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Hedgehog Care

When you bring you new hedgehog home, place him in his cage and let him have absolute privacy for at least a day.  You may pick him up and hold him once or twice for a few minutes the first day, but remember, it will probably be more like a week before he begins to feel at home.  Baby hedgehogs need quite a bit of sleep the first month after they come home with you, so don't be too concerned if he sleeps a lot at first.

Daily Routine: You will need to attend to your hedgehog's needs on a daily basis.  Here are some basic suggestions:

  • Scoop the litter box.
  • Fill the food dish.
  • Provide fresh water.
  • Make sure any mess such as spilled food etc. is cleaned out of the shavings.
  • Clean off any messy toys.
  • Love your pet.

Handling: It is never a good idea to pick up a domestic hedgehog with gloves. Although imposing in appearance, the spines are not sharpenough to cause any real injury and, unlike porcupines, the spines do not come out and they are not barbed. It is absolutely essential for your hedgehog to recognize your scent and to recognize it as being harmless. In fact, in order to show your hedgehog at a sanctioned show, you must be able to properly handle him without gloves, since these are not allowed at the show table. The correct method for picking up a hedgehog is to place your hands, palms up and his head facing away from you, on each side and gently scoop him up from underneath. If you are a bit unsure at first, scoop a little lower and take some of the shavings with him as this will help to protect your hands from his spines. After picking him up, you can drop the shavings as you move him from hand to hand. Then, carefully move him over onto one hand and hold him over the back with the other. Another way is to pick him up with a slotted spoon and place him on your hand. Once accustomed to you, he won’t bother to put his spines up and he will be very easy to pick up.

Housing: Your hedgehog will require a secure home since they are very good climbers and can easily escape from open-topped cages that are designed for animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits. If you do use a cage with an open top, it must have slippery sides that are at least 12" high and a floor space of at least l6” x 24”. A 20 gallon aquarium is ideal. It must also have good circulation and be well lit but not exposed to direct sunlight during the daytime. Place your hedgehogs cage in a comfortable, warm, well lit area that is free of drafts and direct sunlight. They are most comfortable at temperatures of between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit. (18-27 degrees Celsius) The basic rule of thumb is, if you are  comfortable without a sweater, they will do just fine.

Bedding: Aspen, Pine or White shavings (NOT CEDAR!) are by far the best choice for bedding material. Crushed corn cob makes a relatively good bedding and is safe to use for females and adults, but it SHOULD NOT be used for young male hedgehogs. Place approximately two inches of bedding material evenly over the floor of the cage.

Food Bowl: The food bowl needs to be fairly wide and heavy to prevent your pet from dumping out its contents and using it as a toy. Small ceramic crocks that are designed for small rodents are perfect food dishes for hedgehogs. The width or diameter of the dish can be 3 to 6 inches and it should be no more than 3 inches high.

Water Bottle: Water bottles are preferred over open dishes. Hedgehogs love to fill open water dishes with shavings and this prevents them from getting enough water to drink.

Hiding Places: This can be as simple as a piece of 4 inch PVC pipe, an old plastic pitcher, or an old shoe box with a hole cut in one end. (this should be replaced every 2 to 3 weeks).

Litter Box: Your pet will use a litter box if you provide it with one. A small box  that is 2” deep x 6” x 9”, half filled with dust free cat litter does very nicely. Non-clumping cat litter is the safest choice.  At first, it may be a good idea to confine your pet to the bathroom or similar room, preferably where the litter box will be permanently situated. If he makes a mistake, place this in his box and show him where it is. There is no need to discipline your hedgehog and even if you do, it will likely have a negative, rather than positive effect.

Toys: If you choose, you can also add a few toys for your hedgehog to play with. An exercise wheel is an excellent addition and will help him to stay healthy and trim. Although a guinea pig wheel will suffice, there are now specially designed Hedgehog Wheels available from many pet suppliers. These are safer for your pet since they have a solid or mesh-covered running surface rather than the more common metal bars which they sometimes get their long legs caught in.

Bathing and Nail Trimming: Hedgehogs do a fairly good job of grooming themselves but sometimes, there are things they need help with. If you wish, you can bath your hedgehog a couple times a year. Here is what you will need: cat shampoo; a cup (unless you have a sink with sprayer hose); an old toothbrush; and, a towel at the sink or bathtub. Run an inch (no more!) of lukewarm water into the bathroom sink. Next, place a drop or two of the cat shampoo into the water. Now, place your hedgehog gently into the water and wet him thoroughly by scooping water from the sink with the cup onto his back. Using the toothbrush, gently and slowly scrub his spines from front to back and in small circles, making sure not to get any of the soapy water in his eyes.  Once his back is clean, reach underneath and wash his tummy by gently running your fingers over the fur, but do not flip him over. After he has been thoroughly scrubbed, remove him from the sink, drain the dirty water and once again refill the sink with an inch of lukewarm water. Then, place him back in, thoroughly rinse him off, remove him from the sink and then gently towel him dry. If the room is cool, you can use a hairdryer to dry him off, but do not use it above its lowest setting.

After he has dried off, check his toenails to see if they need trimming. If you are not familiar with how to trim toenails, I strongly recommend that you take your hedgehog to the vet to have him do this for you.  Each toenail has a large blood vein running through it and, by cutting too much of the nail off, you can easily cause your pet to bleed.  This bleeding can quickly be stopped by using a commercially available blood-stop powder or caustic stick (available from your vet) or by dipping the affected toenail in corn starch. If not treated, the bleeding will eventually stop, but not before the animal has lost a considerable amount of blood. To make matters worse, your hedgehog may protest against having his nails trimmed and will make the task difficult, if not impossible for you to perform on your own. Again, if you are unsure about doing this, have a professional do it for you! For those already familiar with the task, a pair of ordinary fingernail clippers will do the job. If he protests, which he very well may, you will have to be very patient with him. First, try to firmly but gently grab hold of one foot and maintain that hold until he relaxes a bit. Then, quickly trim the toenails making sure to avoid cutting into the quick. After finishing, give him a bit of a break or a nice treat as a reward and proceed with the next foot. In most cases, you will be unable to do more than one or two of his feet at a setting before he says enough is enough, so it may take two or three days to do all four feet. The toenails need to be checked for over-growth every couple of months. There are some hedgehogs that never need them trimmed, however, so don't automatically assume that they need doing.