Hedgehogs make wonderful pets, but many new owners aren’t exactly sure what they need to buy before getting one. What kind of food should you have? Do they need a hiding place? How to keep them warm? In this article, you’ll learn all about what you need for your prickly family member prior to introducing them to their new home.
Before delving into details, it’s important to remember the essentials you need to get sorted when taking a hedgehog:
- Hiding place
- Water bottle
All of these, except for the hiding place, is absolutely essential for keeping your friend happy, healthy, and safe. Other things, such as toys and a brush, are great for keeping a hedgehog around but aren’t the part of the bare minimum.
Now, we’ll take a closer look at all of the things you need for a hedgehog and guide you through the important details. This will make your planning and shopping much easier. Later on, you’ll learn about stuff that’s nice to have but won’t make or break your hedgehog’s quality of life.
Whether you choose to build your own cage or pick a ready-made cage for saving time and money, it’s important to know that hedgehogs need at least 2.5 to 3 square feet of space in their living area. Taking more than one hedgehog means that you need to double that cage space by the number of pets you take. Small cages lead to higher stress levels. When you consider the long-term effects, serious health damage could occur if you put your hedgehogs in a cage that’s actually designed for smaller animals with different needs. As you’ll see, the cage needs to house quite a few important things; for example, there needs to be enough room for food, dish, exercise wheel, and a separate area for hiding.
Many fresh owners look at their hedgehog’s size and feel their new family member doesn’t need that much space. It’s true that they aren’t large creatures, but they are very active. The activity levels should be reflected in the cage floor choice: wire floor gets painful quite fast as the bedding might become uneven! Multi-level cages, on the other hand, are a great choice as most hedgehogs never say no to a nice climbing adventure.
When you are trying to find a place for the cage, keep it away from air conditioners, heaters that aren’t designated for the hedgehog, and windows. And keep the cage where the daily cycles of light and dark are clearly felt and seen. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and need to experience these cycles to keep their body healthy.
No hedgehog cage is complete without adequate bedding. Fortunately, there are many types of bedding that will keep them happy. Most small animal bedding works, yet there’s one thing that must be avoided at all costs. Cedarwood chips or mixed wood chips containing cedar should be out of the question. Cedar tree contains aromatic oils that are potentially damaging to a hedgehog’s lungs. In serious cases, continuous respiratory issues may lead to sudden death.
Cedar aside, both recycled paper and wood chips work just fine. When it comes to wood shavings, aspen and pine are the most popular choice, but it all boils down to personal preferences. Bedding solutions have different properties as some are more absorbent and heavier, while others absorb less, but offer a lighter and softer touch. Keep in mind that some paper beddings might easily get stuck between your hedgehog’s spines. Mostly, it’s a matter of testing and trying out different solutions.
People are surprised when they hear that hedgehogs, in the wild, are mainly insectivores who frequently eat whatever becomes available. That doesn’t mean you should feed your hedgehog ‘whatever becomes available’. Your new pets will happily eat commercial hedgehog food, but that might not always be an option for everybody. Sometimes ordering online takes some time and your local pet store doesn’t even stock up on hedgehog food. In this case, dry cat food that has low fat and high protein content does the trick.
Actually, many people feed cat food on a regular basis because it might be cheaper; plus, there’s a common myth considering hedgehog food. Since the first designated hedgehog food was substandard, there’s still a belief that cat food is more nutritious and better for the prickly buddy. That’s not the case anymore as pet food companies have put a lot of money into researching the optimal solutions for keeping your hedgehog healthy.
In addition to dry food, which should be the primary source of energy, moist cat meals mainly made from chicken or other high-quality protein are an important part of your pet’s diet. Some fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be forgotten as well. Apples, beans, carrots, corn, and peas make up the typical hedgehog fare in most homes.
And yes, hedgehogs love treats, but you have to be careful because they can easily get fat! Crickets, eggs, and mealworms provide a nice surprise for your hedgehog. Just don’t go overboard in the treat department! Always avoid dairy, avocados, raw meat, chocolate, all nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, and tomatoes along with onions, garlic, and mushrooms.
Wild hedgehogs hibernate, but pet hedgehogs never do that. That’s why it’s important the temperature in the cage is constantly nice and warm without any sudden fluctuations. The ideal temperature for hedgehogs is between 75 to 80 degrees F. Blankets and bedding are a great idea, but some owners have a need to invest in special heating solutions, such as heat lamp fixtures or ceramic heat emitters.
Ceramic heat emitter is better because when you keep the light on at night (their active time), your hedgehog might be less inclined to exercise and move around the cage. If that happens regularly, your pet might pack on some extra pounds. And that’s a problem!
As you just learned, hedgehogs are sensitive to temperature. You might have a thermometer in another room, but it’s very important to remember that house temperature can vary more than 10 degrees between the different rooms.
Homes with centralised heating units aren’t an exception and a thermostat isn’t a reliable device when it comes to keeping your hedgehogs comfortable. Keep the thermometer as close to the cage as possible in order to accurate readings. Before bringing your hedgehog home, monitor the temperature for 24 hours, so that you can be sure the rooms are healthy for the new pet.
#6 Hiding place
Covered shelters make hedgehogs feel secure. While there are many pet hedgehogs out there living without a hiding place, we still recommend you to get one. For example, there might be sudden noises that make them feel scared. Having a shelter provides them a way of escaping frightening noises and activities. There’s a variety of shelters available. It should just be big enough for them to move around because they instinctively turn around instead of backing out when things get too tight.
Your hedgehog’s wheel isn’t a fun toy on the ‘maybe list’. It’s a critically important part of their cage because they can run over 10 miles every night. Opt for the flat-bottomed wheels instead of the ones made from wire. Hedgehogs’ feet are tiny and they can easily get stuck between the wires when running the nightly laps. Another thing to consider is the wheel’s diameter. Pick a wheel that’s 12 inches or even larger.
#8 Water bottle
All hedgehogs need a steady supply of clean water that’s regularly changed to keep it as fresh as possible. Basically, you have two options: a water bowl placed somewhere in the cage or a water bottle that’s attached with a wire to one side of the cage. Being a new owner means that you could test out both options and see whichever your hedgehog likes the most.
So, what do you need for a hedgehog?
Think about your room’s temperature: the optimal one for hedgehogs is between 75 to 80 degrees F. If you can’t guarantee a steady temperature, you should use a heating device like a ceramic heat emitter. When you have that part checked, it’s time to pick a cage. Your pet needs at least 2.5 to 3 square meters of space, pick a cage accordingly.
The cage’s floor needs to be covered in bedding that doesn’t contain any cedar (!). Inside the cage, your hedgehog needs a water bottle, hiding place, wheel, and food. You should have a thermometer near the cage to make sure the temperature is steady. That part is very important to keep your hedgehog healthy.
BONUS! What else might be good?
The following items aren’t essential, yet they aren’t a bad idea if you want to keep your hedgehog as happy as possible.
- Cat toys
- Leather gloves for holding your hedgehog safely
- Play pen
- PVC tube, just for fun crawling in the play area
- Special sleep sack