Pygmy Hedgehogs

All Your Questions Answered About Pygmy Hedgehogs

Do you have any questions about pygmy hedgehogs? You are in the right place! We created this post to cover the most frequently asked questions about these wonderful, yet exotic pets. Read on to know about these sweet small animals and how they work out as pets.

General questions about pygmy hedgehogs

In the following paragraphs, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about pygmy hedgehogs. If you are more interested in pygmy hedgehogs as pets, then scroll down to the next section. That one covers the aspects of having one in your home as a prickly, yet an oh-so-cute family member.

Who are pygmy hedgehogs?

When people talk about pygmy hedgehogs, they actually refer to African Pygmy Hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris). They originate from African eastern and central parts. The same species carries another name: Four-toed Hedgehogs. This hedgehog species still roams around the African wildlands. But part of the population is domesticated. You can find them in tens of thousands of households across the developed world. Also, this species features in many zoos worldwide.

So, how are they different from other hedgehogs?

African Pygmy Hedgehogs are the most popular pet hedgehogs. Incidentally, they are the smallest hedgehogs out there. Many proposed reasons exist why they conquered our households instead of other species. One of the most common theories is the following. The particular type of hedgehog was picked randomly at some point in history, but since they have been pets for quite a while, it’s the easiest to have an African Pygmy Hedgehog in your home. Also, there’s some pet-friendly trait selection that results from breeding these hedgehogs throughout the years.

How do these pygmy hedgehogs exactly look like?

Picture a hedgehog! Yes, that’s more or less how African Pygmy Hedgehogs look like. Except, they are smaller than you’d probably imagine. On average, these hedgehogs weigh anywhere between 1-1.5 lbs. In length, they grow no larger than 6 to 8 inches. There are a few characteristic physical traits that describe them best. Like other hedgehogs, they carry protective quills on their back. They have a pointed snout that people tend to find as very cute. Also, African Pygmy Hedgehogs have five toes in the front and four in the back. Their eyes are always dark.

So, pygmy hedgehogs have spines… Dangerous?

Yes, they do carry spines on their back. Hopefully, these are dangerous for any invading predators. But don’t worry. When the hedgehog relaxes, these spines won’t hurt you. And even when they get aggressive and curl into a ball, you are still able to handle them. The sensation of touching the relaxed spines is compared to running your hand across a hairbrush. And the quills in defense position resemble toothpicks. The sharpness of the quills depends on the individual hedgehog as well. Some hedgies have sharper spines than others.

A common misconception involves thinking that hedgehog spines are equal to porcupine quills. That’s not true. Barbed porcupine quills detach, yet the hedgehog spines carry a lot of physical stress without breaking away. If we want to be even more precise, hedgehogs have modified hair because the spines contain keratin. Also, hedgehog spines aren’t poisonous. That’s an urban legend, not a scientific fact.

What is their typical life span?

The expected life span depends on many variables, including diet, disease resistance, and genetic potential. Typically, they live anywhere between 3-6 years. Keep in mind that this is much longer compared to wild hedgehogs. The latter has an average life span of only two years. Further on, smaller animals tend to live shorter lives. For example, Chinese hamsters live 2-3 years on average.

What do they eat in the wild?

Hedgehogs are quite opportunistic eaters in the wild. Their menu isn’t too limited. Pygmy hedgehogs are scavengers, which means that they will go out during the night and seek all kinds of interesting food items. The typical meal includes berries, fruits, snails, worms, beetles, frogs, termites, and larvae. Of course, the particular menu depends on what they are able to find in the wild. In Africa, hedgehogs could even attack and kill some venomous snakes. They aren’t immune to the venom, but their bodies can adjust to some types of it.

What is the behavior of pygmy hedgehogs?

The key behavioral trait is the lack of social bonding. They love to be alone. Of course, there are moments when they communicate with other hedgehogs. But that takes place during the breeding season. Outside of that, animal behavior scientists note how the hedgehogs aren’t interested in social activities. Hedgehogs aren’t passive, though. They love to explore the surrounding environment. Also, they are territorial. When they sense that someone enters their territory, hedgies can become quite aggressive. These spiny creatures want to protect their territory and aren’t afraid to use different tactics for that purpose.

How do pygmy hedgehogs get babies?

The hedgehogs’ solitary nature changes during the breeding season. They start to look for contact with the opposite sex. And the hedgies become way noisier. The courtship ritual involves making a lot of sounds. These have been described as grunting and snuffling, among other inventive adjectives. The hedgehogs circle each other while making these peculiar sounds.

Sometimes another male may intrude the ritual. This situation ends in angry, yet not that dangerous sparring between the males. One of them leaves the area. The breeding time isn’t dictated by seasonality. Each hedgehog has its own inner mating rhythm. They will try to find others that match their expectations. And as you might imagine, the reproducing part needs both parties to be careful. Especially the female watches out not to accidentally harm her partner.

Hedgehogs are pregnant for about a month. On average, pregnancy results in 4-5 baby hoglets. They don’t have the spines when they are born. More precisely, the spines haven’t protruded from the skin yet. This mechanism serves to protect the mother. But it takes less than a day for the quills to surface. Usually, the hedgehog babies spend no more than 4-6 weeks with their mother. After separation from their mother, they start their own solitary lives. And as you might have guessed, the father isn’t in the picture during the pregnancy and the weeks after the hoglets are born.

What does ‘self-anointing’ mean?

African Pygmy Hedgehogs do something that’s called self-anointing. Many people don’t understand this behavior. When they first see it, some new owners may even rush to the vet. It looks so out of place! At first, the hedgehog creates a frothy substance in its mouth. After the concoction is ready, they spread it all over their quills. Most of the time, this behavior happens when they find a substance they haven’t come into contact before. Or it could be a familiar substance that’s just plain irritating to their body.

This behavior baffles even scientists. There are multiple theories that explain this action carried out by hedgehogs. One of the ideas focuses on the belief that hedgehogs do this for attention. For example, carrying an unfamiliar scent on your quills could attract a hedgehog from the opposite sex. Also, it could result from the instinct to drive away the predators. The strange smell could either confuse the potential enemies or just be foul enough to make them want to get away as soon as possible.

Questions about pygmy hedgehogs as pets

Are pygmy hedgehogs good pets?

Yes, they can be good pets, but only for the right people! What do we mean by that? It’s important to understand their nature and behavior before getting one. And it’s essential to know about the hedgies’ needs, such as housing, food, and ambient temperature. Ignoring these important issues sets you up for trouble. You could find out that hedgehogs’ behavioral traits aren’t what you’d expect from your pets. Even more serious is the fact that ignorance about the hedgehogs’ needs could end in medical problems or worse. The right people do their homework, accept their unique traits, and give their best to provide for all the pet’s needs.

Well, what are these ‘unique traits’, then?

People expect pets to be at least somewhat social. For example, dogs love human attention and even most cats seek at least some form of bonding. Hedgehogs don’t have the natural need to socialize. Since they are solitary creatures, too much interaction makes them tired. The lack of social stimulation doesn’t mean they are violent against humans. Instead, they will appear shy and keep to themselves.

But don’t get us wrong. Hedgehogs aren’t passive. They love to explore and play, it’s just on their own terms. That’s why part of the time spent with your hedgehog means observation, not direct contact. Still, you are able to slowly initiate cuddling and participatory playtime as well. Just don’t push it. Give them enough space. Also, watch out for any signs of stress. Biting and defense position show you clearly that it’s time to let them have some individual time and space.

How can I find a pet hedgehog?

Try to find a reputable breeder. This is a better option compared to getting a hedgehog from a regular pet store. Professionals know how to keep the hedgies healthy, what to look out for, and give useful information about their emerging behavioral traits. And we said emerging because the best time to take a hedgehog is when they are around 6-8 weeks old.

Bonding is an important process. When they are still very young, there’s a higher chance of creating a more meaningful connection between the owner and the hedgehog. Of course, the bond will never resemble something like between dogs and people. It’s more about getting used to the scents, touches, and other sensory experiences that are linked to the particular owner.

When you pick the hedgehog, try to choose one that doesn’t fight against your hand. It’s better to pick one that’s more open to having a new owner. But beware, some very sweet hedgehogs could just have a natural reaction to a new scent. You see them rolled up into a ball and think that they have a bad personality. That might not be true at all! That’s why it’s smart to give plenty of time for exploring the different pet candidates.

Are there any red flags to watch out for?

Sure, some hedgehogs might be sick. Better to avoid them and let the professional breeders get them healthy again. The typical red flags include discharge from the eyes, mouth (don’t confuse with self-anointing), or nose. Also, if some of the quills are missing or there’s any skin inflammation, then this is also a certain sign of some disease.

What do they need in the cage?

Start off by picking the right bedding. Wood shavings aren’t a great idea: some wood shavings are dangerous for them while all shavings could cause minor injuries to the soles of their feet. Instead, opt for recycled paper or pulp. Have two food bowls in the cage. One for the dry food, and the other one for wet food. Water is essential to all animals. Decide between a drinking bottle complete with a stopper or a regular drinking bowl. Both food and water bowls need to be heavy enough not be easily knocked over.

What do they need in the cage?

Start off by picking the right bedding. Wood shavings aren’t a great idea: some wood shavings are dangerous for them while all shavings could cause minor injuries to the soles of their feet. Instead, opt for recycled paper or pulp. Have two food bowls in the cage. One for the dry food, and the other one for wet food. Water is essential to all animals. Decide between a drinking bottle complete with a stopper or a regular drinking bowl. Both food and water bowls need to be heavy enough not be easily knocked over.

An exercise wheel is very important. Hedgies need exercise because they could get obese. A litter box is optional as not all hedgehogs have what it takes to be litter trained. Hiding area is a nice thing to have. Sometimes your hedgie gets scared or upset, then it’s great for them to have a place to decompress. Also, you could put more toys in the cage. Any toys will do that have been approved for small animals.

Do pygmy hedgehogs need temperature regulation?

Yes, they really need that! The temperature in and around the cage needs to be between 73-78° F. Warmer temperatures lead to overheating and health problems. Low temperatures can result in hibernation and death. Usually, owners are advised to use heating pads and space heaters. It’s mandatory to follow all the safety instructions. Otherwise, there’s a high risk of burns and fires that can result in significant injuries or worse.

What do pygmy hedgehogs eat?

Living near a well-stocked pet store means you could find speciality hedgehog food. But that’s not the case for everyone. Instead, you’ll do fine giving them dry cat food or high-grade dog food. It’s just that you need to specifically scan the ingredients list for anything that’s unsuitable for hedgehogs. Just blindly taking one of these pet foods could result in death. Also, you could give your hedgehog insects (not wild-caught nor from the fishing store), fruits and vegetables (with many notable exceptions), lean meat, and boiled eggs.

What kind of food should I never give to my hedgehog?

African Pygmy Hedgehogs fail to tolerate quite many foods that we consume on a regular basis. Never give the food items on the following list to your hedgehog. Otherwise, there’s always a risk that some of the dangerous foods could become fatal for them. Note that the list isn’t conclusive. When in doubt, check online or consult the vet to stay on the safe side.

  • Allium vegetables (such as garlic, onions, etc)
  • Avocados
  • Canned food for human consumption
  • Citrus
  • Chocolate
  • Eggs (fried, raw, poached, etc)
  • Fish
  • Milk or milk products
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts
  • Pineapple
  • Potatoes
  • Processed food
  • Raisins, grapes
  • Raw meat
  • Seeds
  • Tomatoes
  • Wild-caught insects and worms

Can you litter train pygmy hedgehogs?

Yes, but not all pygmy hedgehogs will show any results from the training. You definitely need a lot of patience to pull this off. Using the litter box isn’t something natural for your hedgehog. They will have to learn a completely new habit and skill. First, you should put the litter box where your hedgehog loves to poop the most. The litter pan needs to be easily accessible. Inside the pan, have paper towels or paper cat litters ready for use.

Part of the training means putting the poop that’s lying around inside the litter pan. This sends a clear signal to your hedgie where all the poop needs to be. Give them enough time for litter training. Before giving up, you should hold the litter routine for at least three weeks. When nothing happens, then don’t be too disappointed. Since it’s highly unnatural for hedgies to use a litter pan, it isn’t something that would be a viable solution for all hedgehogs.

What medical issues could they face?

There’s a wide variety of potential medical problems. It’s the same with people or other animals. Still, some diseases and conditions are more likely than others. Externally, fleas, mites, and ticks could easily create trouble for your hedgie. Internally, bacteria, viruses, and parasites can intrude your hedgehog’s body. The particular symptoms depend on the pathogens.

Dental problems are common among hedgehogs. Similarly to people, they can experience gingivitis and oral tumors. Other potential medical issues include urinary tract infections, respiratory problems, heart disease, and even cancer. The latter is a prominent cause of death among hedgehogs that are older than three years. The main types of cancer are the mouth and stomach ones.

Another medical issue concerns obesity. Since domesticated hedgehogs have much less time to explore around, they are at a higher risk of getting fat. Food restriction is important because hedgies are able to eat a lot of food without thinking about the surplus calories. One thing to keep in mind is that obesity raises the risk of other illnesses. For example, fatty liver disease and heart attacks are both linked to dangerous obesity.

And what about the Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome?

This disease affects all hedgehogs. You are easily able to spot the symptoms. But beware, sometimes the same symptoms could mean something else. When you see that your hedgie tries to stand still, they can’t help it and start wobbling. It’s a progressive disease that starts from the hind legs. It moves slowly towards the front legs. Advanced cases mean the hedgehog has no control over the limbs anymore. Usually, it takes around 20 months to progress from the first symptoms to death. Currently, there’s no cure available, only supportive care.

Pygmy hedgehogs: the bottom line

When we talk about pygmy hedgehogs, we actually refer to African Pygmy Hedgehogs. It’s the most common pet hedgehog species. Incidentally, they are the smallest hedgehogs in the world. Originating from Africa, they become a more popular pet choice with every passing year. Still, people need to know what they sign up for. Their nature is very different from cats and dogs. Even different from other small animals like guinea pigs.

Pgymy hedgehogs are solitary creatures. Too much playtime and interaction cause stress for them. At the same time, they need time to explore, exercise, and to eat a variety of foods. Owners need to be conscious of the hedgehogs’ special needs. A constant ambient temperature, a cage with all the necessary equipment, and a solid understanding of dietary requirements are all essential for giving them a healthy place to live.

These small hedgehogs can get sick like any other animals. Watch out for obvious signs as not eating enough, lethargy, weight loss, or skin problems. Definitely consider other small or big animals if you want a lot of attention from your pet. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are the best choice for a more observant owner who delights in watching their hedgehog explore the world.