As an animal-loving household, my family often spends our time cuddled up on the couch watching heartwarming animal rescue stories.
But there are probably none as cute as pet hedgehogs.
If you are thinking of adding a hedgie to your family, here's everything you need to know to keep your little guy (or gal) happy and healthy in their new home.
Hedgehogs are baby porcupines, right?
Before we go into the logistics of owning a hedgehog, let's get to know a little more about these poky little creatures.
Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs and porcupines are not the same. And when you really take a look at them, they don't look all that similar.
See what I mean?
Sure, European hedgehogs look more similar than the African Pygmies pictured above, but there are still some significant differences.
The Main Differences
While it’s not exhaustive, here are a few of the main differences between these two spiky creatures.
While both creatures are clothed with quills, they serve very different purposes.
When threatened, porcupines will face their rear to the perpetrator and begin to walk backward in order to release the quills. Hedgehogs don't release their quills and instead curl up into a ball when threatened. The quilly outside helps deter the temptation for a quick and tasty snack.
Because their functionality is so different, porcupine quills are much longer and tend to look more spear-like whereas hedgehog quills look a little more like a round exfoliator.
Your hedgehog will have a natural predisposition to hibernate each winter. (And honestly, can you blame 'em?) But porcupines will not hibernate and instead just cozy up in their den all winter.
A note about domestic hibernation later.
Things Porcupines and Hedgehogs do have in common?
Here are some of their similarities, the obvious and the not so obvious.
Porcupines and hedgehogs are both nocturnal animals. Let's all say hello to the squeaky exercise wheel at 1 am.
While they have different shapes and functions, both animals do technically have quills.
Both creatures are solitary animals. That's not to say that your hedgehog won't ever come up to you for cuddles; it's just that you shouldn't expect your poky friend to have or want a ton of other friends... if any at all.
Do Hedgies Make Good Pets?
There are 14 species of hedgehogs, and not all make good companion animals. For example, the European hedgehog is a larger species and has not been fully domesticated. There is a growing number of European hedgehog owners emerging, but for the new pet parent, let's just stick to the domesticated ones.
The most popular species of hedgehogs you will find in the pet trade are African Pygmy Hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris). The smallest in the hedgehog world, these guys are also referred to as white-bellied or four-toed hedgehogs.
African pygmies average 7-9 inches long and curl up to the size of a large orange or grapefruit. They live about five years, making them a great pet if you aren't ready for the long haul of a cat that can live 15-18 years.
Also, while all small animals will still need proper exercise to stay healthy and happy, a hedgehog's idea of exercise is much different than most dogs. Let's all heave a big sigh of quarantine relief.
Finally, the only thing more fun than a peek-a-boo face is the fact that you can put their adorable selves back in their home when needed. Technically you can do the same with dogs, but it's still not the same thing. Hedgehogs won't whine and give you the heartbreak eyes worthy of Sarah Mclachlan's Arms of an Angel.
Related: How To Pick The Perfect Dog For Your Home [Lifestyle Guide]
Hedgehog Shopping List
If you are going to bring a hedgie into your home, there are a few things you will need to have stocked and ready to go before you introduce your little guy to his new environment. Here are the basics for hedgehog care and what you should plan on adding to your shopping list.
Although your hedgie is thigmotactic (there's a fun vocab word for you), they need to have adequate space to move around. At a minimum, your fella will need a 24"x24" home that is clean and offers proper ventilation.
But whatever crate you choose, make sure you provide your hedgie with a place to snuggle in and hide.
Some words of caution: if you are going the aquarium route, make sure to have a mesh top to let some fresh air in. And try to avoid metal bottoms that may cause injury to your roaming hedgie.
But, like all pets, your hedgehog will need to have proper stimulation that extends beyond an exercise wheel thrown into their home.
When picking food for your hedgie, it's important to make sure your little pal gets enough protein.
The exact numbers vary, but it's commonly accepted that hedgehog food should consist of at least 20% of protein. Although, some hedgehog owners and breeders recommend protein percentages as high as 35%.
And as for most domesticated animals, their fat content should be monitored to avoid obesity-related diseases. The ideal range is 5-15%.
Here are some of our top picks for hedgehog food on the market today. Luckily, it has come a long way from the unhealthy options of days gone by.
This grain and mealworm-mixture from Chewy is full of the good omegas and vitamins your hedgehog needs to stay healthy, no matter what species of hedgie you have.
Each pellet is 100% natural, so you don't have to worry about gross preservatives and additives.
Choose between a 2 or 5 lb bag and enjoy some small savings if you sign up for regular delivery.
Before you commit to a subscription, make sure your pet enjoys the flavor. This particular blend has mixed reviews; hedgehogs are known to either love it or hate it.
Another option packed with vitamins and minerals, this hedgehog blend delivers 38% protein, 8% crude fat and 9% fiber – which means your little guy is going to get a balanced meal every time.
It's got more ingredients than our last pick. But maybe that's what makes it more delicious?
Spikes products are a true favorite in the hedgehog world. And with over 500 positive reviews, Spikes semi-moist food is a top pick.
This option is great for picky eaters who may need a bit of encouragement to get their food down. It has also been known to encourage native hedgehogs to frequent your garden.
The verdict is still out if it is suitable for every-day food for domesticated hedgehogs. But almost everyone can agree that it's a great supplement for your little guy or gal.
That's right, folks–cat food. Back when hedgehog food was hard to come by, many pet owners turned to the ever-popular cat food alternative.
It's high in protein, low fat, comes in small bites and is more readily available than hedgehog food.
And it turns out, good quality cat food is still a solid option for hedgehog owners looking to give their critters the best.
If you decide to go the cat food route, just be sure to watch the ingredients and opt for small bites that will be easy for your hedgehog to enjoy.
Common Hedgehog Questions
Here are some of the most common hedgehog questions, answered.
Where Can I Get A Hedgehog?
Before you get too excited about getting a hegie of your own, you should know that these little critters are not legal in all states. Places such as Washington D.C, New York City and Pennsylvania have not given the official okay on keeping hedgehogs as pets.
Georgia has also put a ban on hedgehogs due to their potential to spread diseases. If you live in Georgia and just can't give up the idea of owning your own spiky little friend, you will be please to know that breeding hedgehogs is okay so long as your baby hedgies are rehomed out of state.
If your state is not on the anti-hedgehog bandwagon, you can likely find hedgehogs at your local pet store. And if not, someone there can at least help direct you to a reputable breeder or a specialized pet store in the area.
Is My Hedgehog a Health Hazard?
Hedgehogs have been linked to foot and mouth disease. In this study by the Centers or Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hedgehogs have also been linked to a small outbreak of salmonella, which can be found in the feces of seemingly healthy hedgehogs.
How can you prevent this poo-inspired disease? Experts recommend washing your hands and cleaning your little guy’s cage regularly so they don’t get the chance to spread it to the rest of their body.
It’s also not advised to kiss your hedgie, no matter how adorable they may look. Finally, take some extra precautions around young children and anyone with a weakened immune system.
Think of it a bit like Toxoplasmosis and kitty litter. And at the end of the day, is anyone really healthy when hanging around poop all day?
Why is My Hedgehog Foaming at the Mouth?
Apparently, hedgehogs foaming at the mouth is not only a thing, but it's also to be expected. Your hedgehog comes equipped with the desire to, at times, stop what they are doing, foam up their saliva and cover their bodies with it.
No one knows exactly why it happens, but many guess it has something to do with an evolved ability to hide from predators.
This process is called self-anointing, and you can find out more about it here.
How Can I Tell If My Hedgehog is Sick?
Unfortunately, hedgehogs are one of those “hide-your-pain” kind of creatures, which can make it difficult to tell that your hedgie is sick until it’s too late.
Sick hedgehogs will be lethargic, become irregular in their stool and bladder movements and could potentially develop problems on their skin like dryness or loss of quills. Loss of quills as a result of sickness is not the same as the quilling process in which all healthy hedgehogs lose and regrow their quills.
So be sure to watch for the other signs of sickness and don’t be afraid to seek out some help.
Like all animals, you should plan on setting up veterinary care, although it may be a little more tricky to find a vet who feels comfortable working with small animals.
Will My Pet Hedgehog Hibernate?
Good question. Hedgehogs naturally hibernate in the wild, meaning they stock up on food beforehand and cozy up for a winter of bliss. Things are a little different in captivity. Domesticated hedgehogs often don’t have the resources to properly prepare for long hibernation, causing many to get sick or die during hibernation.
Discourage your hedgie’s hibernation by keeping them warm and toasty all year round.
Don’t Underestimate the Hedgies
When it comes to choosing a pet, hedgehogs shouldn’t be discounted. These low-maintenance critters are high on the fun level, so long as you keep their cage and your hands clean after handling them.
Because hedgehogs are most active at night while the rest of us are catching our z’s, you will want to be intentional about finding some good time in the evening with your hedgie to help socialize him and get him used to being handled.
With the right setup and routine, a hedgehog could spend a happy, healthy life with your family.
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