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Keeping a Hedgehog as a Pet – Everything You Should Know

If you've ever seen an African pygmy hedgehog in a photo or up close, you might think they are some of the cutest creatures on earth. But do they make good pets? Are they legal to own? What kind of care do they need to stay healthy? Read this post from our Brookhaven vets to find out. 

Are hedgehogs good pets?

The African pygmy hedgehog is the most common species. Due to its compact size, some people keep this type as a pet. While these exotic little creatures may look adorable in pictures and can make good pets under the right circumstances, it's essential to do your research before adopting or buying so you can make sure your lifestyle can accommodate a hedgehog's personality and needs. 

It's important to keep in mind that like reptiles and many other domesticated exotic pets, hedgehogs can carry salmonella. As such, hedgehogs are not recommended for families with children under five years old, seniors, or those with compromised immune systems. 

Are hedgehogs cuddly?

In their natural, wild habitats, hedgehogs are solitary animals, meaning they spend most of their time alone except during mating season. Their naturally solitary nature tends to make them wary of people and generally shy. Anyone who interacts with them will need patience and a gentle hand to build a trusting bond with a pet hedgehog. 

That said, if you get your hedgehog while it is very young and allow enough time to very slowly get your new pet accustomed to being handled, hedgehogs can be playful, though they may never reach the status of cuddly. 

While cuddles aren't a hedgehog's thing, once your pet has settled in and gotten used to being handled, you'll be able to stroke their quills carefully, allow your hedgehog to climb up your arms, and (with supervision), explore spaces in your home. 

Is a hedgehog the right pet for you?

One critical factor to consider is that hedgehogs are nocturnal, meaning they are awake all night and sleep all day. You can expect most hedgehogs to wake and become active around the time most people are eating dinner, then be heading to bed just as you are waking up.

This has clear implications for how much time you'll be able to spend together if you work during the day and are busy through the evening. If you are considering getting a pet hedgehog, our Brookhaven vets encourage you to think through this decision carefully. Think about whether you'll be able to dedicate the time to bonding with and properly caring for your hedgehog, and what hedgehog ownership will mean for your daily routine and lifestyle. 

How to Take Care of a Hedgehog 

While hedgehogs are significantly smaller than cats and dogs, they still need exercise, a nutritious diet, and regular veterinary care. Additionally, hedgehogs are light-sensitive creatures that have several requirements that need to be met for them to remain happy and healthy. These include an exercise wheel housed in a large enclosure, and toys so they don't become bored.

Space Requirements

In the wild, hedgehogs cover extensive distances during the night as they search for food. This natural instinct necessitates a larger enclosure than you might think a pet hedgehog would need if you were only to consider their size. Additionally, it's critical to provide them with an exercise wheel. 

Our vets advise aiming for a minimum cage size of about 6 square feet (3 feet by 2 feet) to give your pet hedgehog ample room and keep them happy. 

It's essential to offer your hedgehog the largest enclosure your available space will allow to leave them room to explore during their most active nighttime hours. 

Please note that since hedgehogs are active nocturnal animals, our vets recommend against keeping them in your bedroom as they can be surprisingly noisy during the night. 

Cage Requirements

Like many pets, hedgehogs need to stay active to maintain their health and happiness. A hedgehog enclosure must include a litter box, an exercise wheel, a sleeping box, and an eating area. These cute little mammals also require the temperature of the environment to be between 72–75°F. Many owners place a heating pad in their hedgehog's cage. 

To keep your pet hedgehog engaged, provide them with a variety of toys and tunnels, such as balls or stuffed animals. 

A Hedgehog's Diet 

In the wild, hedgehogs have a variety of plants, roots, and insects to dine on. To mimic their natural diet as closely as possible and to keep a pet hedgehog healthy, feed them a high-quality kibble made specifically for hedgehogs. This kibble should contain at least 30% protein and less than 20% fat. Supplement the kibble with a variety of:

  • Live waxworms 
  • Freeze-dried or live mealworms 
  • Fresh fruits 
  • Pinky mice 
  • Cooked eggs
  • Cooked meat (chicken)
  • Fresh vegetables (green beans or tomatoes)
  • Low-fat, high-protein dog food 
  • Live or freeze-dried crickets 

Keeping Yourself & Your Hedgehog Safe 

Owning a hedgehog as a pet brings up numerous safety concerns. These include:

Salmonella & Hedgehogs 

In 2019, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), investigated a number of cases of salmonella linked to ownership of pet hedgehogs, and warned that even hedgehogs who seem perfectly healthy can carry salmonella. Be sure to protect yourself from this condition by taking the following precautions when handling a pet hedgehog:

  • Wash Your Hands Thoroughly – Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water just after feeding, touching, or caring for a hedgehog or cleaning its enclosure. 
  • Play Safely – Don't kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, since this can spread salmonella germs to your mouth and face. Don't allow hedgehogs to roam freely in areas where food is stored, prepared, or served, like kitchens or dining room tables. 
  • Keep Your Hedgehog's Environment Squeaky Clean – Clean and wash toys, enclosures, and supplies outside of your house when possible. Do not clean these items in a kitchen sink or any place where food is prepared, stored, or served. 

Hedgehog Quills 

Hedgehog quills can penetrate the skin and spread bacteria that may lead to illnesses in pet owners. If you or your child gets a puncture from a hedgehog quill, be sure to clean your hands and the puncture area thoroughly. Carefully monitor the puncture area for any signs of infection. 

Hedgehog Bites 

While hedgehogs do bites, their tiny teeth are unlikely to cause you very much pain. The force of a hedgehog's bite is typically linked to what your pet is healing. A very angry hedgehog could cause a somewhat hurtful bite. That said, hamsters and other rodents are far more likely to leave a painful bite when scared or angry. 

When is the best time to adopt a pet hedgehog?

You can typically adopt hedgehogs from pet stores once they have been weaned and reached an appropriate age – usually when they are about six to eight weeks old. 

Baby hedgehogs need special care when they are born. While they may make adorable pets for the right owner, newborns (hoglets) are tiny and vulnerable. They need a safe, quiet environment to grow. 

Are pet hedgehogs legal where you live?

Several states have banned owning hedgehogs, as many wildlife experts warn that the novelty wears off for many hedgehog owners after they realize the type of care and commitment these adorable animals need.

Domesticated hedgehogs are then sometimes released into the wild, where they can harm local ecosystems with their appetite for mushrooms, fruit, vegetables, slugs, worms, bugs caterpillars, mice, snakes, bird eggs, and even baby birds. Hedgehogs would compete with native species for food and habitat. 

If you are wondering why it is illegal to have a pet hedgehog in some locations, this would be why. Specifically, these states and municipalities have banned pet hedgehogs:

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • New York City (all five boroughs)
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington, DC 

Please check your local laws before adopting a hedgehog. 

How much is a pet hedgehog?

Typing "pet hedgehog prices" into your favorite search engine will likely yield a wide range of estimates, but most agree the average cost of a hedgehog is somewhere between $100 and $300 in the United States, depending on the specific animal's age, color, and friendliness. Don't forget to factor in pet accessories such as cages, water bottles, food bowls, food supplies, a thermometer and an exercise wheel. The prices of these items may vary.

Veterinary Care for Hedgehogs at Brookhaven Animal Hospital

Our vets understand that caring for a pet hedgehog requires unique knowledge and experience. Rest assured that your quill-covered friend will be in good hands when you come to our animal hospital. 

We are dedicated to providing hedgehogs and other exotic pets with proper care so they can lead long, healthy lives. From wellness and preventive care to daytime emergencies, we are here to provide the services your pet needs to thrive. 

Have you just brought home a pet hedgehog, and need to schedule its first wellness exam? Contact our Brookhaven animal hospital today to book an appointment.

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Brookhaven Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Brookhaven companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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