WHAT IS AN AFRICAN PYGMY HEDGEHOG?
The African Pygmy Hedgehog is an exotic pet, about 6-8" long and between 1/2 and 1 1/2lb in weight (though usually they are measured in grams). They have soft fur on their bellies and face, and hard, pointy spines (not quills) on the top portion of their body. They have a special muscle that runs along their back that allows them to tighten themselves into a ball if they are frightened or threatened. They can also cross their spines as a form of protection. They come in a variety of colors from white to black, and their spines are banded - meaning they have multiple stripes on each spine. They have 5 toes on their front feet and 4 on their back. They are not rodents, but instead, part of the family Erinaceidae.
DO THEY BITE?
They CAN bite, but generally speaking, they do not bite. You will almost always know before your hedgehog decides to bite you if you pay attention to the signs. He will lick you first because you smell good and he wants to you know what you taste like. Then after a lick (or five) he will chomp on you. You can stop him from doing this by moving him or your hand when he starts licking. He will also bite you if you stick your finger in his face. He thinks you're feeding it to him!
WHAT DO THEY EAT?
In the wild they would eat bugs, dead things, and smaller animals than them. They get most of their fiber from the exoskeletons of insects and lack the ability to digest fiber from plant sources the same way we do.
In captivity, most people feed them dry cat or kitten food. They require protein between 32-36% and fat between 12-18%, depending on the age and activity level of the hedgehog. Higher fat can lead to obesity. Higher protein can lead to kidney issues. Grains are not well digested, so a grain free food is also best. A hedgehog eats about 1-1.5 tbsp of kibble a day, again, depending on size and age of the hedgehog.
For a treat, they can eat live mealworms or crickets. It is best to buy these and not take them from your garden. This will ensure they are suitable for feeding. Mealworms are high in fat and should be given only as a treat, not as a meal.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CARE FOR THEM?
A cage or enclosure that is at least 4 square feet in total area
Bedding. No cedar, it is toxic to them. Pine - pellets or shavings - is preferred, but you can also use fleece or CareFresh.
Heat set up. This is similar to reptiles - hedgehogs will try to hibernate and can die if they are too cold.
A wheel to run on. This wheel must be large enough for your hedgehog - 11" ("giant") or larger is the right size. It should not be metal bars - their tiny feet can fall through and they can get hurt.
A hideaway or house that is dark. Hedgehogs burrow in the wild and hide to sleep. You can give them a safe place to sleep by providing a guinea pig sized house made of wood or plastic. Cardboard is ok temporarily, but will mold or attract bugs from being moist.
Good food (see above) and a food dish. They will probably flip it over and dump all the food out, so ceramic or glass is better than plastic here.
A water bottle or dish. Some hedgehogs drink more from a water bowl than a water bottle. If you use a dish, you will need to change it every day because the hedgie will put things (bedding, food, poop) in it. A bottle attached to the side of their cage at the height of their mouth will work, too.
Light for 8-12 hours a day. You want them thinking it is spring or summer so they don't want to hibernate.
(optional) a 12" square of fleece or flannel for use as a blanket. They like to make nests and burrow and some hedgies will carry a blankie around with them.
A toothbrush and hedgehog safe soap for bathtime, and small nail clippers to trim their nails.
CUDDLES! If you want your hedgehog to stay friendly, you need to take him out and hold him every day.
DO THEY GET SICK?
Generally speaking, no. The most common thing that you should be wary of is if the hedgehog begins to get a cold belly and walk slower, because this could be a sign he is going into torpor (hibernation). You should try to warm him up with a heat lamp. If you have a good heat setup to begin with, you should be fine, but accidents happen and power outages occur in the dead of winter - especially here in Illinois!
They can also get mites, which are tiny, tiny bugs. Your hedgehog would start losing fur and quills if he had mites. You might also see them in the bath. If this happens, you should take him to the vet for some medication. This is contagious to other hedgehogs, and possibly other animals like birds or small animals.
Just like any animal, they can get an upper respiratory infection - which would be signified by a lot of sneezing and snot. This would require antibiotics, again from your vet. It is highly contagious to other hedgehogs if your hedgehog has this.
Other things to watch out for would be diarrhea, constipation, not eating or drinking, blood coming from anywhere. They bleed a lot when they bleed, and often if they cut themselves they are fine once you find them and the mess is worse than the injury. If they continue to bleed, you should take them to the vet.
CAN YOU PLAY WITH THEM?
My husband plays tug with one of our hedgehogs, Spike! But mostly, you can hold them or let them run around and follow you where you go. They're similar to hamsters or bunnies - you can pet them, they have personalities, and they are fun to watch, but you can't really teach them to fetch or sit up like a dog.
WILL THEY GET ALONG WITH MY DOG/CAT/CHILD?
Hedgehogs are solitary animals and should not be housed with other animals - including other hedgehogs.
Dogs and cats may see your hedgehog as prey. It is not advisable to leave your other pet alone with your hedgehog while he is out of the cage. I have a dog who would chew apart a cage to get to the hedgehog inside if given the chance. I also have a dog who runs the other way when he sees one. The hedgehogs know the difference between the dogs and are not afraid of the runner, but are afraid of the chewer.
Your children may not be used to what a hedgehog feels like, and could be frightened by the hedgehog if it suddenly goes into a ball and pricks your child. Please use caution when letting young children (under 7) handle hedgehogs. The hedgehog is an animal and should be treated carefully, really young children may swat it or poke it and this would not be good for the hedgehog or the child. Hedgehogs can live for 5 or years - they are not disposable and if your child wants one, it may become your pet when your child tires of it. Please consider this before purchasing one.
WHAT IS BAD FOR HEDGEHOGS?
There are many opinions in the hedgehog world, so a lot of things you may see contradictory information on. Here at Prickle Pack, these are the things we believe are bad for hedgehogs, and why we believe it:
Cedar bedding - the oil is toxic to them
Hamster balls - the lack of ventilation and jarring nature of crashing into things is not good for them. If you want your hedgehog to run around, let it run around.
The cold - you do not want your hedgehog going into torpor (hibernation) and exposure to cold will do that.
Nuts - they can get lodged on the roof of their mouth and then they will stop eating
Housing multiple hedgehogs together - males and females will breed - from the time the male is 7 weeks old. Any other combination may fight.
Free feeding - obesity may seem "cute" but it is extremely unhealthy for your hedgehog.
Toilet paper tubes - I'm sure you've seen this. They are trying to get inside the tube to hide but they can't fit. This may be funny, once, but it's actually mean - they get stuck and can't get out and then bash into things until the tube falls off.
Feeding wild-caught insects - you do not know if it has poison on or in it which your hedgehog would then consume. Feed only ones you have raised yourself or purchased as food.