Hedgehogs tend to be shy, solitary creatures that are generally nocturnal (active at night). Many prefer quiet, dim environments and are frightened by loud noise and bright light. They like to hide and dig and have a well-developed sense of smell. They try to “taste” new things in their environment by salivating and spitting onto themselves—a process called “anointing” or “anting.”
Hedgehogs are covered by short, pointy spines. While young hedgehogs usually do not mind being held, adults often roll up into tight balls as a defense. Adults may also make a hissing sound when they are afraid. With quiet stroking of the spines over the back in dim light, a curled up hedgehog may uncurl. The more a hedgehog is handled, the tamer it is likely to become.
Hedgehogs can be housed in smooth-walled enclosures (such as aquariums, 20 gallon capacity or greater) with sides high enough to prevent escape. They can also be housed in plastic bottom enclosures with coated wire sides and top, such as those made for rats or guinea pigs. Cages with wire sides and tops have much better ventilation than aquariums and are therefore healthier for a hedgehog’s respiratory system.
Hedgehogs are not good climbers, so ideally they should live in a one level environment. Exercise wheels can be provided, however they should be completely smooth inside to prevent feet and spines from getting caught in wires or holes. Hedgehogs are prone to obesity in captivity, so providing them with a safe method to exercise is essential. Ideal bedding is newspaper or other commercially available recycled paper product. Bedding should be several inches thick to enable digging and should be kept clean and dry.
Wood shavings and soil are not recommended, as they are dusty, indigestible, and may contain parasites. Hedgehogs should be provided with a hide box, a shallow water pan for bathing, and smooth rocks (large enough to not be swallowed) for rubbing and scratching. Logs (to form tunnels and hiding spots) may be used to enrich their environment and provide varied hiding/sleeping places. Hedgehogs should be taken out of their enclosures every day for exercise and social interaction. They should never be left unsupervised, as they may chew on toxic substances or be attached by other predatory pets, such as cats and dogs, or injured by small children.
In the wild, hedgehogs do not hibernate. However, in captivity they may hibernate if their environmental temperature falls below 65 degrees. As hibernating may be detrimental to them in that it can reduce their immune system function and ability to digest food, hedgehogs should be kept at a constant temperature throughout the year, approximately 75-80˚F, and on a 12-hour light cycle.
Hedgehogs are in the insectivore family; however, in the wild their diet includes insects, snails, worms, as well as occasional small vertebrates and plants. They should be fed once daily in the evening from heavy dishes which do not tip over easily. A good quality commercial pelleted hedgehog diet or a pellet made for insectivores makes a good base for their diet. Each day, an adult hedgehog can be fed 2 tablespoons of a hedgehog diet or insectivore food, along with 1-2 tablespoons of fresh vegetables. They also require a few insects (mealworms, crickets, wax worms, snails, and other invertebrates) 3-4 times a week. Since hedgehogs are very prone to obesity, feeding unlimited quantities of food or feeding high fat foods (such as seeds and nuts, or only waxworms) is highly discouraged. Fresh water from a sipper bottle or bowl should be offered every day.
Hedgehogs should be examined annually by an exotic animal veterinarian. Diet and environment should be reviewed. Hedgehogs should be weighed at least annually to ensure that they are not becoming obese. They should receive a complete physical examination, including a thorough check of their teeth, as they are prone to dental disease. Dental scaling may be necessary if they have excessive tartar, particularly from consumption of canned diets. Hedgehogs can also be prone to hepatic lipidosis (fatty infiltration of the liver), cancer, respiratory infections, and certain neurologic conditions. Proper preventative medicine can help avoid disease development and ensure the lifelong health of your hedgehog.