Hedgehogs can be delightful pets, but would-be owners should be certain to research these creatures before deciding to adopt one. Although hedgehogs have become popular as house pets in recent years, they are not as easy to maintain as it might first appear. For one thing, in several places, including California, Georgia, Hawaii and New York City, it is illegal to own a hedgehog. For another, these small animals are prone to allergies, disease and certain accidental injuries. Nocturnal creatures, hedgehogs are naturally inclined to sleep for large portions of the daytime, so their routine is not suited to most human schedules.
Setting up a proper home environment for a hedgehog is crucial to its health. The animal should be housed in a crate measuring at least five square feet. Appropriate materials for bedding include: newspaper, aspen wood shavings and velour blanket material. The enclosure must be kept at approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit because otherwise the hedgehog will try to hibernate. Hedgehogs should never be housed with:
- Wire flooring
- Cedar or pine chips
- Materials that make dust
- Frayable fabrics
The above-listed items all present dangers to these pets. Hedgehogs can have serious accidents with frayed materials. There have been instances of hedgehogs becoming entangled in threads of fabric so tightly that a leg has required amputation. Hedgehogs can also be injured by getting caught in metal wires and have serious allergic reactions to the oils in cedar or pine chips
Hedgehogs are insectivores, requiring a substance called chitin that comes from insects, but wild insects should not be fed to hedgehogs because they may be contaminated with insecticides. Commercial foods prepared for hedgehogs include insect components, and it is also possible to purchase powdered chitin to sprinkle on other food. Prepackaged hedgehog foods are not all equally nutritious and owners should be careful to check ingredients.
Some hedgehog owners feed their pets a dry cat food as a basic food. Hedge hogs may be fed human foods, but are lactose-intolerant. Appropriate table scraps for a hedgehog include lean chicken or turkey and small amounts of fruits and vegetables. These pets may also be fed mealworms. Baby food meats are commonly used as treats for hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs should not be fed the following:
- Avocados or onions
- Grapes or raisins
- Raw meat or egg yolks
- Processed foods
Obesity is a common problem with hedgehogs so owners should be careful not to overfeed them. If a hedgehog is incapable of completely rolling itself into a ball, it is probably obese.
Hedgehogs in the wild roam for many miles nightly so they must be given room to exercise. Like other small mammals, hedgehogs need time out of their enclosures to explore other surroundings. Owners must make sure, however, that the room they allow their hedgehog to explore is safe, with no holes to fall into and no exposed wires.
Hamster wheels are good exercise toys for hedgehogs, as are open balls in which they can roll around.
When adopted, hedgehogs should be examined by a veterinarian specializing in small mammals. In addition to beings prone to aggressive forms of cancer, wobbly hedgehog syndrome (an illness similar to multiple sclerosis in humans), liver disease (particularly if obese), and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, hedgehogs have physiological reactions to stress. Since hedgehogs are prone to a variety of diseases, owners should be alert for abnormal behavior. Owners should report any of the following symptoms to their veterinarian:
- Dripping or bubbles from the nose
- Green feces
- Loss of quills
- Inability to stand
Some disease conditions in hedgehogs can be easily treated with antibiotics, dietary or situational changes. It is always best to bring an ailing hedgehog for a veterinary evaluation.