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Hedgehogs are amazingly cute little insectivores who can be quite friendly despite their unapproachable prickly appearance.  Of course, one must pet a hedgehog very carefully... The pet hedgehog (also known as the African Pygmy Hedgehog) is originally native to Africa, and is much smaller than the European hedgehog.   The pet hedgehog has several color variations. Their backs are covered in short, very sharp spines, but their tummies have a soft short hair coat.  If upset, the spines stand erect and form an impenetrable barrier from head to tail, and if they feel very threatened they roll into a complete ball, with only spines showing.  However, when calm and content, the spines are laid back and the hedgehog is quite easily handled.

Choosing a Healthy Hedgehog

You will want to choose a single hedgehog since they are solitary and don’t normally like to share a cage. Never buy a male and female to be placed in the same cage unless you intend to breed! Hedgehogs are ready to breed as early as 8 weeks and females should never be bred before 5 months, so be careful!  You may decide to either go to a pet store or check ads and buy from a breeder. In either case, you are looking for a good healthy animal.  Temperament: This is of major importance and should be a deciding factor as to whether you buy a particular animal or not.

After picking a potential pet up, examine it closely.  Does it unroll after a few seconds? Does he click, jump or hiss? Hissing is okay. It is simply frightened because it doesn’t know you. Clicking, however, means that it's trying to threaten you. This is NOT acceptable hedgehog behavior and you should look at a different, better-tempered animal. Every hedgehog is different and unique. Some like to play and explore, while others are more content to cuddle. You will be most satisfied with your new pet if you carefully choose the one that best suits your own personality and lifestyle. When choosing a hedgehog look for the following:

  • Are the eyes nice, round, beady, wide open, and bright, without discharge?.
  • Is the nose clean and not running?.
  • Are the ears short, clean, with no discharge or crustiness behind them? Sometimes an ear has been chewed on by a sibling. As long as it has healed, this is not something to worry about.
  • Is the fur on the belly soft and not matted?.
  • Are the spines all there with no bare spots? Bare spots indicate an unhealthy animal. Is there any sign of mites, fleas, or crustiness on the back?.
  • Check the pen, are there any green droppings or diarrhea?.
  • Is the hedgehog's body plump? (not fat).
  • Place it on a flat surface such as a table and watch it walk. Does it wobble or have difficulty staying upright? A healthy hedgehog should have a stride that is somewhere between a walk and a shuffle.
  • Can you here a rattle when it is breathing? (do not mistake normal hedgehog "talk" such as chirping, purring or cheeping for a pneumonia-related rattle).

Natural History

Hedgehogs are a small, insectivorous (insect eating) mammal that can be found throughout the world. They are native to England, Europe, Africa and Asia. The hedgehog that is now kept as a pet in North America is the Pygmy Hedgehog from Central Africa. Since there are no native species of hedgehog in either Canada or the United States, many people still mistake the domestic hedgehog for the porcupine - an entirely different and unrelated animal. While porcupine quills are extremely sharp, barbed and very dangerous, the hedgehog quill is smooth and not nearly as sharp. Petting a friendly hedgehog can be compared to petting a hairbrush - bristly, not prickly.

Hedgehog Vital Statistics

The average African Pygmy Hedgehog weighs about  ½ to 1 ¼ pounds and is 5 to 8 inches long - about the size of a Guinea Pig. There are some that will grow to as much as 1 ¾ to 2 pounds (without being fat) while others are as little as 6 or 7 ounces. Your pet should be kept indoors at normal room temperature (65 to 80*F); can be fed a good quality dry cat food or a specially formulated hedgehog food.

Note: The information above was reproduced from the book “The Hedgehog Primer”, by Antigone Means-Burleson, Ph.D.; published by, 2003. You can click here for more information.