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The Basics

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Hedgehog Basics


What is a Hedgehog?

Hedgehogs are a small, insectivorous (insect eating) mammal that can be found throughout the world. They are native to England, Europe, Africa and Asia. The hedgehog that is now kept as a pet in North America is the Pygmy Hedgehog from Central Africa.

Hedgehogs and Porcupines

Since there are no native species of hedgehog in either Canada or the United States, many people still mistake the domestic hedgehog for the porcupine - an entirely different and unrelated animal. While porcupine quills are extremely sharp, barbed and very dangerous, the hedgehog quill is smooth and not nearly as sharp. Petting a friendly hedgehog can be compared to petting a hairbrush - bristly, not prickly.

Hedgehog Weight

The average African Pygmy Hedgehog weighs about ½ to 1 ¼ pounds and is 5 to 8 inches long - about the size of a Guinea Pig. There are some that will grow to as much as 1 ¾ to 2 pounds (without being fat) while others are as little as 6 or 7 ounces.

Appropriate Climate for your Hedgehog

Your pet should be kept indoors at a temperature of 72 to 80*F, with many breeders recommending 74 to 78*F.

Feeding your Hedgehog

Your hedgehog can be fed a good quality dry cat food or a specially formulated hedgehog food.

Hedgehogs as a Hobby

Besides simply being enjoyed as pets, there is also an active hobby. Thanks to the International Hedgehog Association, (IHA) there is even a working show system and standard of perfection for African Pygmy Hedgehogs.

Where is the Best Place to Buy a Pet Hedgehog?

The answer to this question varies depending on many factors, but there are some basic guidelines. Generally, it is better to purchase your new pet from a breeder rather than a pet store, but unfortunately, this isn't always possible. No matter where you end up looking, though, make sure that the breeder or store has at least some information on the age and background of their hedgies.

If There are Several to Choose From, Which Hedgehog Should I Select?

You will want to choose a single hedgehog since they are solitary and don’t normally like to share a cage. Never buy a male and female to be placed in the same cage unless you intend to breed! Hedgehogs are ready to breed as early as 8 weeks and females should never be bred before 5 months, so be careful! SEE SEXING HEDGEHOGS

You may decide to either go to a pet store or check ads and buy from a breeder. In either case, you are looking for a good healthy animal.

Temperament
  • This is of major importance and should be a deciding factor as to whether you buy a particular animal or not. After picking a potential pet up, examine it closely. Does it unroll after a few seconds? Does he click, jump or hiss? Hissing is okay. It is simply frightened because it doesn’t know you. Clicking, however, means that it's trying to threaten you. This is NOT acceptable hedgehog behavior and you should look at a different, better-tempered animal. Every hedgehog is different and unique. Some like to play and explore, while others are more content to cuddle. You will be most satisfied with your new pet if you carefully choose the one that best suits your own personality and lifestyle.

Choosing a Healthy Hedgehog

  • look at the hedgehogs face. Are his eyes nice, round, beady, wide open, and bright, without discharge? Is his nose clean and not running? Are his ears short, clean, with no discharge or crustiness behind them? Sometimes an ear has been chewed on by a sibling. As long as it has healed, this is not something to worry about.
  • Is his fur on his belly soft and not matted?
  • Are the spines all there with no bare spots? Bare spots indicate an unhealthy animal. Is there any sign of mites, fleas, or crustiness on his back?
  • Is his body plump? (not fat)
  • Place him on a flat surface such as a table and watch him walk. Does he wobble or have difficulty staying upright? A healthy hedgehog should have a stride that is somewhere between a walk and a shuffle?
  • Can you here a rattle when he is breathing or does it seem okay? (do not mistake normal hedgehog "talk" such as chirping, purring or cheeping for a pneumonia-related rattle)

I realize that it will be very hard to check all these points but most of these things are very basic. In fact, you will probably notice many of these things without even realizing it. Most hedgehogs are healthy and they suffer very few serious ailments, so it’s usually not a problem. But, if you do notice any of the problems listed here, have a qualified veterinarian check your choice before taking it home.
By following these guidelines, you will be helping to ensure that the pet you choose will live a long and healthy life.

Ask the person you are purchasing the hoglet from if they have any guarantees. They should at least guaranteed the hoglet from genetic defects that will show up in the next month. If something does go wrong with your new pet (which rarely ever does), have your vet check him so that you will have some proof of the problem to show to the person you bought him from.

Sexing Hedgehogs:

Both male and female hedgehogs make equally good pets so this decision is entirely your own. You can readily tell a boy from a girl. If the hedgehog is tame and friendly, gently roll it over and look at the area closest to the tail. A female's genitals are immediately next to the anus, while the male's penis sheath, or "belly button" is farther up the tummy. The distance between the anus and belly button will be approximately 1/2 inch on a six week old male hoglet. However, this distance can increase to as much as an inch or more once it fully matures.

How Old Should My Hedgehog be Before I Take it Home?

Never take a hedgehog home before it is at least six weeks of age. Older hedgehogs are OK too, but keep in mind that the younger the hedgehog, the better the odds of him bonding with you.

What Kind of Housing Will He Require?

Your hedgehog will require a secure home since they are very good climbers and can easily escape from open-topped cages that are designed for animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits. If you do use a cage with an open top, it must have slippery sides that are at least 12" high and a floor space of at least l6” x 24”. A 20 gallon aquarium is ideal. It must also have good circulation and be well lit but not exposed to direct sunlight during the daytime.

Cage Placement

Place your hedgehogs new home in a comfortable, warm, well lit area that is free of drafts and direct sunlight. They are most comfortable at temperatures of between 72-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Accessories

In addition to a cage, your hedgehog will require the following accessories:
  • BEDDING:
    • Liners are the best choice for hedgehogs as they do not cause allergies and are reusable. Some owners like to use Aspen, Pine or White shavings (NOT CEDAR!) for their hedgehogs that are not litter trained, and for mothers when they are pregnant and due for delivery. Carefresh is a safe dust free alternative to wood shavings, but you need to watch to make sure your hedgehog is not eating the carefresh as it can cause compacted bowels. Crushed corn cob makes a relatively good bedding and is safe to use for females and adults, but it SHOULD NOT be used for young male hedgehogs. Place approximately two inches of bedding material evenly over the floor of the cage.
    • See Bedding
  • FOOD BOWL:
    • The food bowl needs to be fairly wide and heavy to prevent your pet from dumping out its contents and using it as a toy. Small ceramic crocks that are designed for small rodents are perfect food dishes for hedgehogs. The width or diameter of the dish can be 3 to 6 inches and it should be no more than 3 inches high.
  • WATER DISH/BOTTLE:
    • Water dishess are preferred over water bottles. Hedgehogs can chip a tooth when biting at the nozzle of a bottle, and while furiously trying to get water they can get a tongue stuck. Water from a bottle also flows much more slowly than drinking from an open dish, and some believe and open dish to be more natural for the hedgehog. Some breeders use bottles for mothers so that babies do not drown in the water dish, but that is an extremely rare occurrence.
  • HIDING PLACE:
    • This can be as simple as a piece of 4 inch PVC pipe, an old plastic pitcher, or an old shoe box with a hole cut in one end. Many owners use plastic igloos as hiding places.
  • LITTER BOX:
    • Your pet will MAY a litter box if you provide it with one. A small box that is 2” deep x 6” x 9”, half filled with dust free cat litter does very nicely. Non-clumping cat litter is the safest choice.
    • See Litter and Litter Training
  • TOYS:
    • If you choose, you can also add a few toys for your hedgehog to play with. An exercise wheel is an excellent addition and will help him to stay healthy and trim. Although a guinea pig wheel will suffice, there are now specially designed Hedgehog Wheels available from many pet suppliers. These are safer for your pet since they have a solid or mesh-covered running surface rather than the more common metal bars which they sometimes get their long legs caught in.
    • See Toys

What Should I Feed Him and How Much?

Although there are hedgehog foods available in stores, dry cat and kitten formulas are equally good choices. Whatever commercial food you choose should be supplemented by a variety of other foods such as vegetables, mealworms and crickets, cooked meats and fruit and vegetables. However none of these should be fed as anything more than a treat 3 or 4 times a week. The dry food should be the staple. While the dry food can be fed free choice to all but the more obese hedgehogs, the supplements should be offered for no more than 15 minutes and then removed.

Care and Management

When you bring you new hedgehog home, place him in his new cage and let him have absolute privacy for at least a day. You may pick him up and hold him once or twice for a few minutes the first day, but remember, it will probably be more like a week before he begins to feel at home.
Baby hedgehogs need quite a bit of sleep the first month after they come home with you, so don't be too concerned if he sleeps a lot at first.

Obesity

Since a healthy hedgehog is a bit on the plump side naturally, determining the difference between a healthy animal's "chubby" condition and obesity can be somewhat difficult. Since there is such a wide variety of size in domestic stock these days, an obese hedgehog can be as little as 8 ounces to as much as 2 pounds in weight, so weight guidelines are of little use in identifying a fat hedgehog!
Of far more use to you than a set of scales is a weekly or monthly visual inspection of your pet's front legs and chin. While a hedgehog in its normal trim will be a bit chubby in these two locations, an obese specimen will have a double chin and "ham-hocks" for legs and sometimes even rolls of fat under the arm-pits. Such animals will be so fat that they will even be incapable of rolling themselves into a ball!
If your pet should become this fat eliminate all treats from its diet but do not reduce the amount of dry food - the primary source of necessary proteins, vitamins and minerals. If after a month you see no evidence of weight loss, change the type of dry food that you are feeding to one that has a fat content of at least 20 percent. The theory is that the added fat will cause your pet to "bulk-up" and eat less and will actually help it to lose weight.


References

  1. Hedgehog Central - Basic Care (external link)

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Created by: admin Last Modification: Sunday 22 of March, 2009 23:16:32 EDT by azyrios


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