As many of you know, I recently moved out with my boyfriend, Justin. We moved to Orillia, leaving behind Port Perry, our families, and my family dogs. The dogs are my mom's, and I was never their primary caregiver, which obviously meant I didn't get to take them with me. The first little while, I missed them so much that I had a couple of emotional breakdowns. I knew having a dog in an apartment was not ideal, especially since we're technically not supposed to have any pets.
I've wanted to own a hedgehog for a long time, but, living at home with other animals in the house, it was never something I was able to do. Being out on my own, I convinced Justin I could handle one. We planned to get one in May or June of 2020 but when Covid-19 hit, and I was stuck at home being laid-off anyways, Justin and I agreed it was a good move now because I would have plenty of time to socialize and litter train him while not at work.
Tetley was born on March 8th, 2020, and was ready to come home with me 6 weeks later. He is fairly friendly (considering hedgehogs are shy creatures), he loves bath time, running on his wheel, chicken snacks, and his wormies. So far, having something to cuddle with while working or watching TV, and just having a little life to care for, has been a huge help for my mental health. Hedgehogs are super cute, but they are not ideal if you're looking for something that's not a lot of work. I would classify them as a step above a cat and a step below a dog as far as care goes. I did a lot of research before diving into the purchase of a hedgehog, and I'm still learning every day. Hopefully, this blog helps anyone who is looking to become a hedgie parent or is just useful information for anyone interested in learning more about this type of exotic pet.
What Kind of Habitat Does a Hedgehog Require?
First off, there are many breeds of hedgehogs. The common one that we see as pets are African Pygmy Hedgehogs. That's right, they're from Africa. With that being said, hedgehogs need to be kept at temperatures between 72-80 F. If you cannot keep your hedgehogs habitat at this temperature range, they will most likely attempt hibernation, This sounds innocent, however, African Pygmy Hedgehogs are not meant to hibernate and this can result in death. You will know your hedgehog is attempting hibernation because their movement will become slow, they will not eat or drink and, most importantly, their belly will be cold to touch. To maintain Tetley's habitat temperature, I have a ceramic heat emitter with an 8.5-inch dome that's hooked up to a thermostat. I feel this is the best option as it's safe and does not require a lot of power. The emitter itself is only 150W which is far less power than a space heater, which is recommended by some hedgehog owners. If I had to keep my home at the same temperature as my hedgehog, I would personally not be comfortable and we don't want to pay that hydro bill. Another method that is often recommended is a heating pad. Personally, I wouldn't use one of these as they can be unsafe for the animal, and they won't move if they feel too hot, resulting in internal burns. It's better to have the ambient air at the proper temperature for a hedgehog which is why I went with the CHE. I've set mine up on a thermostat so it shuts off when the temperature reaches 78 F and it turns back on once it's dropped to 76 F.
I've heard that hedgehogs will also attempt hibernation if their source of light is out of whack. They need 50/50 light versus dark. They are nocturnal animals and they come out to play at night. They must get complete darkness as they are sensitive to the light, however, they do need light during the day for about 12 hours. If they are not getting enough light in their cage, an additional light source on a timer should be set up.
You can use bedding for your hedgehog but, you will notice, most owners use non-pilling fleece and will litter train their little buddy. I do this and find his cage stays super clean this way. I just replace his used litter daily and clean his fleece blanket/pompoms weekly. He's currently set up in a Sterilite plastic bin which is easy to wipe out and clean in the bathtub. They love to burrow and I would often find Tetley wrapped up under his blanket instead of in the plastic hideout I bought him. I took a fleece blanket and created homemade pompoms for him to burrow into and I'm finding he enjoys that and it's easier for me to find him this way. Hedgehogs do get stressed when they can't find a place to hide to creating options for burrowing is a must.
Hedgehogs do like to move objects around in their cage so, don't be surprised to find stuff scattered everywhere, food dishes upside down, etc. Try opting for dishes with a bit of weight to them to avoid that dilemma and offer your hedgehogs things like toilet paper rolls cut down the middle for them to scoot around.
I started Tetley in a wire cage but, it was a bit too small for him, and it's very hard to keep the heat in a wire cage. It looked ridiculous with all the blankets and tinfoil over it so I purchased the clear plastic tub (which is what many hedgie owners use) to allow light in during the day, keep the heat in well, and give him some more space. You will have to find a way to clamp a heat emitter to the bin (if that's what you plan to use) or you can get a metal grate/chicken wire and make something for it to sit on which is what I've done. Hedgies need at least 4 square feet and he has just over that in his new tub. My dad recently upgraded him to about 6 square feet by refurbishing an old dresser. I have kept the bin because hedgehogs shouldn't be left for more than 24 hours and Tetley comes to the cottage with us. I throw all of his stuff inside, put the lid on and we're good to go!
Are Hedgehogs Clean Animals?
One thing hedgehogs do is poop. A LOT. If they're litter trained, that will help your clean up immensely however, it most likely won't stop them from pooping on their wheels. Hedgehogs poop when they run in the wild, so they tend to go on their wheel as they think it's being left behind them while running. If you plan to adopt a hedgie, definitely be prepared to clean a wheel daily and even give daily footbaths. Tetley is generally clean and will try to lick and bite his nails to clean them if he thinks they're dirty. I don't want to cuddle something that has poop all over their feet either. To help both of us out, I do give daily footbaths before cuddle time. Keep in mind, baths aren't all hedgies favourite activity but Tetley loves bath time so that makes things easier. Using soap too often can dry their skin out so keep in mind that daily footbaths are just with water. Tetley gets a full bath with a mild, unscented, tear-free, baby shampoo about once a month. I use a toothbrush to scrub his quills and then rinse him well with water. You have to be careful as to not get water in their ears as it could lead to an ear infection and you have to make sure they are nice and dry before going back to their cage. You can use the sink for footbaths, however, I find the bathtub easier and it allows Tetley room to explore. Footbaths are also great just before cuddling because most hedgehogs will go potty during this time. This eliminates a good amount of pee/poop in their cage daily and ensures they won't go on you.
What Should I Feed My Hedgie?
In the wild, hedgehogs are insectivores meaning that they eat bugs. Many argue that it should be their main diet and many argue that 1-2 tablespoons of cat kibble should be their main diet. I give Tetley 2 tablespoons of a high protein low-fat cat kibble as his main diet because hedgehogs in captivity tend to gain weight. It is important to weigh your hedgehog weekly to make sure it is gaining the proper amount of weight in the beginning and maintaining a healthy weight throughout their lifespan. The kibble I purchased meets all of the requirements to keep him healthy and he loves it. Some owners mix 2-3 different types of cat kibble to meet nutritional requirements or give their hogs up to 12 insects per day. I give Tetley insects as a treat and he gets 2-3 daily. I purchased freeze-dried in the beginning-not knowing how bad they were for him-and discovered too many of these can cause impactions because they're so dry. I still give them to him as a treat but only 1 every 2-3 days. They're like the potato chip of the hedgie world. Live worms will always be the healthiest and cheapest option, however, you can buy frozen and canned insects as well. You can also supplement a hedgies diet with things like plain scrambled/hardboiled eggs once per week, plain chicken, and SOME fruits/veggies. Hedgehogs don't digest fruits and veggies as well as other animals so they shouldn't be fed too much too often and be sure to research the kind as many can be toxic to hedgehogs.
Let's Talk Quirks...
Hedgehogs have a few behavioral habits that we don't often see in other household pets. To start, they anoint. The anointing is something that hedgehogs do when they like the smell of something new, are trying to blend in with that smell as a defense mechanism, or to mask their scent. Basically, hedgehogs will put whatever the smelly object is in their mouth, get a good taste, make a froth of spit, and then turn around and put it all over their quills using their tongue. Most commonly, Tetley does it when I give him something new that he likes. A common thing hedgehogs will anoint with are the peppermint chew sticks sold in the cat section of your local pet store. I bought one for Tetley and I lost track of how many times he anointed with it the first night he had it. It's always recommended to wash your hands before handling a hedgehog as they see with their nose (they're nocturnal and have poor sight) and will bite if they smell something on your hands they want to anoint with. To add a side note to this section, you can end up with more aggressive hedgehogs than others however, anytime that Tetley has bitten me, it has been to anoint. He has never bit out of aggression and uses his quills for self-defense.
Another hedgehog quirk is masturbation! Yes, they can and will masturbate because they're one of the very few animals who can reach their private areas. Although it's more common in males, females will do it as well. If this makes you uncomfortable at all, I would rethink owning a hedgehog because I have caught my guy doing that a few times. Tetley tends to do so in his cage but, some owners have stated that theirs have no shame and will start during a cuddle session on the couch.
Items You Should Purchase:
- Cage/plastic storage bin/vivarium/repurposed hedgie proof cabinet with AT LEAST 4 square feet of space for exploring
- Plastic, solid wheel with no gaps for little toesies to get caught in (Most hedgehog owners invest in the Carolina Storm Bucket Wheel. It's safe, large enough (so your hedgie isn't bending their spine while running), and best of all, completely quite! I never know when Tetley is on his wheel because I can't hear a thing
- A litter pan that can be placed under the wheel you purchase. It's highly recommended to set up this placement to keep the smell in the same spot. This will make it easier to litter train and clean
- Ceramic Heat Emitter with a dome at least 8.5 inches in diameter and a thermostat to regulate the heat. It's also good to have a backup thermometer for the other side of the cage.
- Fleece liners/bedding. Fleece liners will be safer as there's always a risk of mites in other bedding. Get a non-pilling, seamless piece of fleece from a fabric store or you can purchase liners from many shops on Etsy
- Toys such as ping pong balls, toilet paper rolls cut down the middle, PVC pipe (large enough for your hedgie to get through without getting stuck), mint stick, rubber duckies, pompoms, cat toys, etc.
- A plastic or fleece shelter for your hedgies cage & bonding pouches/scarves for cuddle time.
- Food and water bowls (Bottles are often not recommended as they can get their tongue caught in them). I use ergonomic, ceramic ones so he can easily access his kibble and water and the dishes are heavier so he cannot easily move them.
- Non-clumping, unscented, litter. I like to use paper pellets. Pine ones are also recommended. I leave a portion of mine in the freezer to eliminate any chance of mites.
- A high protein, low-fat cat kibble. I use the Simply Nourish chicken and oatmeal because it's pretty much right on the [ercentages needed to keep your hedgie healthy. Be sure to get an airtight container so mites cannot get in. There are good hedgehog specific formulas out there, however, do a lot of research before purchasing as the ones you can buy off Amazon or at Pet Smart are mostly made with fillers and don't meet a hedgehog's nutritional requirements.
- Wormies! Avoid anything freeze-dried. Live is always best. A lot of people supplement their hedgies diets with insects but I use mine as snacks/treats and give Tetley 2-3 per day. His cat kibble meats nutritional requirements.
- Unscented, mild, tear-free baby shampoo and a soft toothbrush for bath time.
- A small pet carrier for traveling in the car to vet appointments or vacations
- A small kitchen scale for weekly weigh-ins. I use a mechanical one just because it was inexpensive and I don't have to worry about batteries.
Thanks For Reading Before Purchasing!
Before buying Tetley, I did hours of research so I knew what I getting into. This definitely helped so I wasn't going in blind as hedgehogs are very demanding pets in certain ways. Two Facebook groups I am a part of are also a huge help as a first-time owner. If you plan to buy a hedgehog, Add yourself to Canadian Hedgehog Lovers and Hedgehog Talk on Facebook! Owning Tetley has been such a fun, and unique experience. I love cuddling with him and giving him baths. He's a great conversation starter and is such a great addition to our little family. For more updates on Tetley and to follow us on our adventures (whether they be thrifting or cottage trips) Follow @SecondHandChel on Instagram.