Hedgehogs* are growing in popularity as pets, and there’s no denying that they’re cute. And as tempting as it is to own an adorable and exotic pet, would-be first time owners should spend some time thinking carefully about it before buying a hedgehog. Far from being simple and easy pets, hedgehogs need a lot of special care. Not everyone is a hedgehog person, and without proper research and knowledge, a first time hedgehog buyer can end up disappointed or confused once the novelty wears off. So here is a list of a few things to consider before buying a hedgehog:
*this information pertains specifically to African Pygmy hedgehogs, the most common pet breed here in America, as that is where my knowledge lies.
1.) Hedgehogs aren’t like cats or dogs. They’ve only recently been domesticated and still have a lot of their animal instincts. They’re not necessarily going to greet you or seem happy to see you. They’re not necessarily going to cuddle with you. In fact, they’ll probably be really scared of you at first. And some will be really scared of you every time you approach them. They’re prey animals, whereas cats and dogs are predators, so they’re much likelier to be very shy and afraid of people. It can take a lot of time for them to come around–and even then, some never will.
2.) Hedgehogs have all kinds of different personalities and it’s hard to discern their personalities without owning them for a while. I got mine a little older (about 7 months), but I’ve head lots of stories about babies’ personalities changing after they “quill” (grow their spines in). So there is a possibility that you’ll get a friendly, cuddly hedgehog, but there’s also a possibility that you’ll get a scared and hesitant hedgehog that you have to really walk on eggshells for. Or you may get an “independent” hedgehog that isn’t that interested in you. Personally, my hedgehog is hardly ever scared, but at the same time, not affectionate or super friendly. She doesn’t really cuddle in our laps or enjoy being held. And then some hedgehogs will barely let you touch them (I’ve heard a term for this type–“decorative hedgehog”). So, if you get a hedgehog, you might end up stuck with a pet who isn’t very friendly, or a pet you really have to work hard to bond with. Be prepared for any of those possibilities.
3.) You have to be willing to spend a lot of time and have patience bonding with your hedgehog. When you first get a hedgehog, you should take it out for *at least* 30 minutes every day to get it used to you and your scent. This should be done in a darkened room at night, as they’re nocturnal. You should plan on bonding taking a while, as your hedgehog gets used to you. You need to be persistent, as new hedgehogs will often be scared, ball up, bite, etc. Hedgehogs aren’t pets you can get and then spend time with as desired; you’ll have to make time for your hedgehog every day. Also, you should have somewhere you can let them run around, whether it’s a room or a playpen or something similar. That way they can explore your home and you. We hedgehog-proof our living room before letting our hedgehog out (cover the vents, close off doorways, etc.). All of this takes time and effort.
4.) Hedgehogs are nocturnal so if you tend to go to bed early, that might not leave you a lot of time with your pet. People who stay up later tend to have an easier time bonding with their hedgehogs, as that’s when hedgehogs are most active and willing to play/cuddle/etc.
5.) Hedgehogs may seem like simple and inexpensive pets, but they do need an assortment of items, including a large cage, fleece or non-cedar bedding that should be changed consistently, water and food dishes (or a water bottle), some sort of cave-like thing to sleep/burrow under, and a wheel that’s NOT a hamster wheel. Hamster wheels have little slats that hedgehogs can break their tiny legs on. You’ll need a wheel specifically designed for hedgehogs. And it’s always a possibility that the hedgehog will get sick and need to see a vet, so make sure you have enough money to support a hedgehog before getting one. Also, not all vets will/can treat hedgehogs, so before getting one, make sure you can find a vet who does.
6.) Hedgehogs can be painful. They’re covered in spines. And when they get scared, they ball up and stick their spines out. Sometimes it will hurt to touch your hedgehog. They also bite. And apparently, they can really latch on. A lot of times, they’ll bite in an exploratory manner, and it won’t be too hard, but sometimes they do bite hard, so be prepared for that eventuality. It’s rare for a hedgehog owner to never get bitten.
7.) Your hedgehog WILL poop on you (and everything else). Many times. And probably pee as well (in the time I’ve had my hedgehog, I’ve been pooped on way more times than I can count, but only peed on once). Especially when you first get it. Hedgehogs can poop A LOT. You’d be surprised. Now, I’ve read that some are litter-trainable, but most are not. As they get older, they become less likely to poop on you, but it’s still a possibility. When we let our hedgehog run around the living room, she often poops many times in the same spot in one night, but then the spot changes from night to night. They also apparently love to poop on their wheels, and then they run through the poop, so be prepared to not only clean the wheel regularly but also find your hedgehog with its feet covered in poop (this phenomenon is so common, it earned a name: “poop boots”). They also can end up covered in it, as many don’t tend to worry about hygiene, making for a dirty and smelly hedgehog. And the poop isn’t small, dryish pellets like rabbit poop, it’s about pinkie-finger sized and can be quite messy, so be ready to deal with that.
8.) Hedgehogs have some special heat/lighting needs that owners must be able to fulfill. You have to be willing to keep the your house, or at least the room that your hedgie’s cage is in, nice and warm. Most people recommend 72-85 F, because if they get too cold they will try to hibernate and die. Also if they’re kept too cold they won’t be as friendly or likely to come out. Also, In order for them to get the proper amount of light, their cage should be exposed to natural or artificial light 12 hours a day. At night the room should be kept dark so they can come out and eat and play. Many will not want to come out if it is light.
9.) Hedgehogs need a varied diet. They’re known as “opportunistic omnivores,” as they’ll eat all kinds of things in the wild. This can be convenient for owning them, as they can eat many things, including fresh fruit (no raisins), vegetables, cooked meat, insects, cat and dog food. However, it can also be more complicated, as they should have a variety of food options. Many owners like to feed their hedgehogs high quality cat food and supplement with fruits like blueberries, and fresh meal worms.
10.) Hedgehogs are solitary creatures and need to kept alone. Don’t plan on getting a hedgehog and then adding another to the same cage later, and don’t plan on putting a hedgehog in a cage w/ another creature.
11.) Hedgehogs get dirty and occasionally need baths. You should be willing to bathe your hedgehog if necessary. For this, you will need some very gentle shampoo or other cleanser (I use baby shampoo) and an old toothbrush to get between the quills. And you’ll have to keep the hedgie warm and wrapped until it’s dry so it doesn’t get too cold.
That being said, hedgehogs can be really fun pets if you know what you’re doing. They’re cute, funny, and interesting to observe. They don’t take up a lot of space and don’t smell bad, if you keep them and their cages clean. And it can be really satisfying to bond with a hedgehog.
So if you’re still interested in owning a hedgehog, I recommend doing some research online before buying a hedgehog so you know all the ins and outs. Hedgehog Central (http://hedgehogcentral.com/) is a great place for research. Hedgehog Central Forums are a good place to start, with answers to almost any question yo
u have (and if the answer’s not there, you can just ask!). Just make sure you have plenty of information, time, and patience before you get a hedgehog.