Hedgehog Care Tips

Like every other month, February has its own unique associations. In this case, it is the beloved traditions of Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day. This year, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, a rare occurrence that has only happened 21 times in the past 138 years. While many are familiar with Groundhog Day, a less commonly known fact is that this day also holds significance for hedgehogs. The Romans used to observe Hedgie to predict the weather! They went by whether or not he saw his shadow under the moonlight. Although we no longer rely on hedgehogs for weather forecasts, they have become pretty popular pets. In this article, a local Suwannee County, FL vet will provide helpful tips for caring for these small spiky critters.

Hedgehog Basics

Hedgehogs are similar to porcupines, in that they are covered with quills. These quills are composed of keratin, which is also found in human hair and nails. They’re cute, but they aren’t there for decoration: they actually serve as a form of defense. Hedgehogs will curl into a ball when feeling threatened, making it difficult for predators to grab them. However, they can’t shoot their quills.

Although there are 14 different types of hedgehogs in the world, only two are commonly kept as pets: European hedgehogs and African pygmy hedgehogs. The African pygmy is the most popular here in America. These little guys are cute, charming, quiet, and playful, so it’s easy to see why they have gained so much attention recently. Hedgie is even becoming a social media star!

That all said, hedgehogs may not be right for every home. For instance, Hedgie may not be a good fit for a household with a dog that has a strong prey drive. As with any pet, it’s all about finding the right match. Consult your veterinarian and do lots of research before you make any decisions.

Choosing Your Pet Hedgehog

Have you decided to take the plunge? Look for a reputable breeder. A good breeder will provide warranties against certain health problems, and may even be willing to take the hedgehog back if necessary. While some pet stores sell hedgehogs, the staff may not know much about them. Store hedgehogs may also not have been handled or socialized much.

It’s also important to choose a healthy hedgie. Look for one that is at a good weight and has bright, round eyes; a slightly-moist nose; and smooth skin. Sick hedgehogs may have sunken, dull, or watery eyes; runny noses; and scaly or crusty skin. They may have fecal matter stuck to their bottoms. Ask your veterinary clinic for more information.

Bonding With Your New Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are quite timid by nature, so it may take some time for your new buddy to warm up to you. Don’t force things! One thing you can do is put a piece of clothing you’ve worn in his habitat, to help your prickly buddy form positive associations with you. (Note: Do not change your soap, lotion, detergent, or scents during this time.)

It’s very important to avoid scaring your hedgehog. These guys can easily get scared. They are also wired to run rather than fight, so they curl up to protect themselves if they feel frightened. Your pet may roll up into a ball if he feels unsafe. If he does, don’t try to force him to unroll: just let him be until he feels safe enough to.

Because hedgehogs lack good eyesight, they rely on their adorable noses for information. Shadows can be very frightening to them. Keep this in mind whenever you approach or handle your pet. Also, don’t pick the little guy up from behind or while he is sleeping. That can (understandably) be quite scary for him!

Choosing A Hedgehog Habitat

Pet hedgehogs should have cages that are at least 4 x 2, but bigger is better. Make sure that the cage has a solid bottom: mesh and wire floors won’t hold bedding in. They can also cause foot or leg injuries.

You’ll need to add some bedding. You can use paper bedding, kiln-dried shavings, or a soft blanket, such as a fleece blanket. A litterbox is optional, but helpful. If you get one, use soft pellets or paper towels for litter. Clay litters and clumping litters can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed, so avoid them. Pine and cedar products can cause respiratory problems, so stay away from those as well.

You’ll also want to get your hedgehog an exercise wheel. Pick a solid one, as wire wheels aren’t safe.

Hedgie will also need a good hide. You can use pouches or igloos, or you can look for habitats made specifically for reptiles. Many of these work well for hedgehogs.

Playthings and enrichment are also important. Many toys made for cats and small dogs will do just fine. Choose brightly colored toys.

Be sure to ask your Suwannee County, FL veterinarian for more specific advice.

Where To Put A Hedgehog Cage

Choosing the right spot is also important. You’ll want to keep Hedgie in a room that stays between 70 and 80 degrees. Avoid putting the little guy in direct sunlight or drafty areas. Loud sounds may scare him, so don’t put his habitat near speakers or your teenager’s drum set.

It’s also worth mentioning that hedgehogs are night owls, and are most active after dark. Put Hedgie’s house somewhere that he can sleep during the day but run and play at night without waking you up.

What To To Feed A Pet Hedgehog

Hedgie’s digestive system is adapted to eating mostly insects, which is what his wild kin survive on. He’ll need a high-protein, low-fat diet. Hedgehog kibble is your best bet. You can also offer (or mix it with) high-protein cat or dog food. Additionally, protein-rich foods like salmon, chicken, turkey, and eggs can be incorporated into your pet’s diet. Certain fruits and vegetables are also appropriate. These include bananas, peas, apples, beans, corn, carrots, watermelon, pears, papaya, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Before feeding them to your pet, remove any skins, seeds, or pits.

You can give Hedgie gut-loaded insects, such as earthworms, waxworms, silkworms, or crickets. Use store-bought varieties, as wild insects may carry parasites.

It’s also important to know what isn’t safe for your prickly friend. That list includes grapes, raisins, seeds, milk, peanuts, avocado, nuts, hard/raw vegetables, raw meats, bread, tomatoes, honey, junk food, chocolate, alcohol, dried fruit, vegetables, garlic, and onion.

Never give your pet anything unless you’re sure it’s safe. Also, ask your Suwannee County, FL veterinarian for specific feeding recommendations.

Signs Of Illness In Hedgehogs

Like any other pet, hedgehogs are susceptible to several illnesses and diseases, including cancer, reproductive problems, and dental trouble. You’ll need to keep an eye out for warning signs. Some common ones are lack of appetite, weight loss, respiratory problems, dull eyes, lethargy, diarrhea, and lumps or bumps. You may also notice some uncharacteristic crankiness, such as hissing or grumbling. Call your vet immediately if you notice any of these things.

In Conclusion: Hedgehogs have become quite popular pets in recent years, and with good reason. Do plenty of research before purchasing a hedgehog and speak with your Suwannee County, FL veterinarian if you have any questions.

If you have recently adopted a hedgehog, congratulations! As your local Suwannee County, FL pet hospital, we are always here to help.

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