An Honest Guide To Owning A Pet Pygmy Hedgehog
Monday, 27th June, 2016
I forget how unusual it is to own a pet hedgehog (aka – a spikey-floof). There’s been countless times where I’ve casually mentioned how ‘my pet hedgehog…’ and the other person has asked me to repeat myself in confusion that you can actually own a hedgehog as a pet.
Now, don’t go trying to pluck one from the bottom of your garden as pet hedgehogs are a completely different breed to what you find in the wild. They’re called African Pygmy Hedgehogs whom are bred as pets, so for all those who sometimes comment saying ‘He should be free in the wild where he belongs’, no he shouldn’t because he isn’t wild and he wouldn’t survive.
So what’s it like owning a pet hedgehog?
Well, it’s pretty darn convenient for one. They’re nocturnal so he sleeps during the day when we’re out at work and we get him out at night (around 8pm) for him to roam around and play. I say play, he likes to burrow in the nearest dark space, push around a couple cat balls and climb the nearest piece of furniture so I guess you could call it exploring rather than play. Because let’s be honest, they’re not dogs, they won’t react to their name (although Hokey does react to my voice), fetch a stick or chase a laser pen.
They are an exotic pet so of course they require a lot of unusual maintaining from oat baths to non chemical cleaning to dust free housing to constant requirement of warmth. Which being an exotic animal also means the vet bills are a little more expensive as a specialist is required.
However with enough time, handling and care they are incredibly rewarding especially when their little personalities show through.
Are they affectionate?
Some say yes other say no. It is completely dependent on the hedgehog’s personality. I’ve owned two pygmy hedgehogs (one of which sadly died young for unknown reasons- RIP Pokey) and both of their personalities are complete opposites. My first hedgehog was fearless, energetic and didn’t like too much attention. She’d intentionally jump off of the sofa, run around like a kid of sugar and wasn’t too keen on being petted. But ‘Hokey’ couldn’t be more different. He’s very cautious when he’s on a table or the couch and won’t risk falling off of anywhere, he has his energetic moments but prefers to find a cosy, dark spot to fall asleep in, loves his tummy being rubbed and doesn’t mind being woken up early.
What do they live in?
What do they need in their home?
Firstly they need some cushion under their feet so dust free shredded cardboard is a must. I get so angry when I go into pet shops and they have them living on sawdust, they have such tiny respiratory systems that this is really, really unhealthy for them especially as they like to snuggle into their bedding. Even shredded paper isn’t great as they will cut their tiny little feet *sigh*.
They also require the following:
- A waterproof liner for the vivarium – To keep the vivarium as clean as possible and to not damage the natural wood with spilt water and urine we put down a waterproof outdoor table cover which you can buy in metres online or at your local haberdashery.
- A silent wheel (as they run miles and miles over night) but again it needs to be a straight wheel with no wires! I have no idea why but you can buy these slanted disc wheels which are incredibly dangerous for any animal as not only is it easy to fall off but eventually their spines will bend and it could cause them to be paralysed.
- Litter/ litter tray – It is a hedgehog’s natural instinct to poop whilst they run, this way predators in the wild cannot track them back to their home as they won’t (for a term of phrase) ‘S**t on their own doorstep’. For this they require a litter tray under the wheel and no other litter is to be used other than wood based. Wood base crumbles into a wood like powder when wet so it won’t stick to their paws.
- House – Just like most animals, hedgehogs like to sleep in the dark and need somewhere that is big enough for them to make themselves at home with a piece of blanket.
- Food/ water bowls – Hedgehogs in the wild naturally drink from small water sources on the ground so their food and drink needs to be kept in small ceramic bowls (the heavier the better as hedgehog will lean on the bowl and push around their food). Do not buy water bottles as their small tongues could get stuck in the spout and that’s incredibly dangerous.
- Toys – Hedgehogs like to pull on things so when buying toys for their vivarium try not to get things that contain faux fur or anything that could be a choking hazard if tugged at. The best things to get are cat toys. Hokey has a couple of plastic balls that contain bells and a toy rabbit which I have attached a shoe lace in which he loves to pull into his house and sleep with *cue Aww*.
What do they eat?
Firstly hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and their diet mainly consists of high protein, low fat dry cat food (always chicken flavour). We tend to give Hokey a mix of Purina Adult Chicken and Iams Kitten Chicken together but he does have the preference of Purina! Dry cat food is great for cleaning their teeth so it’s best to give it them as often as possible however you can feed those vegetables, egg, poultry and a small range of fruits that aren’t acidic. We tend to give Hokey scrambled egg, chicken, broccoli, sweet potatoe, beef, and carrots every so often to keep him interested and his nutrition up.
Hedgehogs do have a long list of foods that they can and cannot eat as some foods are poisonous and others aren’t great for their health or their tummy >you can find a list here<.
A hedgehog’s weight can fluctuate a lot dependent on what they’re eating and how long they are spending on the wheel. It has been known that they can become addicted to the wheel so if you notice they’re no longer a tear drop shape or weigh less than they should then remove the wheel for a couple days and up their food intake. Sometimes if Hokey is looking a little smaller than normal but it has happened over a long period we will just add wet cat food into his diet as it contains fat. Again this should not contain any dairy and the chicken to jelly ratio has to be high (we find Sheba Chicken Classic in Terrine contains real bite sized chicken chunks and less jelly).
How often do you need to clean a hedgehog’s home?
Spot cleaning should be done on a day to day basis. Hedgehogs aren’t the cleanest of animals, especially when it comes to their feet as they tend to poop as they run on the wheel, so if there is any visible poop marks on the equipment it’s best to wipe it off with a tissue or a wet cloth. As for changing the litter we do this approximately every 4 days, it’s as easy as emptying the litter into the bin, giving the tray a quick clean and popping in some fresh litter. Just as we’re cleaning out the litter we will also take the opportunity to clean the wheel. Just like any small pet you should not use any chemical based products to clean their home. You can buy pet safe products but we tend to use a natural, organic and chemical free cleaning spray which contains grapefruit as a natural antibacterial. When it comes down to cleaning the whole vivarium and refreshing the cardboard we do this on a weekly to bi-weekly basis dependent on how messy the vivarium is.
It may sound silly but hedgehogs do have a beauty routine to keep them happy and healthy.
- Their nails need to be clipped whenever they are too long (Hokey’s back nails grow rapidly and I usually need to do this weekly). To clip their nails I use a baby nail clipper. Fortunately over the months Hokey has gotten used to having his nails clipped and will let me do this with him sat on a surface however previously one of us had to hold him whilst the other clipped his nails, trying incredibly hard not to cut further than pink bit!
- They also require a nightly ‘foot bath’ as running on the wheel with urine can sometime chap their feet but also it also means that it Is safer for you when handling as their faeces does contain salmonella. We usually pop him in some foot deep warm water and use a soft toothbrush to clean his feet.
- Bath times are a must but not too often. We typically bath Hokey every 1.5 weeks either using natural oats in a sock and submerging this in the water, squeezing out the oat liquid every so often (oats are a natural way to help too soften their skin as they can suffer from dry skin) or using a chemical free, oat bath wash (the Aveeno Bath Wash is perfect). Again using a tooth brush to clean his quills and feet, making sure we don’t get any water in his ears!
Things to remember:
- They require a lot of care as they are an exotic pet which also means that vet bills can be more costly than your average as they require a specialist.
- They’re not the cleanest of animals so they do require regular foot baths (everyday) and the occasional (every 2ish weeks) oat bath for their quills.
- I’m always sure to tell people that not all hedgehogs are as relaxed and as happy as Hokey. My previous hedgehog wasn’t one for tummy rubs and massages so please don’t think all pygmy hedgehogs are like the ones you see on Instagram. They all have different personalities and although the cute videos of Hokey on Instagram having a shower or a tummy rub are as adorable as it looks; they’re not all like that. Some aren’t fans of human attention at all and will huff, puff and click until you leave them alone but with daily handling they may grow to like attention… that doesn’t always mean being petted though!
- Hedgehogs are solitary animals, they like their own company and should not be put in with other hedgehogs.
- Just like us they have moods, one day they could be happy as Larry but the next they might be a moody huffy butt.
- They require daily handling, care and attention to be happy and healthy.
- They are not a part of the rodent family so they won’t bite or chew unless you have something tasty on your fingers or if you’re Hokey you love freshly painted nail varnish.
- They anoint. Yes, if they love the smell of something, be sure that they will foam at the mouth, perform some contortion and lick it all over their quills.
- Patience is required when you first get your hedgehog. They’re very shy and require a few weeks to suss out if you’re a friend or enemy.
So if you have patience, are prepared to give the hedgehog a lot of your time each night, are willing to purchase all the unusual necessities that are required and can afford the extra vet bills that may (but fingers crossed don’t) come your way then maybe a pygmy hedgehog is for you. But please do your research properly on pygmy hedgehogs and breeders. Do not purchase any from pet shops that are kept in the incorrect housing, you’re only funding them to buy in more.
For more photos and videos of Hokey the hedgehog, be sure to follow him on Instagram@hokeyhedgie