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Hibernation and Hedgehogs

History of Hibernation

African and European hedgehogs originated from the same root stock, yet each has developed its own unique and different characteristics. It is apparent that from the beginning, hedgehogs have had the ability to enter a stuporous state whenever conditions become unfavorable to their ability to maintain body temperature or locate insects, their primary food source.

As the species migrated away from one another, each entered into different habitats. The European hedgehog adapted itself to a habitat wherein cold winter weather is the norm for long periods each year. The ability to enter a stuporous state was modified into the ability to hibernate, that is, the ability to drastically reduce the animal's metabolic rate as a result of cold and reduced sunlight.

It's main food source being gone and the cold temperatures inhibiting it's ability to maintain body heat, the European hedgehog cannot survive unless it hibernates. Without this ability it would never survive such a climate.

The African species, on the other hand, had to adapt to an entirely dissimilar habitat. Instead of the freezing winters of Europe, the African hedgehog had the blazing summers of the African grasslands to contend with. Once again, food source and body heat were the two motivating factors, but the resulting response was remarkably different.

During the hot summer months (which, coincidentally coincide with our winters) just following the rainy season, the African plains become very hot and dry. The hedgehog's food source dwindles and its ability maintain body temperature is compromised. The heat of the day is just too great for an animal such as this.

In response, the hedgehog seeks out a cool hiding place and, like the European hedgehog, enters a semi-stuporous state. This normally occurs between the months of January to March. Unlike the European hedgehog, however, this is not hibernation. Rather, it is more fittingly described using the term "Aestivation" - a period of heat-induced stupor that is less intense than hibernation. The animal's metabolic rate slows, but not nearly to the same low levels that occur during hibernation. The African hedgehogs still venture out from their hiding places on a fairly regular basis, but their activity levels are greatly reduced and they may even sleep for periods of up to one week at a time.

Hibernation and Aestivation

Although the two conditions - Hibernation and Aestivation - appear similar at first and are both based upon the same environmental response of the original foundation stock hedgehog, the long-term isolation and dissimilar climatic conditions of the European and African species has made them very different from one another.

European hedgehogs have adapted to a climate wherein they are regularly exposed to extremes of both hot and cold and can, therefore, both hibernate and aestivate. African hedgehogs, on the other hand, are rarely if ever exposed to extreme cold. They have adapted to a hot climate only and as a result, have only a vestigial ability to hibernate remaining.

Dangers of Hibernation on African Hedgehogs

When exposed to cold, their bodies respond by slowing the metabolic rate, but because of their keen adaptation towards aestivation, that response is not nearly great enough to be successful. Their metabolism does not slow enough for full hibernation and as a result most African hedgehogs who are forced to hibernate do not recover if they are not revived after the first 72 hours. They die of hypothermia, starvation, or both.
Room temperatures between 72 to 80*F are needed to prevent an African pygmy hedgehog from entering hibernation. When the hedgehog enters hibernation it greatly reduces it's immune systems capabilities and may become more susceptible to illness. Do not allow your hedgehog to hibernate as it will seriously harm the hedgehog. It is recommended to keep the ambient temperature of the cage between 74 to 78*F as a hedgehog can attempt hibernation below temperature of 72*F or aestivation at temperatures higher than 80*F.

Signs of Hibernation

One sure fire way to tell if your hedgehog is attempting hibernation is to feel it's stomach. If it feels cold it needs to be warmed up immediately.
Other symptoms are lethargy, lack of appetite, drinking less, inability to un-ball, wobbliness, unable to move and heavy breathing.
A hedgehog can be attempting hibernation even if it is moving around. Attempted hibernation is a state in where the hedgehog stops eating and begins lowering it's metabolism. While a hedgehog's metabolism is lowered it may not just go to sleep in a ball, but may wander around wobbly in search of a warmer place.

Hibernation Triggers

Low Temperatures

Temperatures which are too low for a hedgehog may trigger hibernation. In this instance the room needs to be warmed up for the hedgehog to stay at a comfortable temperature and warm up your hedgehog.

Drop in Temperature

A sudden drop in temperature, even if it is within the range of acceptable temperatures, can trigger hibernation. In this instance increase the ambient temperature to it's previous value and warm up your hedgehog.

Inconsistent Day/Night Cycle

If the amount of light and dark is not consistent, or if a hedgehog is forced awake at erratic and consistently different times of the day, the hedgehog can enter hibernation. One way a hedgehog can tell if winter is coming is if the daylight gets shorter while nighttime gets longer. This change can trigger an internal clock telling your hedgehog to start hibernating. For this it is suggested you get a timer, like you would sue for Christmas lights, to make sure your hedgehogs day/night cycle is consistent.
See Lighting


When a hedgehog becomes ill it can lower it's metabolism in order to use less energy in movement and use more energy to fight the infection, much like us staying in bed for a day. In theory while this is a good idea, African Pygmy hedgehogs cannot hibernate properly, and instead will become sicker and potentially die. In order to fix this warm up your hedgehog, increase the temperature in the room to discourage hibernation, and take your hedgehog to the vet to insure it does not have an illness or get proper medication for your hedgehog.


As a hedgehog gets older it will need a higher ambient temperature to prevent hibernation. A hedgehog who is 6 years old may attempt hibernation at 72*F when he used to be comfortable at 70*F. This is partially because of their extended life span and how it takes a toll on their life cycles, as well as not being able to self regulate it's body temperature. To remedy this you may need to increase the ambient temperature of the room and warm up your hedgehog.

What to do if your Hedgehog attempts Hibernation

If your hedgehog has attempted hibernation you must follow these steps to assure your hedgehog revives from its state of hibernation.
You can tell if your hedgehog is attempting to hibernate if he appears lethargic, is not eating, and cannot move around or unroll from its ball. a sudden wobbly stride may also be caused by a hibernation attempt.
  1. Increase the temperature of the hedgehogs cage to at least 74*F and no higher than 80*F. This can be done using a space heater, a ceramic heating lamp, a heating pad under ONE HALF of the cage, a pet safe microwavable heating disk in an appropriate sleeve or just turning up the entire house/room temperature.
    Never direct a space heater at the cage, as it may create a draft in the cage that could cause more harm than good. A heating pad on low will not melt the cage, be sure not to put it on high, and put a blanket between the pad and the cage.
  2. Remove your hedgehog from it's cage and place it against your chest or stomach. You cannot heat your hedgehog up quickly, and the heat given off from your body will warm it slow enough not to hurt him, and also provide it with security of being next to you.
    do not put your hedgehog in warm water or in front of a heater, as this will often overheat the hedgehog and send him into a state of shock from the sudden temperature cage. This causes more harm than good.
  3. While the hedgehog is on your body wrap its back in a blanket to keep the heat in. Speak softly to your hedgehog and let him know that he will be okay.
    It is not certain if your hedgehog can understand you, but a soothing sound will help keep it calm and reassure it that your trying to help. It will also help you keep calm, as you can better help your hedgehog when you are not freaking out.
  4. Before placing him back in his cage make sure he is running around and acting normally. Make sure the temperature in his cage is between 74 and 80*F. If you do not have a thermometer in his cage it is HIGHLY recommended that you get a digital one and place it on the side of his cage so that it is easy to check. Do not allow the temperature of his cage to fluctuate to greatly, and keep it above 72*F at minimum.

Every attempt at hibernation will lower your hedgehog's immune system. It is not at all responsible of an owner to allow their pet to hurt itself by providing an unsafe environment. If you cannot provide your hedgehog with a ambient cage temperature required to prevent hibernation: DO NOT get a hedgehog, as you are being selfish and not providing your pet with a suitable home. Hibernation attempts are not something to be shrugged off as they can greatly harm an African Pygmy Hedgehog.

If your hedgehog does attempt hibernation within the recommended temperature range, increase the temperature as all hedgehogs prefer different climates. Make sure not to make the room to hot as to cause aestivation.

Signs of Aestivation

When a hedgehog begins aestivation it will often being looking for a cool dark place to lay and then "splat out" with all it's legs sticking out and its belly on the cool surface. If the hedgehog does not cool down it will begin to pant. While aestivating the hedgehog's metabolism is also slowed down so that it does not create unnecessary heat from movement. One way to remedy this is to include a cool piece of tile in your hedgehogs cage for it to lay on. Also you will want to lower the ambient temperature of the cage. This can be done by placing bowls of ice above the cage to let the cold air trickle down, or you can use air conditioning to lower the temperature of the cage. Be sure to not cool the room too much as you may trigger hibernation. Also try to prevent drafts as they can cause hibernation as well.


  1. Hedgehog Central - Hibernation, Good or Bad? (external link)

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Created by: admin Last Modification: Wednesday 15 of April, 2009 23:14:40 EDT by LilysMommy

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