This article appears in Pets 2018 magazine.
Spiny and exotic, roly-poly and athletic, hedgehogs can make good yet challenging pets.
“Hedgehogs are delightful animals to have as a part of the human family, but require some special considerations for their health, husbandry and hygiene,” said Dr. Krista Keller, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.
All night long
African pygmy hedgehogs are nocturnal and very active at night.
“This should be a major deterrent of housing them in a bedroom or area where their nightly activities could keep human family members from getting a full night’s sleep,” Keller said.
The best time to interact with your hedgehog is not earlier in the day but when it is waking up from its daily slumber, such as after dinner, she said.
Hedgehogs are also solitary creatures and should be housed separately, Keller said.
While hedgehogs are warm-blooded, they have limited capability for regulating their body temperature. Their habitat requires strict temperature control.
“For the African pygmy hedgehog, the ideal temperature range is 75 to 85 degrees. More specifically, the coolest part of their enclosure should be no cooler than 75 degrees and the warmest part of their enclosure should be no warmer than 85 degrees, Keller said.
Room to roam
“In the wild, African pygmy hedgehogs are extremely active and have a large range where they run, explore and even swim. Often, the captive environments that we provide for them pale in comparison,” Keller said.
Before getting an African pygmy hedgehog, consider the amount of space that you can provide for it. If you can only provide a 10- or 20-gallon aquarium without any other opportunity to explore and run, this doesn’t seem like a great life for your hedgehog to live, Keller said.
A better alternative would be to provide a large plastic container with smooth sides and a hiding spot for sleeping as the main habitat. Allow your pet hedgehog access to a larger space, such as a bathroom or bathtub, at least one to two times a week to be able to explore and run around, she said.
Keep it clean
Hedgehogs can carry and spread salmonella to human family members, so they are not the right pet for children too young to understand the basics of hygiene, Keller said.
“Many hedgehogs can be carriers of salmonella without ever showing any clinical signs, and they spread the bacteria through their feces,” she said.
Reduce the risk of becoming infected by washing hands with warm soapy water after handling. Do not handle a hedgehog or items that come into contact with a hedgehog in the kitchen or while eating, and do not allow the hedgehog to roam in areas of the home that are difficult to sanitize, Keller said.
Visit the vet
“Unfortunately, hedgehogs suffer from a variety of health issues, many of them including cancers of the mouth, skin and internal organs,” Keller said. “The good news is your veterinarian can help. We recommend having a veterinary consultation when you first obtain your hedgehog to ensure they are healthy and not suffering from any parasites, and then semiannual or twice-yearly visits to the vet for a checkup.”
Check the law
You cannot legally own a hedgehog in California, New York City, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., or Hawaii, according to hedgehogcentral.com.