Small Pets - Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are part of the spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae. There are 16 species of hedgehog and they are nocturnal mammals. Hedgehogs became popular in the 1980s as household pets. They exhibit a fear of predators, including humans and large animals. Hedgehogs are still considered exotic in the United States, although many people have adopted them as a domesticated pet. Hedgehogs prefer a warm climate above 72 degrees Fahrenheit and do not naturally hibernate. Hedgehogs need to be handled very carefully because they can hiss and bite if alarmed or startled. Their naturally spikey quivers can also puncture human skin so it is important to wear gloves when you are first becoming comfortable with handling your hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are omnivores meaning that they can eat both plants and meat. Hedgehogs eat a diet composed of high protein low fat hedgehog food with treats including fruit, vegetables, mealworms and cooked meats. For regular everyday feeding there are many commercial hedgehog foods to choose from that will provide the vitamins and nutrients you hedgehog needs. You can buy commercial hedgehog food at places like Amazon.com or your local pet store. It is important to control your hedgehog’s diet because they will eagerly eat foods that are extremely rich in fat and sugar. This results in fatty liver disease and obesity. Hedgehogs like treats such as mealworms and crickets which provide nutrients that they need. Although your hedgehog can enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables steer clear of grapes, raisins, avocados, chocolate, dairy products, nuts and seeds which can be toxic and severely harm your hedgehog’s digestive tract. Keep an eye out for treats that may contain dairy products because hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and can become very sick.
Care and Handling for Your Pet
Hedgehogs require special care and handling, especially because they can be startled easily. Make sure not to wake your hedgehog up from sleeping or resting because it can attack and bite. Hedgehogs need to be comfortable to be picked up. You may want to wear gloves initially to make sure that your hedgehog will not bite you, or that its quills will not puncture your skin. If hedgehogs are frightened, they will roll into a tight ball and their quills will stick up in every direction to protect themselves.
When you first start to socialize with your hedgehog take things slow and be patient. It will take time for your hedgehog to be comfortable with you so patience is key. To safely pick your hedgehog up, scoop him by his underbelly. Hedgehogs have very poor eyesight so they rely heavily on their sense of smell. Your hedgehog will get to know you by your scent so make sure to use the same soaps before and after handling.
Hedgehogs reproduce fairly quickly with their gestation period being 35 – 58 days. The average litter has 3-4 babies. It is not abnormal for the adult male hedgehog to kill newborn males. Domesticated hedgehogs live approximately 4 to 7 years. Hedgehogs are born blind and they are birthed with a protective membrane that covers their quills. This membrane dries and shrinks shortly after birth. Once the baby hedgehogs are cleaned off their quills will begin to poke through their pink skin.
Hedgehogs can suffer from many of the same diseases that humans do, including cancer, fatty liver disease and cardiovascular problems. Cancer is the most common disease found in hedgehogs, specifically squamous cell carcinoma. It spreads quickly to the bone and surgery is too aggressive because it would remove too much bone. There are many zoonotic diseases that hedgehogs can pass to humans including Salmonella, Cowpox, Ringworm and Psittacosis so make sure that proper hand washing is practiced before and after handling your hedgehog. You should also keep your hedgehog in a sanitary area away from your kitchen and bathroom to also prevent these diseases from spreading.
Hedgehogs require a secure cage that has a deep enough solid bottom for plenty of shavings. Hedgehogs like to burrow underneath their shavings. It is best to use is corncob bedding because it absorbs bad odor and stays very dry. It also is safe for mixing with its food and water because it is completely organic. It is also very soft. Other types of bedding include cedar and pine shavings, but they can begin to smell quickly and does not absorb moisture. Allow your hedgehog to get comfortable in his new cage and keep in mind that he is nocturnal so keep the room that your hedgehog stays in dark during the day or cover it with a towel. Make sure that you clean your hedgehog’s cage on a regular basis because food and waste can cause disease.
Hedgehogs are fairly easy to care for if you give them the right living conditions. They need a water bottle and food dish which should be kept in one corner of the cage away from where the hedgehog sleeps, plays and eliminates. There are many toys you can give your hedgehog that you can find around the house including cardboard toilet paper rolls and boxes. Hedgehogs like to be covered while they sleep in quiet area and there are many wood coverings you can find at your local pet store. Make sure that you have a towel designated to cut out light for your hedgehog because they sleep during the day.
Hedgehogs are a fun exotic pet that are quickly becoming popular in the United States. Hedgehogs can become attached to their owner if they are given the right handling and are not startled. Hedgehogs may not make the best pet for children or those with other pets so make sure that this is the right pet for you. If you decide that you are ready for hedgehog ownership, you can adopt a pet hedgehog at local shelters and purchase them at commercial pet stores.