VCA Animal Hospitals

Hedgehogs - Owning

General Information

hedgehogs-owning-1Relatively new to the pet industry is the African hedgehog. Hedgehogs can make interesting, somewhat challenging, yet fun and enjoyable pets. They are mammals whose entire back is blanketed with spines like a porcupine. The sharp spines can cause injury to an owner if the hedgehog is not handled properly, but the spines are NOT barbed like a porcupine and will usually not puncture the skin. They do not throw their spines for defense. As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs "ball up" exposing only their spiny backsides. Because they often "ball up", owners may not be able to handle or play with them like other pets. However, a well socialized, frequently and gently handled young animal will become more tolerant and less afraid, so it will not ball up as much.

"As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs "ball up" exposing only their spiny backsides."

In the wild, hedgehogs are insectivores (eat insects). Their life expectancy is about 4 - 6 years but they can live to 8 - 10 years. Hedgehogs are nocturnal in the wild, and are very active at night as they look for food and investigate their environment. During the day, hedgehogs tend to burrow or hide and sleep most of the time.

Unlike most other pet animals, hedgehogs do not play with toys. They do enjoy running on a wheel designed for hedgehogs (these wheels are designed so that they do not get their feet caught). They are skilled at climbing and digging, and are even good swimmers.

Male and females tend to be solitary and territorial except when breeding and raising their young.

In the wild, the hedgehog does not experience cold weather. If it does get cool it will become less active. Hedgehogs are susceptible to heat stroke if they become overheated by extremely high temperatures. They seem to thrive with an environmental temperature of 70º - 85ºF (21º - 29ºC).

Owning a hedgehog may be restricted by law in certain municipalities. This should be investigated prior to purchasing one of these unique animals.

Anatomical Interests

A. Hedgehogs have a keen sense of hearing and smell. Their vision is not well developed.

B. Hedgehogs are covered with sharp spines on their backside. Frightened hedgehogs may hiss and "ball up". When they ball up, you will only see a ball of spines; nothing else will show unless they are overweight.

C. If threatened, they will jerk their body upward and thrust their spines into the fingers or hands.

D. Hedgehogs will become less active if the environmental temperature falls below 60 degrees, which is not a desirable behavior. Hedgehogs do not need to hibernate and many veterinarians recommend against hibernation as problems with disease can occur if the hedgehog is not healthy prior to hibernation or if hibernation does not proceed correctly. Talk with your veterinarian to learn more specific information about the problems associated with hibernation.

E. Hedgehogs have a lower body temperature (96º - 99º F or 35.5º - 37 ºC) than most mammals.

F. Hedgehogs have a unique and unusual behavior called "anting" or "self-anointing", in which they take substances or objects of strong or unusual odor into the mouth, mix it with copious amounts of saliva, and then spread this mixture onto their spines using their long tongues.

Selecting Your Pet

Hedgehogs are usually purchased at pet shops, through breeders, or at exotic pet shows. As with any pet purchase, avoid hedgehogs that appear ill, too quiet or listless. Hedgehogs should be bright and alert, and move quickly when startled. Avoid pets with closed eyes or discharge from the eyes or nose. As they readily "ball up" when disturbed, it may be difficult to inspect them closely.

"As they readily "ball up" when disturbed, it may be difficult to inspect them closely."

The spines should be clean and the skin free of scaliness. If possible, check the ears for redness or excess wax, which might indicate an infection. Check the mouth (if possible) for broken teeth or red and inflamed gums. The pet should neither feel fat nor thin. Check the anal area for diarrhea or moistness, which might indicate a gastrointestinal infection.

The First Veterinary Visit

hedgehogs-owning-2Your hedgehog should come with a health guarantee. In most cases, the guarantee requires a checkup by a veterinarian within a few days (usually 48 hours) after purchase. Select a veterinarian knowledgeable about hedgehogs. Since hedgehogs will ball up if frightened, some veterinarians may elect to anesthetize your hedgehog with a gas anesthetic (such as isoflurane) for a thorough physical exam.

The examination includes determining the animal's weight, as well as checking for physical abnormalities. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin are checked and the abdomen is palpated (if possible). The animal is examined for signs of dehydration and malnutrition. A fecal test is done to check for internal parasites. The veterinarian can also determine the sex of your pet.

Like all pets, hedgehogs should be examined at least annually and should have their feces tested for parasites during each examination.

Vaccinations

Pet hedgehogs do not require vaccinations.

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