Guide to Having Hedgehogs as Pets

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Hedgehog in hands: Guide to having Hedgehogs as PetsIn some countries hedgehogs are as plentiful as raccoons and are seen in the same light, yet in others, these small creatures are revered as the ultimate pet. We will take a look at everything you ever wanted to know about hedgehogs as pets including how to care for them properly as well as areas where it is illegal to own a pet hedgehog.

What is the Hedgehog?

Hedgehogs are small mammals that are members of the Erinaceomorpha order. These spiny creatures hail from the Erinaceidae family and belong to the Erinaceinae subfamily. There are five different genera of hedgehog.

The Order Erinaceomorpha

There is only one living family within the order Erinaceomorpha: Erinaceidae. This order contains the small and spiny hedgehogs that many people find appealing to keep as pets. Creatures in this order are primitive and feed on insects. There are currently 23 species of Erinaceomorpha recognized.

The Family Erinaceidae

The family Erinaceidae is made up of hedgehogs which are native to Africa and Eurasia and gymnures which are native to South-east Asia. Animals found within the Erinaceidae family have short tails and long snouts and many compare them to shrews in terms of their body structure. These spined creatures most commonly vary between 4 inches and 6 inches long and weigh in between 1.5 ounces and 2.1 ounces. There are of course exceptions to this generality such as the short-tailed gymnure, but in the instance of hedgehogs this approximation is fitting.

Erinaceidae are known for having big eyes and ears as well as sharp claws which they use for burrowing and digging. One of the most recognizable features of the hedgehogs in the family Erinaceidae is the presence of spines which are made from modified hair. These spines are keratinous and serve to protect the soft fleshy body from predators such as owls and foxes.

The Subfamily Erinaceinae

Most hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures and feed on a variety of items including worms, insects, fruit, seeds and even dead creatures. Many people believe that members of the Erinaceinae family are limited to eating only insects; however, the sharp teeth of these creatures are conducive to chewing small pieces of meat as well. Erinaceinae may be meat eaters themselves but will do all that they can to avoid becoming prey of larger predators. For hedgehogs this means curling in to a tight ball with spines showing from every direction. The spines of the hedgehog are not easily dislodged like those of the porcupine; however, they are sharp enough to deter any predator from attacking. Common predators of hedgehogs in this subfamily include: foxes, wolves, birds of prey, mongoose and ferrets.

Within the subfamily Erinaceinae, there are five recognized genera: Aterlerix, Erinaceus, Hemiechinus, Mesechinus and Pareaechinus.

1. The Atelerix Genus

The Atelerix genus is composed of four species of hedgehog: the four-toes hedgehog, the North African Hedgehog, the South African hedgehog and the Somali Hedgehog.

2. The Erinaceus Genus

There are four species of hedgehog in the Erinaceus genus: the Amur hedgehog, the Southern White-breasted hedgehog, the European hedgehog and the Northern White-breasted hedgehog.

3. The Hemiechinus Genus

There are two recognized species of hedgehog in the Hemiechinus genus: the long-eared hedgehog and the Indian long-eared hedgehog.

4. The Mesechinus Genus

The Mesechinus genus contains two recognized species: the Daurian hedgehog and the Hugh’s Hedgehog.

5. The Paraechinus Genus

There are four known species within the Paraechinus genus: the desert hedgehog, the Brandt’s hedgehog, the Indian hedgehog and the bare-bellied hedgehog.

Pet Hedgehog Species

Of all of the genus of hedgehogs and their respective genera, the most commonly found species kept as pets are hybrids. These hybrids are most often a result of breeding white bellied hedgehogs or four-toed hedgehogs with North African hedgehogs. The resulting species from this breeding is smaller than most wild hedgehog types. These hedgehog creations are sometimes referred to as African pygmy hedgehogs. While most pet hedgehogs are hybrids, some individuals do keep purebred Indian long-eared hedgehogs and long-eared hedgehogs as pets.

The Legalities of Owning a Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are a particularly intriguing species for some and like many unique species; there are those who seek to keep them as pets. Potential hedgehog owners should be aware of the current regulations on pet hedgehogs however. In the United Kingdom, because wild hedgehogs are considered to be endangered, it is illegal to keep them as pets. In Scandinavia restrictions also apply on hedgehog ownership. Throughout the rest of Europe where these small creatures are plentiful, there are fewer regulations on their ownership. The United States and Canada however, are a different story.

Where Hedgehogs are illegal to own in North America

  • Windsor, Ontario, Canada
  • Langley, British Columbia, Canada
  • Douglas County, Nevada, United States
  • The Five Boroughs of New York City

Ownership of Hedgehogs is also Restricted in the Following Areas

  • Maine: In the state of Maine, hedgehog owners are required to have two permits: an importation permit and a possession permit.
  • Arizona: Arizona allows for the keeping of African Pygmy hedgehogs; however, so many regulations are placed on the owner that most individuals can never own one.
  • California: Keeping hedgehogs in California is illegal.
  • Georgia: Georgia allows hedgehog breeders to legally breed their animals within the state of Georgia, but since hedgehogs are illegal in the state, they must be shipped out-of-state upon purchase.
  • Hawaii: Hedgehogs are illegal in the state of Hawaii because of the threat they pose to natural wildlife.
  • Pennsylvania: It is illegal to own a hedgehog in the state of Pennsylvania.

Why Are Pet Hedgehogs Illegal in Some States?

The biggest reason that keeping pet hedgehogs is illegal in many states is that they are non-native species. With the potential to be able to thrive in the wild if they are released or escape captivity, officials worry about the threat that this species could cause to native species either by predation or through additional competition for limited resources. It is also possible that hedgehogs could introduce new illnesses in to the native wild animal population having devastating effects on the natural ecosystem.

Why Keep a Hedgehog as a Pet?

For those living in an area where it is not illegal to keep hedgehogs as pets, you may be wondering why you should consider keeping one of these fun creatures as a pet. Ask anyone who has kept hedgehogs before and they will quote the friendly and inquisitive nature of these spined creatures. The hedgehog is, for many people, a non-native species which makes it much more intriguing for future pet owners than, say a rabbit. These small pets are very adaptable and when domesticated they can live on a diurnal schedule. Unlike other “exotic” pets, the hedgehog does not have many “special” needs and can thrive in smaller enclosures in a solitary lifestyle. Unlike other animals which tend to be more dependent upon the companionship of a “mate” the hedgehog is not.

Hedgehogs can easily be litter trained and when they receive appropriate heath care, these prickly creatures can live up to 7 years old. Many people also find this creature to be an appealing pet because their preventative veterinary maintenance is low and they are extremely hardy creatures.

Hedgehogs as Pets

For the purpose of looking at the ins and outs of keeping a pet hedgehog, we will take a look at the African pygmy hedgehog. This small hedgehog is between 5 to 8 inches in length and weighs between half a pound and one and a quarter pounds. This is a peaceful pet that tends to bond closely to its owner – an appealing factor for many. The sharply tuned senses of the African pygmy hedgehog mean that in a household with no other pets, this pet can be given free run of the home and will still respond to having a litter box present.

Hedgehog Housing

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Regardless of whether or not you decide to give your pet hedgehog free run in the house, it is still important to provide your new pet with a “home.” Hedgehogs are good climbers and for this reason their home should have a roof to it or slipper sides that cannot be climbed. This type of cage should stand with walls taller than 12” high. It is also crucial for the hedgehog to receive proper air circulation and to be kept out of direct sunlight during the day. The ideal temperature for a hedgehog is between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also important to always keep your hedgehog’s cage out of drafts as this can cause illness. The floor of your hedgehog’s cage should not be wire as this can damage their feet.

Accessories for your Hedgehog

Few things are important to your hedgehog than her house, but there are a number of accessories that your new pet will require including; bedding material, a food bowl, a water bowl, a hiding place, a litter box, toys and food.

Hedgehog Bedding

Hedgehogs should never be given cedar bedding but they will do well with Pine, white or Aspen shavings. Around two inches of this bedding material should be placed on the floor of your hedgehog’s new home.

Hedgehog Food Bowl

Hedgehogs can be a nuisance when it comes to tipping over food so it is important to get a heavier dish such as a ceramic bowl.

Water Bowl

When it comes down to it, hedgehogs much prefer water bottles than water bowls. As an owner you will also find it much easier to provide a water bottle since these small creatures will often dump bedding material in to water bowls.

A Hiding Place

Like most other small pets like rodents and guinea pigs, hedgehogs require a hiding place where they can feel secure. Most hedgehog owners will use a piece of PVC pipe that is big enough for the hedgehog to hide in without getting stuck.

A Litter Box

Amazingly, hedgehogs will use litter boxes, if you want to train your hedgehog to use one, put a small amount of non-clumping cat litter in to a tray and your hedgehog will use it.


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Like any other pet, hedgehogs enjoy stimulation from toys. One of the most popular types of hedgehog toys is the exercise wheel. This wheel should not be made from wire however, as it can lead to injury. Other small pet toys can also make a good addition to any hedgehog’s home but it is important to monitor your hedgehog and ensure that they cannot hurt themselves with their new toy.Be sure to get one that has a solid base so it’s little feet don’t fall through.

Feeding Your Hedgehog

Some specialty pet stores offer hedgehog feed that is optimized for hedgehog health. If you are not local to a store that carries exotic pet foods many hedgehog owners feed dry cat and kitten food formulas. It is important to supplement a hedgehog’s dry food diet regardless of whether you feed hedgehog food or cat food. Healthy supplements for a hedgehog’s diet include: mealworms, vegetables, crickets, fruits and cooked meats. These types of supplements should only be given as treats a few times a week and should be removed from your hedgehog’s enclosure after a few minutes if they are not eaten.

How to Care for Your New Hedgehog

One of the biggest questions that new hedgehog owners have is how to take care of their pet the first time they bring it home. It is important that after bringing your hedgehog home and placing it in its new enclosure, you allow it plenty of time to adjust. Generally at least 24 hours is recommended to allow your new pet to acclimate to its new surroundings. During this time try to limit the number of times you pick him up as this can make him feel more nervous. It is important that your hedgehog gets used to being handled but for the first week or so after coming home, you may find that it is easier for your hedgehog to minimize petting.

The First Month of Being a Hedgehog Owner

During the first month that your hedgehog is home if you purchased a baby hedgehog, you will notice that your new pet sleeps a lot. This behavioral pattern is not unusual, much like human infants this sleeping behavior is natural for growing infants. If you adopted an adult hedgehog you may notice that your hedgehog has a daily pattern that it likes to stick to. Some hedgehogs will begin to show more activity at night and others during the day. Much like your hedgehogs personality, you will notice their activity level differs from individual to individual.

Finding a Reliable Hedgehog Breeder

As is the case with any animal, genes play a large part in the overall health of a hedgehog, this is why it is important to find a reputable breeder. While hedgehog breeders may be found all over the globe, it is important to find one that takes the ethical ramifications of breeding their animals seriously. A breeder that understands the importance of overall health is a breeder that will produce a healthier hedgehog population. In order to find a reputable hedgehog breeder it is recommended that you contact the International Hedgehog Association.

Video: Hedgehog 101

Convinced to get a hedgehog as a pet? This 4 minute video from Animal Planet shows you the little guys in action and provides some tips about owning one as a pet.

Dangers to Watch Out For in Hedgehogs

As a hedgehog owner it is important to watch out for signs of danger that may threaten your new pet’s health. The most significant concern for domesticated hedgehogs is obesity, overfeeding or over supplementing a hedgehogs diet can also lead to fatty liver disease. While most hedgehogs have a penchant for sweets, their bodies simply were not designed to tolerate sugars, fats and carbohydrates. Aside from obesity, hedgehogs also tend to suffer from heart disease and cancer fairly frequently. It is important over time to recognize “normal” behavior for your hedgehog so that you are able to identify any early signs of sickness. While some types of illness such as fungal infections can be cured in hedgehogs, unfortunately things like cancer are very difficult to treat and more often than not the pet will end up succumbing to the disease.

The Significance of Abiding By Local Laws and Regulations

Bringing any pet in to the home is a commitment that should not be taken lightly. When that pet is a hedgehog however, there are additional concerns that must be addressed. Your primary concern when bringing a hedgehog home should always be whether this is a legal pet in your area. Many people believe that they are “doing no harm” by bringing home a pet hedgehog when it is declared illegal in their area. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite how well you may think you can care for this small creature, there is a reason why ownership is forbidden in specific locations. Many areas outlaw hedgehogs because they are an invasive species and even with the best of care it is possible for one to escape in to the wild and bring down native ecosystems. Other areas, such as England, outlaw ownership of wild hedgehogs for the opposite reason. In the wild these creatures are facing extinction as a result of human interaction and it is the hope that by reducing human interference that hedgehogs can once again thrive in the wild and maintain local ecosystems.

The Cost of Exotic Pet Ownership

Before bringing any exotic pet home it is important to consider the cost of exotic pet ownership. It is not only financially expensive to keep an exotic pet, but it can also be emotionally draining. Exotic pet owners have far fewer veterinary resources to turn to when their animal becomes sick. Generally this means that even if there is a vet in your local area that will treat an exotic animal, they do not have a depth of specific knowledge about certain non-native species. This lack of knowledge can result in untreated and unhealthy animals. There is also the difficulty of obtaining supplies for an exotic pet that must be considered. Before you decide whether a hedgehog is the right pet for you, always find out what resources are available to you to care for it.

Why did you choose a hedgehog for your pet or are you considering getting one?

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