Hedgehogs do make great pets, but there are some things you need to know. They are nocturnal, and they do need patience as they get used to you and being handled. They can be grumpy sometimes, but that is just part of the charm. Here are some of the things they will need to be happy:
Heat and Light
Hedgehogs have special heating needs, they 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. Domestic hedgehogs can’t hibernate safely, so it’s very important to avoid these attempts.
The easiest way to keep your hedgehog happy is to use a space heater in the room. Be sure to keep a thermometer in the cage so you can be sure the temp is right.
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. Light is important to avoid triggering a hibernation attempt.
Solid-sided cages (like large plastic bins without lids) retain heat better and 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 since you won’t have to make adjustments for safety.
Your hedgehog will need a solid plastic wheel to run in. They love to run, so this is not just a toy, this is essential to their health and happiness. Make sure that your wheel is solid plastic as well to avoid toes getting stuck and injured.
They also enjoy having a hideaway (a plastic igloo is a great choice), and will spend time sleeping in it during the day time. This helps them feel safe. Take both of these items into account when picking a bin so there is still room to roam.
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.
The 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. Hedgehogs can be picky eaters, so you might have to try a few before finding one your hedgie loves. Yuki likes Purina Cat Chow Naturals, and we were lucky because it was the first food we tried and she loved it.
Your hedgehog will also need fresh mealworms (buy them at the pet store) 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.
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.
Your hedgehog will need a lot of handling to become more friendly. This is best done in the evening when they are starting to wake up. And of course, just like people, they each have their own personalities! You might get lucky like we did and have a hedgie that likes you right away, or you might get a grumpier hedgie that needs more time to warm up to you. It helps if you “scoop” them up under their tummies when lifting them. Continue to pick them up, even when they prickle and roll into a ball.