If you’re based in the UK, you will be very familiar with our native wild hedgehogs. However, the hedgehogs we’re referring to here are domesticated and look slightly different from those you’ve spotted in your back garden.
The most popular hedgehog species to be kept as pets in the UK is the domesticated African pygmy hedgehog. As with all pets, they do require specific environmental conditions in order for them to live a healthy and happy life. Therefore, before heading out to get one, it can be useful to be completely aware of their care requirements and what exactly is involved in keeping pygmy hedgehogs as pets.
From dietary requirements to housing, we’ll cover all you need to know about African pygmy hedgehog care in this blog article.
About the Breed
The African pygmy hedgehogs are solitary animals and can live between 3 to 6 years of age. As a nocturnal animal, they tend to sleep during the day and burst into life at night time.
These adorable pets are much smaller – around a quarter of the size – than a wild native hedgehog and are usually brown or albino. They are active creatures with inquisitive and gentle personalities, making them easy to handle. However, due to their prickly spines they are not the best choice of pet for young children.
Housing and Environment
Despite their small size, as active animals they do require a large enclosure – at least 1 metre of floor space – to enable them to fully display their instinctual behaviours – to roam and explore.
As they require a high amount of exercise, providing a wheel is a good idea or alternatively ensure you take them out of the cage daily for a good amount of time.
An ideal substrate would be wood shavings with shredded paper for bedding. Like cat’s they prefer to do their ‘business’ in a separate area, so provide a litter tray in a corner away from the main eating and sleeping areas.
Pygmy hedgehogs love to hide and snuggle up in a quite space. This can be achieved with a small cardboard box or something similar as their hiding and sleeping area.
In terms of temperate, you’ll need to keep them inside and if you have central heating, this should provide enough warmth to keep them from hibernating.
Pygmy Hedgehog Food
Hedgehogs are carnivores and in the wild would eat a variety of insects. There are a range of high-quality hedgehog food brands to choose from and this will ensure you provide optimal nutrition. In addition, as a treat, you can also feed live mealworms and crickets.
Their wild cousins would spend their time foraging for food so scattering the occasional mealworm or cricket around the enclosure can provide suitable enrichment and mental stimulation.
Pygmy hedgehogs need lots of exercise and can easily become obese without sufficient activity and the appropriate nutrition.
As with all pets, fresh water should always be available and this is best provided in water bottle or bowl.
Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant; therefore, you should never feed them dairy products like cheese. Doing so can cause serious illness and can even be fatal.
Handling and Petting
Unless already tamed, you’ll need to get your pet hedgehog used to being handled. Typically shy to begin with, it’s not uncommon for them to curl up in a ball when first handled. With patience and gentle handing, they will quickly become easy to handle.
The best way to handle a pygmy hedgehog is to gently cup them in your hands. Whilst the spines look dangerous, they rarely cause injury or harm, making wearing gloves unnecessary.
Regular cleaning is required to ensure the health and safety of your pet hedgehog. In general they are very clean animals and regularly groom themselves.
Each day you will need to refresh the litter tray and take out any soiled areas of bedding. Be sure to remove old food and provide fresh drinking water daily.
Once a week, you will need to clean the entire cage and replace with fresh substrate and bedding.
In a more natural environment, hedgehogs will wear down their claws. As this isn’t possible in captivity, they will need their claws clipping when they become too long. You can do this yourself with claw clippers or you may find your local vet will be able to do this for you.
Overall, most health problems are avoidable with good husbandry and care. However, common illnesses include obesity, mites, respiratory infections and eye injury or irritation.
Rarely, domesticated hedgehogs can contract WHS – Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome – which is a genetic condition causing progressive paralysis.