Monday, December 22, 2008
BASIC HEDGEHOG CARE
BASIC HEDGEHOG CARE
Hedgehogs are wonderful pets who are easy to care for! My first hedgehog joined the family in November of 1995 and since then the family has blossomed to about 50 permanent resident hedgies. We have also raised over 200 litters of babies. So, we feel we can say we do have some experience in raising hedgehogs, though there is still so much to learn about our prickly buddies. The aim of this page is to provide a basic care sheet that says the minimum you'll need to know in order to properly take care of a hedgehog. Please feel free to reproduce this care sheet in part or in whole, just be sure to give credit to the source. Thanks!
A metal or plastic cage (like those made for guinea pigs or ferrets) works great, or a 20 gallon or larger aquarium. Make sure that the cage gas at least 2 square feet of floor space, and that the cage bottom has no wire grates that little hedgehog feet can fall through and get hurt on. Clean the cage at least once a week, and odour won't be a problem. For more ideas on cages, have a peek here or read the cage reviews.
Provide a hiding place or cover for the hedgehog to hide under, so that it will be less nervous. Large "critter logs," a shoe box or Kleenex box with a side cut out, or a "hedgebag" (available from Hedgehog Valley) work well.
You will want to keep the housing in a warm area of the house. Hedgehogs are from a warm environment and need to stay warm, but not too hot (about 68F to 85F is usually a good range). Reptile heating pads can work well in the winter, but make sure that the pad is not under the entire cage so that if your hedgehog starts to overheat, it can move to a cooler spot.
Unless you are attempting to breed hedgehogs, keep males and females separate. If a female has babies while there are other hedgehogs in the cage, it is likely to cause her stress and either she or the other hedgehog are likely to eat the babies. Also, hedgehogs can get pregnant when they are as young as 8 weeks old, but this is not healthy for them. A female hedgehog should not be bred until she is at least 6 months old. For more thoughts about breeding, check here.
In the wild, hedgehogs are solitary animals. In captivity, some hedgehogs will accept (or even crave) the companionship of other hedgehogs, but don't necessarily assume this is the case. Hedgehogs can have lethal room-mate disputes, so if you decide to try to house two hedgehogs together, be sure to observe them closely (or at least be within earshot to separate them in case of fights) for at least the first 24 to 48 hours. Hedgehogs can emit a blood-curdling scream when upset or hurt, but they can also get into fairly quiet tussles, so be careful.
Add a one to two inch layer of pine, aspen, ground corn cob, or other small animal bedding to your hedgehog's home. Don't use cedar because the aromatic oils can cause respiratory illness or death in hedgehogs (and many other small animals). There really is no such thing as a perfect hedgehog bedding, so you may want to experiment. Some folks report great results with Astroturf, which they remove to wash on a daily or every-other day basis, and plain newsprint has been used with satisfaction, too. A recent innovation is the use of pads made of vellux material, which also requires frequent washing.
Hedgehogs need lots of exercise, as they tend to become obese with inactivity. A large wheel (11" diameter or so) is recommended. Be sure that the running surface of the wheel is solid, so that the hedgie is not at risk for slipping and breaking legs.
Most hedgies are pretty curious and love toys they can push, chew, or manipulate. Some of the things ours have enjoyed include solid rubber balls, small toy cars, large plastic toy trucks, toilet paper tubes, and rawhide chews. I've even seen a hedgie spend half the night pulling a price tag off of a plastic flower pot bottom! Be creative, but always try to think safe.
Diet is an area where there is still considerable controversy. We still don't know exactly what a hedgehog needs, but there have been preliminary studies at the Bronx Zoo. Information presented at the 1998 Go Hog Wild Hedgehog Show and Seminar indicated that hedgies need a diet that consists of good protein and is low in fat. A fibre content of approximately 15% (preferably from chitin, but hedgehogs can utilize fibre from plant sources, too) is optimal. It was found that at this time, no single food fully meets the optimal nutritional requirement for hedgehogs. Many of the hedgehog foods on the market do a pretty good job of meeting most of the needs, but a good quality commercial cat food didn't seem too much off the mark, either, according to the statistics given in the presentation.
The message I walked away with was that we should choose carefully so that our hedgies get a diet that has good quality proteins in it, is low in fat, and provides a good source of fibre. It was noted that hedgehogs require approximately 70 to 100 calories per day, but that they can eat many times this. So, if your hedgie appears to be getting fat on what you are feeding him or her, you may want to limit the quantity that you make available. Hints for helping out overweight hedgies can be found here.
I give my hedgies a diet that is mainly dog food, but offer treats as well, especially treats with fibre in them (rice, beans, baby foods, pasta, as well as meal worms and crickets). Mixing in baby oatmeal flakes is a great way to add fibre, too. My herd really likes Spike's Delite Hedgehog Food
So, what do I feed my hedgehog?
I have seen verifiable reports of individual (or groups) of hedgehogs fed a single cat food that have been diagnosed with nutritional problems. Based on these reports, IAMS cat food alone, Fred Meyer cat food alone, or Science Diet Lite alone do not appear to be good bets for your pet's diet. I'm a firm believer that a varied diet is as helpful for hedgehogs as it is for humans. Thus, my hedgies' mainstay is a mix of foods. Typically, our mix includes a large proportion of Nature's Recipe Puppy and Authority Adult Cat, with smaller amounts of other foods such as Eagle, Pedigree puppy, Spike's Delite, Maxx Nutrition, Purina One, and Eukanuba mixed in. We mix in baby food oatmeal flakes with the dry food, in order to increase the fibre content, and try to offer treats several times per week to increase variety.
The more you handle your hedgehog, the more it will get used to you is a good rule of thumb to remember.
At first, your hedgehog may be scared. It may ball up or puff air and click its tongue to scare away any potential predator (you). Approach your hedgehog slowly and quietly to gain its trust. Pick up your hedgehog from underneath to avoid the quills. You shouldn't need gloves to pick it up, even if it is scared, since you can slide your fingers underneath to distribute the weight. If you are afraid of being pricked, then take a pair of gloves and get them smelling like you (tuck them under your pillow for a couple of nights, or put them in your shirt for a while) so the hedgie will associate your smell with being picked up.
The article at http://hedgehogvalley.com/hatesme is something I consider required reading for all prospective hedgehog owners.
HEDGEHOGS ON THE NET:
The Hedgehog World & Chins-n-Quills Bulletin Boards are my favourite resources on the net.
Try plugging the word "hedgehog" into any search engine and see what comes up!
Follow the links from this and other hedgehog websites, and have fun!
ONE LAST NOTE:
Don't be surprised if your hedgie starts shedding a lot of quills when he or she is between about 8 and 12 weeks of age. This is a normal process, and is known as "quilling." The hedgehog is simply shedding baby spines and you should be able to see new adults spines pushing through the skin. To be on the safe side, though, you may want to check for mites or fleas. Signs of mites include crustiness around the quills and seriously dry looking skin. Fleas can be treated effectively with Frontline spray on and several options are also available by prescription for treating mites. Ask your vet for more information. When adolescent hedgies are "quilling" they may be somewhat grumpy, but should return to normal temperament once the quills are in.
This care sheet was written by Antigone M. Means-Burleson of Hedgehog Valley