How to Keep a Pet Hedgehog Healthy

Written by christine cam
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The African pygmy hedgehog is fast becoming a popular breed for pets of this nature in the United States. This is not a pet for the faint of heart, though it could be an exotic pet alternative for those suffering from fur allergies. Friendly in nature, don't let the hedgehog's spiny exterior fool you. A hedgehog can be a true companion for their 8 to 10 year lifespan. Keeping a pet hedgehog healthy is not as hard as it may seem. Here are a few easy steps to start you off on the right track.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • African pygmy hedgehog
  • Exotic pet veterinarian
  • Leather/rubber bite gloves
  • Cage
  • Cage lining material
  • Cat litter scoop
  • Hedgehog food/vitamins
  • Mealworms
  • Food and water bowls
  • Pan for bathing
  • Dog shampoo
  • Pin brush

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  1. 1

    Find a reputable hedgehog breeder online or in your area. Pet shops should not be ruled out as they are bound by state laws to provide health guarantees. Getting off to a healthy start is crucial to the lifespan and social abilities of the hedgehog.

  2. 2

    Check the pet hedgehog for bald spots anywhere on its body. Bald spots, or lack of spines, is a sign of an underlying problem. While it may just be a stress issue, it could also be a sign of pest infestation or worse.

  3. 3

    Take a new pet hedgehog to the veterinary office straight from the point of purchase. Find a veterinarian that specialises in exotic pets and schedule an appointment for the day you are to take home the pet. If the pet does not pass the examination, return it to the breeder immediately.

  1. 1

    Purchase or make an extra large single story cage for the hedgehog. If you choose to make a cage, use a metal pan for a base and wire for walls as hedgehogs have very sharp teeth and can chew through wood. Each hedgehog must have its own cage as they are extremely territorial animals. African pygmy hedgehogs need a large ground area to protect as their own, so a small cage will not suffice.

  2. 2

    Provide a sleeping box in each cage. Hedgehogs like to sleep with a roof over their heads. If none is provided, it will burrow down into the cage liner material and cause a mess. The sleeping box can be made of a safe chewing wood, not a treated wood.

  3. 3

    Line the bottom of the cage with newspaper and aspen wood chips. Since it is virtually impossible to potty train a hedgehog, properly lining the cage will aid in cleaning the cage. The hedgehog cage should be scooped with a cat litter scoop daily and completely cleaned out every week to week and a half.

  1. 1

    Purchase hedgehog maintenance food. Hedgehogs are insectivores, so no amount of dry pet food can provide all of the nutrients for health. A well balanced hedgehog diet consists of: hedgehog food, protein supplement (minced raw chicken), vitamin supplement (usually in drop form), and mealworms. Hedgehogs love bananas too, a tiny piece each day is fine.

  2. 2

    Give the hedgehog treats of raw chicken necks (cut into pieces) or shrimp for an extra calcium boost and to keep the pet’s teeth sharp and white. This can be done once a week as a bonding experience with your pet.

  3. 3

    Provide fresh water at all times. You can use a bowl or a water bottle for this, I preferred the water bottle for cleanliness. If you opt for a water bottle, be sure to hang it low enough for the hegehog to reach it easily.

  1. 1

    Use heavy leather or rubber bite gloves when handling a new or scared pet hedgehog. It may seem obvious from the prickly exterior, but it is human nature to want to touch our pets. Until the hedgehog knows your scent and climbs willingly into your hand, wear gloves for protection.

  2. 2

    Pick up the hedgehog safely by placing a gloved hand under the pet and wood chips in the cage, then slowly opening your fingers under the pet to let the wood chips fall back to the cage floor. The hedgehog will ball up and spike out, this is normal. Move slowly and let the animal come out of its balled position before proceeding.

  3. 3

    Set up a bath for the hedgehog by placing about 2 inches or less of water in a leakproof high sided bowl or pan. Make sure that your pet can not easily escape, but can easily be handled.

  4. 4

    Add just a drop or 2 of dog shampoo and agitate the water to get it to dissolve. Don’t use anything more harsh than a drop or 2 of dog shampoo.

  5. 5

    Put on chemical rubber gloves or bite gloves and place the hedgehog in the bath water. Hedgehogs do not like baths--luckily this only needs to be done twice a year, unless there is a parasite infestation.

  6. 6

    Use a pin brush in the direction of spine growth to gently wash the debris and parasites off of the hedgehog. Be careful not to get soap or water in the eyes or nose of the pet. Try to keep stress to a minimum, use soothing tones and work quickly.

  7. 7

    Remove the hedgehog from the bath and place on a dry, low-nap towel. Let the pet calm down, then blot dry with warm towels. Keep the pet warm until it is completely dry, do not use a forced air dryer on a hedgehog.

Tips and warnings

  • Let your new hedgehog get used to its surroundings before trying to handle (unless parasites are found, then a bath is needed immediately). The first few days with a hedgehog should be calm and very quiet.
  • Place your hands in the cage several times a day and allow the pet to get used to your scent. Soon it will approach your hand and want to investigate more.
  • Always use leather gloves when holding a young or new hedgehog, a sudden noise in the house can turn it into a quick ball of spikes that draws blood instantly.
  • Many pet shops and breeders will offer dry cat or dog food to young hedgehogs. This is OK for an emergency, but provides too much fat and not enough protein and calcium.
  • Always insist that children wear leather gloves when handling a pet hedgehog and never leave a child unattended with a loose exotic animal.
  • Don’t feed your hedgehog an overly wet diet as diarrhoea may occur.
  • Mealworms are an essential part of a hedgehog’s diet, they can be crunched up first or fed live. Do not hand feed mealworms to hedgehogs as they have very sharp teeth and not so sharp eyesight.
  • To keep a pet hedgehog healthy, never feed it cold food. Let food come up to room temperature before feeding time.
  • As with all small caged pets, don't line the cage with cedar or pine chips as respiratory problems will arise.

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