. This consists of either small pompoms, finacard, dried leaves or even fleece strips in a cat litter tray. Mealworms hidden amongst it all makes a great game.
Hedgehogs need shallow tip-proof feeding bowls similar to baking ramekin dishes or empty Gu dishes. Animal water bottles are not suitable for hedgehogs; they can damage their teeth or trap their tongues and are an unnatural angle for them to drink from. A mix of at least 4 or 5 meat and vegetable cat biscuits (not fish) of which protein should be minimum of 30% and fat no more than 10%. Meat should be the first or main ingredient not cereal. I use makes like James Wellbeloved, Harringtons, Hill’s Science Plan Light, Purina Sensitive or Indoor and Royal Canin Light. A small amount of Go-Cat Indoor will also help with odour. However, as this is considered a low quality cat food, it should not be the main ingredient of your mix.
Fresh water must be available at all times
Other food should consist of mince, chicken or egg with vegetables. Hedgehogs are insectivores so live food such as meal worms, morio worms, hoppers or crickets should be fed daily. They will even enjoy the odd pinkie. I use a tortoise vitamin supplement sprinkled on the live meal worms. Gut-loading the mealworms prior to feeding is a good idea. I also keep a cuttlefish in with my mealworms. Although hedgehogs need calcium, all the calcium supplements currently on the market are too strong, so meal worms naturally fed on cuttlefish is ideal. Hedgehogs must not eat fresh fish and are intolerant to the proteins in lactose in cow’s milk. Goat’s milk, however, is fine.
Some hedgehogs, whether from a rescue or approved breeder, may never be friendly no matter how well handled as a baby or how friendly it’s parents are. It is always best to meet your hedgehog before purchasing and see how the breeder looks after their hogs. Are the hedgehogs clean? Is the breeder helpful? Will they spend time helping you prepare for your new prickle baby, or is it all down to the money?
Questions to ask the breeder
How old is the hedgehog? It should be over 7 weeks old and over 180 grams in weight. How long has it been away from Mum and siblings? Boys must be separated at 6 weeks. Is the baby registered? If not, why not. It only costs £1.
Is there any Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome in its lineage? What compensation does the breeder offer if after a post mortem (the only way to verify WHS) it is proven to have died from the disease? If your circumstances change, would your breeder take the baby back? Does your breeder offer lifetime support for you and your hedgehog?
You can find a list of APH Club approved breeders here. There you can also find further information on these wonderful creatures. Approved breeders are required to adhere to a strict set of ethical guidelines. All their babies are registered and come with certification and a pedigree. This includes a photo of your hedgehog and your chosen name for him/her.