Housing Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs need a safe and secure home that they can not climb out of or squeeze through the bars. The home should provide adequate ventilation/circulation, but not be drafty. And it should be large enough to provide needed exercise. A minimum of 16” x 24” is recommended. Hedgehogs in the wild roam for great distances at night looking for food, so remember: The larger the cage, the better – you can never have a cage too large. Also, hedgehogs in the wild are ground dwelling animals that do not have a good height and depth perception. They can and will easily walk right off a table or high shelves in a tall cage because they don’t see the drop off since it all looks 2D to them. Thus, tall ferret or chinchilla cages with many levels are not good for hedgehogs. For hedgehogs large amounts of square footage on one level is the most desirable.

The cage should also be placed in a draft free room with a good amount of light during the daytime, but NOT in direct sunlight which could cause them to overheat. Even though hedgehogs are nocturnal they still need 12 – 14 hours of daylight, so it is important that the room be well lit with either natural sunlight or artificial lights all day if needed.

Always keep a thermometer near your hedgehogs cage to monitor the temperature daily. The temperature of the room should stay between 72 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. With 74 – 78 degrees is the ideal temperature for a pet hedgehog. We have found that our hedgehogs breed much better when we keep the room they are in between 75 – 80 degrees….We have central AC/heat with timed thermometers to maintain this temperature. We recommend using space heaters if the location in the room you plan to keep your hedgehog goes below 68 degrees. Or you can use ceramic heat emitters if the room/location stays above 68 degrees. We also highly recommend using digital thermometers at the hedgehog’s cage location or in the cage that display the highest and lowest temperatures for a 24 hour period. These can be found near the lighting section at Wal-Mart and are very needed if you suspect that a room is getting too cold or hot while you are away or sleeping at night. A thermometer of some sort should always be used at the cage location even if you think your home is warm enough.

Hedgehogs can die from both cold and heat extremes. If a hedgehog is too cold they will not be as active and will be more grumpy and huffy when handled. Below 70 degrees they will start to go into a false hibernation, but since the African Pygmy Hedgehog is from a warm climate in the wild, they do not have the ability to actually hibernate, unlike their cousins, the European Hedgehog. So letting them become too cold will eventually cause internal organs to shut down, respiratory problems, or sudden death. The signs that your hedgehog is too cold are if it is very lethargic, much huffier/grumpier than usual, slow to respond to being woken up, has a cold belly or feet, or is even wobbling. Immediately begin to warm him up, but do so gradually.

In the same way, heat can cause death as well. Never keep your hedgehog outside unattended, especially in a glass aquarium or enclosed cage. And never leave them in a hot car for even a minute. If somehow your hedgehog does become too hot and you find him sprawled out with his back legs behind him, sluggish, breathing heavy, and even wobbling when he walks, then get him to a cooler room immediately…And provide him something to drink, but do not try to force him to drink since it could cause a respiratory problem. If within a couple of minutes of getting him in a cooler room he does not start to perk up and want to drink, get him to the nearest vet ASAP…Heat stroke kills faster than cold!

The room should also be fairly traffic and noise free during the daytime hours which is when he will need to sleep since they are primarily nocturnal. This does not mean that they can not be handled during the day, but it should not be an all day thing. They were created to sleep during the day and be awake at night, so the instinct is very strong and should be respected. And remember to a nocturnal animal, light is danger, so even if you are someone who stays up very late at night, if you have the lights on your hedgehog will not wake up until the lights are turned off.

Caging Options and Their Pros & Cons

Please see the Hedgehog Shopping List page for more information about these items (and many more) with pictures and some guidance on where they can be purchased.

Wire Cages: If a wire cage is used it is crucial that the floor be solid since hedgehog’s tiny little feet will go through wire and make it difficult to walk on wire and could cause injury to their toes or entire foot if they were to get caught. The bars of a wire cage must also be fairly close together, especially if you are getting a young hedgehog, to prevent it from being able to squeeze through the bars. Also, a wire cage must be fully enclosed – no open top or lid. Hedgehogs are not the best climbers, but they can climb wire well like a ladder, although getting down is more of a falling backwards thing. If a wire cage is used, the height of the cage should not be more than 14” high, so that an adventurous climber will not be injured due to a fall. Also, shelves are not needed as long as the floor space is adequate. If shelves and ramps are used, then they should be low enough to prevent injury from a fall.

We recommend the wire cages that are made with the molded plastic tray at the bottom and the wire top that snaps on instead of the cages made with shallow, metal trays. These are easy to clean and the bottom will not rust out like wire cages with metal trays. They provide the best possible ventilation and they also provide easy viewing of your hedgehog as it scurries around the cage. The biggest draw back to this type of cage is the price tag, but the prices are coming down as more and more companies are making them.

Plastic Containers: Tupperware or Rubbermaid containers make very affordable and easy to clean hedgehog cages. A clear plastic container seems to be preferred by most breeders. The solid ones are easier to drill holes in we have found and we feel that the hedgehogs prefer to be a little darker and closed in. However, if the lid is to be left on then the clear kind would be needed because the solid ones would be too dark with the lids on. The lid can be left off as long as there are no other animals or young children that will harass the hedgehog or eat its food. If the lid needs to be left on then a lot of holes will need to be drilled into the sides and top of the container to provide adequate circulation. If the lid is left off then the sides must be at least 14” high to prevent the hedgehog from climbing out and it should have solid, slippery sides. Also make sure that they can not climb on any other cage accessories such as the hiding place or an exercise wheel if it were to get jammed or tipped over, thus, enabling the hedgehog to climb out.

Aquariums: Many people prefer aquariums because of the nice look and ease of viewing their pet. However, they can be difficult to clean, break easily, and do not provide very much ventilation. A 20 gallon long tank would be the minimum size that should be used for a single hedgehog. Remember: floor space is more important than height. Screen tops with locking clips can be bought to fit the many sizes of aquariums that are made. Another draw back to aquariums for hedgehog that has been reported to us often enough to mention it here, (mostly from teachers who keep their hedgehogs in the classrooms) is that hedgehogs can pace and rub their noses to the point of bleeding. If this occurs, it is recommended to tape a solid, thick paper, poster board, or cardboard around the lower outside part of the aquarium about 5 – 6 inches high. This prevents the hedgehog from being able to see out of the aquarium and, thus, prevents the pacing that leads to the nose rubbing.

Cage Accessories Needed

In addition to the cage, below are some other things that are needed for your hedgehog:

Bedding: There are many types of bedding that can be used. Aspen shavings is the best kind of wood shavings, but it is much more expensive than pine or other wood shavings, but if odor control is a problem it does work the best. We personally use kiln dried pine or other wood shavings (Tractor Supply Company carries the best in our area) NEVER USE CEDAR SHAVINGS FOR ANY TYPE OF SMALL ANIMAL!!! If you do buy wood shavings other than Aspen, try to buy bags that say KILN DRIED. If it does not say this on the bag, then it is not kiln dried and since most wood shavings are pine, the pine oils will still be present and there have been problems associated with pine oils and hedgehogs. (However, I used non-kiln dried pine shavings before they made it kiln dried and never had any problems). Also, the kiln drying process will kill mites and other critters that might harbor or lay eggs in the shavings. Please Note: We have had several hedgehogs over the years have allergic reaction to Aspen bedding. This presents as a rash on the bellies and other parts of the body. If this happens remove all the aspen bedding, give your hedgehog a bath with a baby shampoo, and put some other kind of bedding in the cage instead.

Another option is the recycled newspaper products and many breeders recommend it over the wood shavings because they say that they do not harbor mites. However, I have found that it does harbor mites just as easily as wood shaving and does not absorb odor as well as wood shavings. Many breeders report that they have gotten mites from bags of wood shavings, but if the bag is kiln dried there is no way that mites will be present unless the store you bought it from did not store it properly and even then it is possible that the recycled newspaper products can be contaminated with mites as easily. The worse case of mites that I have ever had was years ago when a bag of Care Fresh recycled newspaper bedding that I bought at a local pet store was filled with mites from improperly being stored near the caged birds that the store sold!

Another reason many breeders do not recommend wood shavings is because they say it has more dust. However, I have found that the different types of recycled products, like Care Fresh and Yesterday’s News, are just as dusty if not dustier than most bags of wood shavings. Wood shaving dust seems to settle faster than the recycled newspaper bedding, as well. The only way to avoid dust completely is to use fabric cage liners as described below. Personally I have found that dust does not affect hedgehogs, but bothers some pet owners who are allergic to it.

About 2 – 3 inches of bedding material should be placed evenly on the cage floor. And the bedding should be changed at least weekly. Not only is weekly cage cleaning healthy for your hedgehog and keep odors to a minimum, but it also greatly decreases your risk of mites becoming a problem. Used wood shavings can be emptied into a regular garbage can or in a compost bin. We garden a lot and compost our used shavings all winter and then in the spring and summer use it as a mulch on the gardens with amazing results.

Some breeders recommend using cage liners, but we have not tried this since it would require daily changing of the cage liner and a lot of laundry. If dust allergies or allergies to wood products is a problem for someone in your household (and they are not allergic to the actual hedgehog), then using a cage liner would be your best option.

Again NEVER use cedar shavings since it can be toxic. Another product that I would stay away from is the crushed walnut litter. There have been reports that it can be ingested accidentally and then cause internal problems. I would also recommend staying away from crushed corn cob as a bedding as well since it could also be ingested, is small and hard to walk on, and is rather course to the touch. Also, most types of pelleted bedding are also difficult for hedgehogs to walk in since their tiny little feet sink into these beddings.

Hiding Place: Since hedgehogs are nocturnal animals that sleep during the day, they need a good hiding place to sleep soundly. The house just needs to be large enough for them to enter and turn around easily. Some people use large PVC pipe, but I have found that it is either too hard to get a reluctant hedgehog out of or it needs to be cleaned far too often since some hedgehogs do not have the best potty manners. An old shoe box with a hole cut in one end is very economical, but it should be replaced every 2 to 3 weeks to prevent the build up of bacteria. A simple wooden house with no bottom works well for those with basic carpentry skills, but it too should be replaced when it appears soiled. The medium sized animal “igloos” that most pet stores currently sell are what we prefer, since they are easy to clean. However, they are not good in very bright rooms, such as classrooms, since they are somewhat transparent. Some breeders recommend and sell fabric sleep sacks, but this is my least favorite hiding solution due primarily to the number of calls I receive every year from panicked owners who find that a string has gotten caught around their pet’s leg…Usually ending in the amputation of the leg since it only takes a matter of 10 minutes or less to cut off circulation. Only use this type of hiding option if you are going to be very diligent to check for loose strings and are willing to wash it almost daily if your hedgehog is one who does not potty train well. For a crafty person, buying large solid colored mixing bowls at a dollar store and cutting an arched door in the side of it when turned upside down makes an excellent and affordable hiding house.

Food Bowl: The type of dish needed is one that will not tip over easily if the hedgehog were to climb in it and is not too deep. A small crock type dish is what I recommend, like what is sold in the cat section of a pet store. The dish should not be wider than 3 – 4 inches and no more than 2 – 3 inches high. Hedgehogs will use their dishes as a potty if they must sit in them in order to eat, so very large or deep dishes are not recommended either.

Water Bottle: Always use a water bottle instead of an open dish unless it is only very temporary. An open water dishes will fill with shavings and can be spilled easily. The water bottle does not need to be large since it should be cleaned and refilled daily with clean water to prevent the build up of bacteria. When using a water bottle, make sure that it is placed low enough for your hedgehog to reach, especially if you have just brought home a baby. The hedgehog should be able to lift his head slightly to drink. If he must tilt his head to the side to drink, the bottle is too low. If he must stretch his neck out to where his legs are stretched out all the way, then the bottle is too high. Some breeders say not to use water bottles because of the risk of teeth breaking, but in our many years of experience with hundreds of hedgehogs we have not seen this happen ever. If you do end up using a bowl it should be changed twice daily to make sure the water is very fresh and has not been spilled.

Exercise Wheel: An exercise wheel is probably the best cage accessory you can add, helping your hedgehog to maintain a healthy weight while having fun at the same time. However, not all wheels are created equal. The wheel must have a solid bottom because a hedgehog can easily get their feet caught in a wire wheel. The wheel should also be at least 12” in diameter. A wheel that is too small will cause the hedgehog to have to arch its back too much while running. We prefer the large sized Comfort Wheels that are sold at Petsmart. Many people end up buying a small one thinking that the large one is too big. A full grown hedgehog is almost as large as an average sized guinea pig, so the large wheel is needed. Hedgehogs do have a tendency to potty on their wheels while running, so the wheels do need to be cleaned frequently. Also, since the wheels do make noise and hedgehogs tend to run on them most during the night, trying to keep a hedgehog in a bedroom may not be the best idea. Our daughter, however, does have her pet hedgehog in her room and actually complained of silence so much when we were out of town that we bought her a sound machine to sleep with. But most people probably would have trouble sleeping with the irregular, rumbling sound that the Comfort Wheels make, but they are do not squeak like a metal wheel would.

The large plastic “hamster balls” are also a good way for your hedgehog to get exercise without getting lost in the home. But they can not be left in the ball for longer than an hour at a time, so this should not be a substitute for a wheel that is kept in the cage at all times.

Note: ALL hedgehogs (even those that are litter trained) will and do go to the bathroom while they are running on their wheels. In the wild hedgehogs run up to a 1/2 mile every night, so in their minds when they are running on their wheels they are running a long distance and not really thinking that they will be covering the same ground again. Hedgehogs naturally have a tendency to want keep their sleeping areas clean, but beyond that they will go where ever they are. This is normal hedgehog behavior and as a pet owner you must be prepared to clean the wheel daily. A hedgehog that does not get their wheels messy every night are a rare exception or it can be a huge sign that they are not running at all.

Additional Optional Items

The following items are recommended, but not absolutely necessary. They could be bought later on.

Hedgehog “play area”: We highly recommend setting up a play area outside the regular cage with a climb proof fence or wall. We call our play area, “Hedgie Park”. In this area we have exercise wheels, tubes for climbing though, toy cat balls for pushing around, stuff sacks for when they get tired. This is also the area where they get fed treats, like mealworms, so they really learn to enjoy getting out of their regular cages. I would recommend setting up the play area on a surface that can be cleaned easily…Don’t put it in the middle of your living room carpet without a waterproof, easy to clean barrier. Please see the Hedgehog Shopping List page for a product called a Small Animal Playpen that can be used for this purpose and is portable.

Other Toys: With any other toys that you try, the main objectives should be to give your hedgehog exercise and mental stimulation. Other types of toys that can be added to a play area are tubes for them to run through, although they should be horizontal and not vertical. (Hamster tubes are much too small for even a baby hedgehog, so buy the ferret sized ones.) Tubes can also be made out of large PVC tubing that can be bought at any home supply store and since they are smooth inside make cleaning them and getting a sleeping hedgehog out much easier than the ferret tubes sold in pet stores.

Cat toys, like the balls with bells inside them, can be fun for most hedgehogs to push around. However, never leave the balls with slits or holes in them in the hedgehog’s cage or anytime he is not being supervised. They can accidentally get their little feet and legs caught in these toys, cutting off the circulation in their legs if not found immediately, and sadly amputation of the limb would be necessary. Other types of human baby toys that can be pushed around are great too. Just make sure there is no risk of ingesting a small part, falling off from a height, or getting stuck inside any of the items you try. Hedgehogs do not pounce on toys like a cat, nor do they fetch a toy like a dog, so toys of this nature are not needed.

Some owners like to put in stuffed toys for their hedgehogs to cuddle with. I do not recommend this unless you are willing to wash or replace the toy weekly at the least.

Hedgehogs do not chew, so the many hamster/rabbit/guinea pig chew toys that are made for these animals are not suitable or needed by a hedgehog.