Subject: Hedgehog FAQ [4/7] - Hedgehogs as pets

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Summary

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions and general information about pet (African Pigmy) hedgehogs. Should be helpful to both prospective and current hedgehog owners.
Part IV - hedgehogs as pets, things you'll need, basic hedgehog care

Current Revision

Last-modified: 29 SNovember 2014
Version: 3.187

HEDGEHOG FAQ (part 4 of 7) -- HEDGEHOGS AS PETS
Compiled and edited by Brian MacNamara (macnamara@hedgehoghollow.com)
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed.

This document is copyright 2014 by Brian MacNamara. See section [0.6] for authorship information and redistribution rights. In short, you can give it away, but you can't charge for it.

The basic Hedgehog FAQ has seven parts, all of which should be available from wherever you obtained this one. A complete table of contents for all seven parts is given in part I.

Please note: While my knowledge of hedgehogs has grown (far beyond my wildest expectations when I began the FAQ), my knowledge is still quite limited, especially in areas of health care. I did not write, or verify, all the information in this FAQ. I have done my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot guarantee the correctness of what is contained in this FAQ, regardless of the source, or even that it will not be harmful to you or your hedgehog in some way. For advice from an expert, I recommend you consult the books listed in part 2 [2.1], or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem, a veterinarian who is familiar with hedgehogs.


Subject: CONTENTS OF THIS FILE

5. *** Things you'll need ***

6. *** Basic hedgehog care and training ***


5. *** Things you'll need ***



Subject: <5.1> What will I need to take care of my new hedgehog?

A brief list of things needed right away is covered in section [4.5], and is meant as a getting started list. This section, and the ones that follow, are meant to provide information in greater detail.

There are only a few things that are essential to keep a pet hedgehog. Basically a warm place to live (either a large cage/pen/aquarium, or a room
-- if you want to let your hedgehog run free), a food dish (preferably one that is not easy to tip over), a water bottle, such as for Guinea pigs, (water dishes can tend to become soiled and baby hedgehogs can easily drown in them, but adults often like them), and last but not least, something big enough for your hedgehog to hide in as a den. Of course food, water and other treats are a given!

It is also a good idea to have a shallow litter box or pan (although not all hedgehogs seem inclined to use them), and some type of bedding (aspen shavings, clean straw, etc., but NOT cedar [5.3]).

An exercise wheel [5.6] and [5.7] (big enough for a hedgehog) is also strongly recommended -- especially for hedgehogs that don't have the run of the house. Hedgehogs tend to be surprisingly energetic, and need the chance to use up some of this energy. In addition, it appears more and more that hedgehogs who have and use wheels live much longer and generally seem not to come down with some of the more common serious ailments, such as Fatty Liver Disease. Because of this, I am quickly reaching the opinion that a proper wheel is more of a necessity than a luxury. Given how easy (and even fun) it is to make a wheel, there really is no excuse for not having one.



Subject: <5.2> Do I need a cage? How should I set it up?

This is largely a matter of choice, yours and theirs. Some hedgehog owners wouldn't dream of caging their prickly little friends, while some breeders use large cat carriers to keep their hoards in (one hedgehog, one carrier).

I personally use large wire cages that were intended for medium to large dogs as homes for my hedgehogs. These cages measure about 2' wide x 3' deep x 2.5' high (frankly I wouldn't put a dog bigger than a Chihuahua in something this size, but the labels claim they were designed for collies and similar sized dogs!).

I should point out that organizations, such as VEZ [2.7], recommend ``one square meter (approximately 1 sq. yard) of floorspace for [each] hedgehog.'' This is a good rule of thumb, since hedgies are not as small as hamsters or gerbils, and do need space to roam in. The alternative is to give them a good play time, each night, to roam about a larger area under supervision.

You should be careful to make sure the grating in the cage you use leaves narrow enough holes that your hedgehog can't get out, or even get his head wedged in between the wires. Chicken wire is probably not a very safe choice. Hedgehogs will often attempt to escape with an astounding amount of vigor and can be quite single minded about doing so. Younger hedgehogs can easily get out of cages with openings between the wires as small as 1/2'' (1.5 cm) -- trust me on this, Sprocket earned the middle name Houdini for just this achievement, while Pocus would gleefully climb to the top of the cage looking for even the smallest niche to squeeze through.

Probably the most cost effective cage system I'm aware of is to use the large clear plastic bins (with lids) that look like giant Tupperware containers, and are available inexpensively from most hardware and department stores these days. Drill plenty of holes in the top (small enough that a hedgehog won't fit through, but large enough to provide lots of air), or even along the sides, towards the top, and you have a very easy to clean cage, that is also easy to get at to get your hedgie out.

The best part of the plastic bin idea is that, if you find ones that are not big enough, just use two, or three, or create a whole complex of them. Using inexpensive plastic plumbing pipes and fittings, you can create a hedgehog palace in a short time. Just beware to make sure tunnels slope at an angle that hedgehogs can manage comfortably.

Skewer lives in one such plastic bin that was far too low to give clearance for his wheel. Since leaving the top off was a guaranteed escape in the making, we solved the problem by cutting out a section of the lid, and putting another small, but deep, plastic bin over it, glued to the larger lid. This dome roof covers his wheel nicely, and ensures he only wanders (escapes from the cage) when it's intended (i.e., gets out for playtime).

Bedding, such as aspen shavings [5.3], is recommended in any cage, and most importantly, some sort of place to hide is needed. Alternately, you can use astroturf, or something like non-clumping cat litter [5.4] (make sure it's not dusty), or even epoxy coated aquarium stones (some sort of soft bed area is recommended, though). Do watch out for the pieces of litter or bedding getting caught in sensitive places as mentioned in sections [5.4] and [9.1].

The most frequently recommended den is a section of 4'' (or 6'' for larger hedgehogs) diameter PVC (plastic) plumbing pipe. You can get this at almost any hardware or plumbing store for a couple of dollars.

For a home, or den, I have used a variety of items. For Velcro I used two wicker bread baskets (about 4'' x 6'' and 2-3'' deep) tied securely together with a door cut towards one end (about 3'' x 3''). Velcro preferred this over either the PVC pipe home, or a hollow log, however, Popeye, who inherited Velcro's cage and den won't have anything to do with it, preferring to sleep under a hedgebag (a cloth bag with no seams). Pocus, however, preferred the PVC pipe or especially a hollow log, and wouldn't have anything to do with the basket (except as a toy -- Pocus tossed it like a seal with a ball). Hedgehogs *can* be fickle! For Quibble, Quiver and Pepper, who live together, we use a stackable plastic bin, turned upside down, which provides (almost) enough space for three plump hedgebutts to snuggle together at naptime.

A word of caution about using old socks or cloth with a loose weave to it:

If you're going to use an aquarium, I would not recommend anything less that a 20 gallon size, and preferably larger, as a basic home for a hedgehog -- they are much too active for anything less, and small enclosures will quickly lead to an overweight and unhealthy hedgehog.

Cages at the large end of being suitable for Guinea pigs or rabbits are likely fine. Keep in mind that hedgehogs like to explore, and they are great escape artists. They can climb anything they can get their claws hooked into, and by rolling into a ball and leaning forward, they can manage to get down quite safely from virtually any height that didn't need a long ladder to get them up to.

Tammy Baer sent in the following, interesting twist on the pet carrier home. I think this has some real merit for people who currently use a carrier, and want to give their little friends a better quantity of space to live in.

The point about not having climbable items in this kind of cage (in fact, any open topped cage, needs some stressing. Hedgehogs are very adept at escaping, and they are quite able to pile things against the side of a cage to get out. I've seen it done, and I've heard more stories on this than I care to admit. ;-)

If you are not certain the place you are trying to keep your hedgehog in is warm enough to keep him from going into hibernation [7.3], you might want to consider placing a heating pad (on its LOWEST setting) under the part of the pen where your hedgehog sleeps. Make sure your hedgehog is not going to come directly into contact with the heating pad, and that he has the ability to get to an area away from it, should it be too warm for him.

If your hedgehog gets too cool, you risk a number of problems, including pneumonia. Pneumonia can be especially bad, since you may not know he has it and even if it clears up, the effects of scarring on the lungs can result in death sometime later, when things otherwise appear perfectly fine.

Other suggestions from Katherine Long are to use heating elements intended for lizards, or those for keeping germinating seeds warm.

I have also received suggestions of caution from Kirby J. Kerr, about using heat rocks as designed for lizards as they are quite prone to overheating, and generally erratic behavior. In other words, do be careful when using these products.

Another idea for keeping hedgies warm is:

NOTE: When using these ``heat bulbs'' you must only use them in a ceramic light socket. My thanks to Ron Adrezin for this caution, and the following:

Here are some other ideas that show just how imaginative people can be when it comes to dealing with hedgehogs. This next idea was actually something created for keeping a too-small European hedgehog warm enough to avoid hibernation, until he could pack on enough weight to survive the ordeal, but it would work equally well for pets.

If your room temperature doesn't get too cool, you may be able to make do with an idea like this:

Just beware that there aren't any loose threads (or hairs) that can get caught around busy hedgie legs.

Feel free to be inventive when it comes to keeping your hedgehog warm during the cooler months of the year. As long as there is a warm area where your hedgehog's den is, and you haven't created a fire hazard or some other impending disaster, you can pretty much use your imagination when it comes to impromptu heaters.

It's imperative that your pet hedgehogs stay warm during the winter. Hedgehogs will go into hibernation [7.3] if not kept warm, and if they don't receive enough hours of light, and this can have disasterous consequences.



Subject: <5.3> The pet store uses wood shavings as bedding. Should I?

In most cases the answer is maybe. In addition to wood shavings generally making for a more comfortable place to root and burrow around in, many hedgehogs are not overly particular as to where they defecate. Using shavings makes cleaning up after them quite a bit easier.

I have heard of a few cases where hedgehogs were allergic to wood shaving bedding, but these have been relatively uncommon cases. In all the cases I've heard of, the hedgehog has experienced what appears to be a bloody nose most nights while roaming about its enclosure. The solution was to use a more natural bedding (closer to their natural habitat -- for example, real dirt and grass). Another possibility might be to increase the humidity, but the best solution is to switch from using wood shavings.

I have also seen numerous warnings against using cedar shavings, especially for baby or young hedgehogs where the strong aroma can actually overpower and even kill them. Do not use cedar!

The ``Safe Beddings FAQ'' now exists and is posted to the rec.pets Usenet Newsgroup on a monthly basis. It is also available via the WWW at:

My thanks to Rick Russell for the original pointer to it, and to Christine Porter for the pointer to the new address.

I have to admit that, in 1994, when I acquired Velcro at 8 months of age, he came in a pet carrier complete with a bedding of cedar shavings and was none the worse for wear from it (though he also lived in a very well ventilated cage). Since then I have used pine shavings, aspen shavings, Yesterdays News (recycled paper cat litter), and astroturf.

It now appears that pine, also being an aromatic softwood, `can' cause many of the same effects as cedar. While generally not as strong as cedar, it is better to opt for aspen or other non-aromatic woods. Personally, I believe that pine, as long as it isn't that strongly odoured (isn't very resinous) is an okay choice for bedding in open cages (as opposed to tanks). Strong smelling pine shavings, however, are not a good choice for a bedding material.

The rule of thumb for any bedding material is, if it has a noticeable scent, it probably isn't terribly safe.

I have recently been in touch with Gerald McKiness, who had lost five of his hedgehogs to the use of pine shavings -- the cause being borne out by the necropsies that were performed. After switching away from using pine, he has had no further losses. Here are some of the details about the symptoms:

While aspen shavings do not have what some people consider the pleasant cedar or pine scent, nor some of the insect (mite) repelling qualities of cedar, everything I have seen strongly urges against the use of cedar and also pine bedding for hedgehogs (and other small animals).

Aspen is, unfortunately, more expensive than either cedar or pine, but the safety factor is paramount. If you are unable to find aspen, and are using pine, make sure you do so in a well ventilated cage or pen, not one that is enclosed with limited airflow, as this will help limit the dangers. For cedar, the answer is simply to avoid using it.

Mike McGary has the following words of wisdom on a further advantage of using aspen shavings:

Another side effect of wood is that shavings of most kinds involve quite a bit of dust which can have unpleasant side effects on small lungs. Aspen, which appears to be shredded rather than chipped, seems to be less dusty and much better than pine or cedar.

For those of you who want an alternative to wood shavings of any kind, especially for those who might have allergies themselves to the bedding, Kathleen Close passed along the following idea, courtesy of her veterinarian:

After trying out the astroturf idea (make sure it's the newer, soft, almost carpet-like astroturf, not the older tinsel-like plastic grass), I wound up wondering about the edges where it seemed to unravel a bit. Terri Lewis provided the following great solution:

I've also found that careful use of a candle along the edges works well, but I do stress being careful!

I can now attest to astroturf working quite well, and I've found that my hedgehogs appear to be more active on it than with wood shavings, though that may have just been their anticipation of spring being in the air, at the time.

Janet Jones sent along some information on a new product that also shows some promise:

Note: Some problems have been reported with some young hedgehogs eating and subsequently choking on CareFRESH bedding. I suspect this same problem can occur with virtually any pelletized bedding material, and the best suggestion is to keep it away from the dinner area and to be careful with baby and adolescent hedgehogs.

Yesterday's News cat litter, made of pelletized recycled newspapers, also works quite well. They produce a variety for `ferrets' which has a smaller pellet size than the cat litter variety, but I've found no complaints from the quilled crowd over the larger, cat litter sized pieces. Note: they also make a `lemon' scented variety, which is probably not a good choice, both from the aromatic point of view, and the fact that hedgehogs are usually not overly fond of citrus.

Another suggestion is to just use non-clumping cat litter. This may have two potential dangers: dust and especially for male hedgehogs, getting caught in the penile sheath -- the same as if you used it in a litter box [5.4], [9.1] (there can also be problems for females, though these are not as frequent).

Corncob litter is not recommended as bedding for hedgehogs, for a number of reasons. The danger of it getting caught in delicate places still exists, though not as likely as, say, clumping cat litters. There have also been many cases of mites that pointed back to the use of corncob bedding as the source. Corncob also tends to become mouldy when it gets damp, as well as just rotting and causing odour.

Shredded office paper can also be used as bedding, although make sure it doesn't contain any metal (such as staples or paperclips) or odd chemical impregnated or carbon paper. It can, however, be quite dusty.

Although most bedding for pets is treated to prevent mites, bedding is still one of the major sources of these little pests [8.2]. I have heard from a couple of people who have reported that their vets told them that corn cob bedding can be especially prone to mite infestations. I do have to temper that thought with the idea that if a particular brand or batch in the area that these people lived was bad, it could have been the source for numerous problems over quite a period of time. Still, if you have mite problems, it is probably worthwhile to switch to at least a different brand of bedding, if not a different type -- at least for a while.

Looking still further afield, you can use the brightly coloured aquarium gravel (the type that is epoxy coated). This is not absorbent like the other bedding options, nor as warm, but it does provide a pretty safe, and non-allergic alternative. Cleaning and disinfecting can, however be awkward, making this better for particular areas rather than as a general bedding.



Subject: <5.4> What kind of litter should I use?

When it comes to the litter box, the primary concern is that you do NOT use a clumping type litter. Clumping litter can stick to your hedgehog when s/he uses the litter box, forming almost a layer of cement, which can quickly prevent urination.

Almost any brand of non-clumping cat litter is relatively safe. A clay based litter may be preferable, as most hedgehogs like to dig in it, as they would in soft soil or sand. Here again, you should ask the expert (your hedgehog) for his/her preference.

It is possible, however, for even non-clumping litter to become caked on, so you should check your hedgehog frequently.

Male hedgehogs can also get pieces of almost any kind of litter and bedding (especially clay and corncob) caught in their penile sheath. You should check hedgehogs of both sexes daily (or nightly, as the case may be) to ensure that there aren't any such problems.

As with bedding, there is a need that the litter you use not be too dusty.

Hedgehogs also like to dig and root in sand, and will often end up using their litter boxes for this, instead of for the intended purpose. If yours does this, you might want to try offering a sandbox [5.8] as a play area.

Here's yet another option that sounds like it might be cost effective, and should work well as both litter and bedding (my hedgies still want to know what the difference is, sigh!).

I can relate to the food theft - my cats sit on top of the hedgehog cage waiting to pounce on the odd piece of food I lose when feeding them. Taste is irrelevant. They aren't supposed to have it so it MUST be good. One day they will get into the cage, and learn, yet again, that ``ones with fur should not triffle with the ones with quills if one wants one's nose and fur intact.''



Subject: <5.5> I'm having problems litter-training my hedgehog. What should I be doing?

I wish I knew the answer to this one! Velcro and Popeye insisted that one's so called master is there for the express purpose of feeding tasty tidbits then cleaning up the results wherever they decide to leave them. As for the litter box, well that's just a playpen for digging in, isn't it? On the other hand, Sprocket and Hocus as well as Pocus seemed to just naturally seek out and use a litter box, and so do some of my current `ladies,' so there was no training involved. Now if I could get them to teach Popeye some manners!

That having been said, the recommended approach (which did not receive the Velcro stamp of approval, I might add) is to put all the droppings you find, into the litter box, daily. The idea is that the hedgehog will come to associate the litter box with where the droppings are supposed to go. Some hedgehogs apparently take to this quite readily.

In all seriousness, I suspect that hedgehogs which are taught from birth to use a litter box, will generally do so quite happily, while those that have not been taught, or didn't receive adequate training while quite young may not be keen on using the litter box, but persistence may pay off eventually.

For what it is worth, cleaning up hedgehog droppings is not exactly a difficult or messy task. In a pen with pine or aspen shavings it is simply a matter of quickly sifting though the shavings with a cat litter scoop to clean up the droppings. Fortunately, there is virtually no odour, and the droppings are big enough to clean up easily.

In addition to everything above, here are some interesting, and very promising tips on litterbox training:

Given the appeal of small openings to hedgehogs, it's a wonder why nobody thought of using that for any number of hedgie herding or training actions. My thanks to Michelle for this -- I'll definitely give it a try with my ill-behaved bunch.

Hot on the heels of the idea above, came the following suggestion from Melissa-Lee:

This is another fine example of why didn't I think of that! I suspect this would generally work best with males, who tend to be somewhat more territorial than females, but the idea of using a different hedgie's droppings to coerce one into knowing where to go has a lot of merit.

As with all things hedgehog, patience is the key. These ideas aren't likely to result in instant results, so be patient, and keep at it.

Don't expect perfect results, however, hedgehogs are just not going to be that fastidious about things. There are going to be exceptions, no matter what.

Some factors that will, however, make `mistakes' worse, are things like wheels. Remember that hedgehogs feel an almost irresistible need to go while on the go. As a result, you can often count on wheels becoming an alternate litterbox (not to mention a poop slingshot of sorts). Some hedgies will also get into the habit of stopping briefly, to hang their backsides over the edge of the wheel to `go' making it a bit easier to clean up afterwards.

In the end, there is no magic bullet to getting a hedgehog to use its litter box. Try the ideas above, and if it doesn't work out, it's not that bad -- trust me, I know!



Subject: <5.6> Hedgehogs and wheels

Most hedgehogs dearly love to run, and a hedgehog wheel provide the opportunity for plenty of important exercise. Although there are problems associated with using improper wheels, the positive effects of having and using a wheel are virtually enough to make one a necessity (unless your hedgie has free run of an entire room).

One of the most tragic maladies found in hedgehogs these days is Fatty Liver Disease, though for all the cases I have heard of, none have occurred in hedgehogs that have and use wheels. This includes cases where siblings have each had the same diet, but one has not used a wheel, and the other has. Exercise is very critical to our little friends, and for almost all of them, the only option available to get them enough exercise is to give them a wheel.

Here are a few thoughts on hedgehogs and wheels from Nathan Tenny:

All is not wonderful with hedgehog wheels -- there are a few serious problems that need to be considered.

(1) It is necessary that the wheel have a solid surface.

(2) Hedgehogs tend to leave their droppings all over their wheels:

(3) Pad any spokes you have on your wheel. I received a reminder recently, from Teresa, that to help cure a squeaky wheel, you can use petroleum jelly, and not have to worry about any harmful consequences from it being licked at by a curious hedgehog. I know from experience what happens to your nerves when a wheel (or two, or three, or...) is squeaking, when you're trying to get to sleep. ;-} I've also found that both Linatone and vegetable oil will work, but they do tend to become sticky over time, while petroleum jelly usually will not, and tends to last longer.

For those of you who do not feel up to tackling the job of constructing your own (see section [5.7], if you are up to it), there are a number of sources of ready made wheels for hedgehogs and suitable for them. Unfortunately, few pet stores carry wheels that can be used for hedgehogs, even with adaptation, so it is usually necessary to revert to mail-order, or to building your own.

Probably the most common wheels are the RoundAbout wheels by Balanced Innovations. Balanced Innovations is now owned by Ain't No Creek Ranch [2.8], so they are probably one of the best sources for these wheels.

RoundAbout wheels are also available from Brisky Pet Products:

Other sources for hedgehog safe wheels are places such as Transoniq Wodent Wheels (my thanks here to John Masinter for the info). These wheels are enclosed with round openings. The larger wheels are big enough for hedgies, but you may need to enlarge the openings for many hedgies -- especially if the reason for the wheel is to trim down a plump hedgehog. You can contact them through email at wodent-webers@transoniq.com or via:

Haba Exotics also make an innovative, and very safe wheel, which avoids both the problems of spokes and non-solid running surface.



Subject: <5.7> Making your own wheel

There are a wealth of ways to make your own wheel(s) for hedgehogs. This can be a fun, and easy project, and can save you considerable costs -- especially if you're on a budget or have a number of hedgies to equip. This section contains a number of ideas on how to go about it. The keys are to make sure you get something big enough, and with a safe, solid surface to run on -- and something that won't keep you and half the neighbourhood up all night. ;-)

Here are some rough pointers on making your own hedgehog wheel from Nathan Tenny:

Chuck Stoup passed along the following variation on building a wheel that looks great:

If you are going to use sandpaper, you should make sure you are using a very fine grade (probably 400 or higher grit), and you should also watch out for foot problems. Some hedgehogs can run their feet raw, or even to the point of bleeding (yes, they are that insistent on running, that even bleeding feet won't give them pause to stop). If this happens, remove the sandpaper.

When I asked Chuck about using this information he also sent along the some more good ideas:

I'm not sure about using the 9'' hoops (ours are 14'', and that seems just right), but that depends entirely on the size of your hedgehog, and the amount of space you have available. The whole idea certainly sounds easier than the Popsicle stick method.

From Tirya come more ideas on do-it-yourself hedgehog wheels:

One point of caution is that hedgies can get their toenails caught in the plastic canvas holes (I have found this out the hard way, along with others passing on similar experiences). Many hedgies will do just fine on it, though.

Kathy and Donald Zepp have also allowed me to add their variation on the do-it-yourself hedgehog wheel:

Yet another variation on the d-i-y wheel comes from Ken Steigenberger:

Finally, Randy Starcher has set up the following web page which shows how to construct a wheel (and the end result in happy use).

For those of you unable to visit the site, the basic premise is the bottom of a plastic bucket, mounted on its side. This makes for a very safe wheel, and one that is easy to clean. The mounting can be done to a cage frame, or to a simple stand. The hardest part is to make sure the bucket can rotate freely enough, without wobbling too badly, or coming apart. Innovation is almost a necessity when trying to look after hedgehogs.



Subject: <5.8> Any suggestions on toys?

Hedgehogs like to explore, and in spite of appearing to have almost nothing in the leg department, their legs are actually quite long (as you may be amazed to see during scratching and/or the contortions that accompany self-anointing [7.1]). Whether because of their long legs (or maybe that's why they are so long...), hedgehogs like to explore and run. Probably the best toy for most hedgehogs is a proper hedgehog wheel [5.6] and [5.7], which most hedgehogs will run on.

Aside from wheels, another toy that is recommended by numerous people is a toilet paper tube (preferably, without the toilet paper still attached). Many hedgehogs will pick this up and carry it or push it around for ages. Beware though, certain hedgehogs, who will go nameless (but whose initials were Velcro) managed to get an overly busy nose stuck in these and after completely destroying the cage, had to be helped free in the morning.

You might want to make a cut through from end to end, and possibly even bevel the corners of the cut a bit to make sure your clumsy little friend doesn't get stuck and/or hurt himself.

Another favorite `toy' for hedgehogs is a sandbox or grass plots. Here are some more detailed descriptions from Mary Anne, courtesy of a keeper of nocturnal animals at a nearby zoo:

One idea that I've rather shamelessly lifted from Dawn Wrobel is the idea of a playpen. In her case she uses plastic kids' wading pools, with some shavings in the bottom, and a bunch of toys scattered around in the pool. This makes a great place to explore and to let various hedgehogs meet on neutral ground. Her idea has actually evolved into a fun sort of contest at many hedgehog shows and gatherings, these days, where the hedgie who `explores' the most toys and objects, wins. In any case, even inflatable pools work very well for this -- just beware not to use the wading pools with the built in escape ramps (also known as slides).

Shelley Small passed along the following suggestion for a different kind of hedgehog ``pool'' that her hedgehog loves to play in:

If you offer your hedgie a foam-pool, just make sure the container is low enough that he can manage to get back out again, after a grand old burrowing session. You should also make sure that you supervise the activity, both in case your little friend gets into trouble, and in case he escapes (now would a hedgehog do that?!?!) One other thought -- make sure the foam chips don't give off a strong odour, or they may have much the same dangerous side effects as cedar bedding [5.3]. It might also be a good idea to watch out that your hedgie doesn't eat any of the foam, as it could cause intestinal blockages.

As far as other toys go, hedgehogs do like to climb, even on something as low as a hollow log turned upside down. Be careful that your hedgehog isn't likely to fall and hurt itself. I would also expect that wire frame climbing levels, as are in some cages available for small animals would be better off being covered with something to make a solid surface (to keep busy little hedgehog legs from slipping through and getting caught, and to limit just where the little demons decide to do their climbing).

From Finland, Marcin Dobrucki has the following idea for toys, that is especially good for those who can/do let their hedgies run free:



6. *** Basic hedgehog care and training ***



Subject: <6.1> How can I best hedgehogproof my home?

Simple, make sure there's nothing to climb onto, off of, into, or out of, nothing that can fall, and finally no kryptonite. A little too much to ask, you say? Oh well, let's try for a more realistic approach based on what hedgehogs will try to do if allowed to run free.

Seriously, ``hedgehogproofing'' is a lot like ``childproofing,'' and the most that you can ever really hope to achieve is to ``hedgehog-resist'' your home. Hence, the stress on supervising your prickly kids, below.

A free roaming hedgehog will climb anything it can get its claws hooked into. African pigmy hedgehogs in particular (as opposed to Egyptian hedgehogs) are notorious climbers, and escape artists. They are also not afraid of jumping off household cliffs (we call these precipices counters and tables) by simply rolling into a ball and leaning forward, using the quills as springs for landing. That pretty much means your hedgehog needs run of the floor, and if you have stairs, you will either have to block them or keep him on the lowest floor.

Next, hedgehogs will get under just about anything they can. This includes any piece of furniture that has any more than about a 1'' gap between it and the floor. The problem here isn't so much the hedgehog getting under there, but that there may be dust or other things accumulated there that are not good for your hedgehog.

The best guide is probably to get down to the hedgehog's level and try to imagine any place your frisky little friend might even consider trying to get into, and what it would be like.

Beyond keeping these activities in mind, make sure your hedgehog has a warm place that's easily accessible for a den, as well as access to water and food. Hedgehogs will usually prefer to leave their droppings on wood shavings or a similar bedding, if, that is, you are as successful (or rather unsuccessful) as I have been in the litter box training department (at least as I was with Velcro).



Subject: <6.2> What should I feed my hedgehog?

Anything he wants, preferably MEALWORMS!!!
-- Velcro

Sigh, that's what happens when I ask for advice from a hedgehog.

There are finally a number of good quality, properly developed ``hedgehog foods'' starting to appear on the market. While I have outlined these in the following section [6.3], I can see things soon reaching the point where using one of these foods will no longer be the `best' thing to do, but the `only' appropriate course of action. Unfortunately, they are not yet well established or widely available, enough, for me to take that position.

Without the benefit of a properly formulated hedgehog food, the next best option is probably ``insectivore food.'' Unless you can get some direct from a local zoo, this is largely a do it yourself job. One caveat I would place on this is to either cook it, or use cooked meat -- never never NEVER use raw meat or egg for hedgehogs. One commercial source of this `type' of food is PawPrint [6.3].

Unfortunately, true hedgehog food is not available everywhere, and some of the `hedgehog' foods available appear to not always be the best option. So the next best widely available thing, is to feed your hedgehogs high quality cat, dog, or ferret food, such as Hill's Science Diet, or Pro Plan (don't use IAMS with hedgehogs that don't have and use wheels -- see below, though even then it can possibly be associated with problems). Both dry and canned food should be provided, as this most closely matches what their natural diet would be like, and wherever possible, it is best to use diet or light types of food -- hedgehogs do not need the concentrated protein of regular/maintenance type foods.

Many breeders I have talked to use cat food with very good results, although most have now changed (or are changing) to hedgehog foods, so while it may not be the most optimal diet for hedgehogs, now that other options are coming available, many happy, healthy, long-lived hedgehogs have thrived on cat and dog food since the dawn of pet hedgehogs. That said, there are some problems associated with it (see section [9.5] on wobbly hedgehogs). It seems likely that some sort of vitamin supplement is needed, though exactly what vitamins or trace elements are lacking is not really known, at this time.

Up to this point, it has generally been felt that using a diet composed mainly of dry foods is best to help avoid tooth problems such as tartar buildup, and even abscesses. Research into other animals has recently begun to point out that problems such as tartar appear to be more related to the pH (acidity) of the food being used, rather than how hard and crunchy it is. My thanks to Leslie H. for reminding me that this almost certainly applies to hedgehogs as well as other animals. As she also pointed out, the ``issue of hedgie teeth wearing down'' (which can happen in some cases), is likely as much or more of a concern as tartar, and is much harder to deal with, when it happens.

Dietary needs for hedgehogs are finally starting to be addressed. One such recent study demonstrated that hedgehogs need more fibre in their diet than we have been tending to give them. Unfortunately, while the study pointed out that more is needed, the question of how much and how best to provide the extra fibre is still up in the air.

In general, it is likely wise to offer your hedgehogs some fruit and/or veggies which are high in fibre, as a supplement to the basic diet you are currently using. I can only suggest that you try a variety and see what, if any, your little friends will decide qualifies as a food item. As with any such experimentation, moderation is a good idea -- at least until more is known. The good news is that we are learning, and hopefully hedgehog nutrition will start to move out of the dark ages.

Over the past several years, information has come to light about possible problems with feeding IAMS brand cat and kitten food to hedgehogs. Apparently, long term feeding of IAMS cat or kitten food can result in severe, and often terminal liver problems in hedgehogs. The exception to this rule appears to be hedgehogs that have and use wheels -- almost no reports of problems have appeared in hedgehogs like this that are getting plenty of exercise (just a nightly run on a bed is not enough). I have had two reports where the autopsies showed fatty liver disease, where the hedgehogs ate IAMS and also ran on wheels regularly, but so far, only two such case have come to my attention. I do want to stress that this is still largely speculative, and reflects my own observations of the cases I am aware of. I will keep watching this issue, and keep things updated here.

The problem appears to be limited to IAMS brand as far as research has been able to tell, at this point, and I want to STRONGLY stress that IAMS is just GREAT for cats (as all 5 of mine will attest to), but was never intended for hedgehogs. If I learn more, I will pass along any additional information.

My source for this information is somewhat nervous about potential legal repercussions if they came out and officially stated the problem, due to the position that they hold. This tenuous position will likely remain, at least until having done much more extensive research (actual, direct research into the problem would require the cost of numerous hedgehog lives, I might add, which is one reason why none has been done). As a result of all of this, I have agreed not to list their name(s). That said, I will acknowledge that my source(s) for this information is/are (a) well respected hedgehog expert(s). I leave it to you to decide based on some of the comments that were passed to me.

If you have been using IAMS, don't panic -- as was pointed out, changing the food will apparently lead to any of the effects clearing up. Also if a wheel is offered and used, the problem is likely to dissipate quickly.

From what I've heard, the problem is due to the types of fat, and possibly in conjunction with certain additives, rather than just the absolute level of fat in the food. My thanks to Christine Porter for pointing out this confusion. As noted, the problem generally only occurs with hedgehogs that don't get enough exercise. Increasing the exercise seems to allow hedgehogs to burn this fat that would otherwise build up in their bodies, culminating in Fatty Liver Disease. While all hedgehogs should probably have a proper wheel [5.6] [5.7], a wheel is likely critical to those that are eating IAMS, and can't be switched to a different food.

I should also point out that if, indeed, the problem is due in any part to the additives, or the type of fats, rather than just the quantity of fat, then use of lite, or canned food would have no effect on avoiding problems.

The following information, from Elizabeth Galante, is somewhat speculative with respect to hedgehogs, but may have some bearing on the fatty liver problems. She described a problem that resulted in the death of one of her cats a few years ago from fatty liver disease:

It is not unreasonable to consider that a slight diet, or drop in food intake at the wrong moment could trigger the problem. It might be wise to ensure that you don't put your hedgies on a diet at the same time as switching them off of IAMS, or at least to phase it out, rather than going cold turkey. Again, this is speculative, but with so little information to go on in this area, anything can be useful to consider at this point.

Hedgehogs not fed a good, balanced, commercial hedgehog food may require vitamin suppliments. These can be very important for hedgehogs to avoid ear, skin, and other problems. The vitamins included in commercial cat and dog food, while good, are not adequate for what hedgehogs really require. It can take some imagination to find a suitable supplement in some places (remember, those intended for rodents are probably not adequate) but the results of a happy, healthy hedgehog are well worth it.

I would suggest that for people seeking a vitamin supplement to use, look to those formulated for animals which live on a primarily insect diet, such as some birds. Also, beware not to overdo the vitamins, which can be even more dangerous, than too little.

Another diet that has been suggested is to use high quality dog food (especially frozen varieties), with cottage cheese as a supplement. Cottage cheese also makes for a good treat on occasion, even if you don't use it as part of the standard diet.

However, do be a bit wary of the Cottage Cheese Zack Lessley reminded me that that hedgehogs ARE loctose intolerant, as are many animals. So use cottage cheese (or any milk based product) with care and sparingly. Zack also notes that you might also want to be wary of Kitten food for the same reason. While many are not going to contain cows milk products directly (cats and kittens are also lactose intolerant with respect to cows milk), kitten food is just not an ideal diet for hedgehogs.

Here are a couple of comments on diet from Cathy A. Johnson-Delaney, DVM:

Since this time I have learned that some brands of ferret food `can' cause allergic reactions in hedgehogs.

Obviously, if any sign of these symptoms does appear, discontinue feeding the ferret food you are using immediately. It would also be prudent for your hedgehog to visit a vet at this point as allergic reactions can be quite problematic.

Continuing on with the topic of Ferrit food, now that there are actually a number of decent hedgehog foods available, Zack Lessley pointed out that many Ferret foods are often too high in fats, etc. to be good for hedgies:

This does not imply that all ferret food should be avoided -- far from it -- but that you should be watchful when you start using a particular brand.

Here are some more thoughts and suggestions from Nathan Tenny on food and supplements:

Other sources and hedgehog owners I've heard from frequently offer mealworms as treats with no apparent ill effects, but I suspect they might not be a good recommendation as the sole source of food for a hedgehog.

One caution that has come up is that you should remove and discard any dead mealworms from the container you keep them in. It is possible for the other mealworms to develop and pass along dangerous bacteria as recounted here:

All in all a very wise precaution, and an example of someone who was observant enough to know when their hedgie needed help. The result was a happy ending and good information for all of us.

While we are discussing mealworms, a number of people have expressed worry that it might be necessary to cut the heads off or otherwise kill mealworms before feeding them to hedgehogs. This is due to the fact that feeding them to various herps who swallow their food whole, can result in the still live mealworms causing injury or death by biting into or through the stomach lining. This doesn't apply to hedgehogs as hedgies will chew up mealworms quite thoroughly -- the chances of a hedgehog swallowing a still live mealworm are nil, as anyone who has watched an apparently ravenous hedgehog tear into a mealworm treat. Did I remember to say watch out for your fingers...?

The following thoughts on proper diet for hedgehogs were sent along to me by Willard B. ``Skip'' Nelson, DVM. While I agree with his suggestions, including limiting cat food, I would also like to point out that all of the breeders I've talked with, and heard about have had their herds thrive on a diet of cat and dog food, though more and more are now using proper hedgehog food, as it becomes more widely available. I think the answer is to aim as close to the ideal as you can, but know that your hedgehog can do quite well on the basic cat/dog food diet, just watch out that your hedgehog doesn't become a hedgeball. That said, let's take a look at what Dr. Nelson has to offer:

Dr. Nelson's final comment is even easier to apply to other pets, and even ourselves. It's probably best to look for recommendation by a veterinarian association, when trying to determine quality, rather than trying to second guess what is good based on what ``someone who wants to sell you something'' says. Also, remember, what's healthy for you, might be really bad for your pets (and, um, er, vice versa -- just in case it isn't obvious).

Melissa Kallick managed to track down the contents and analsys of Reliable Protein Insectivore Diet:

Melissa noted there are definitely some iffy items on the ingredients list, at least by human standards, but more importantly, she noted that hedgehogs apparently don't find the taste terriby appealing. However, hedgies can be amazingly fickle and will suddenly decide to devour a food they used to despise (and yes, turn their noses up at food they used to love).

She also noted that the Reliable Protein have another interesting item:

One thing you should never feed hedgehogs is raw meat. Hedgehogs have an amazing tolerance for naturally occurring toxins, such as those produced by salmonella. This means that if you feed your hedgehog food that is or becomes tainted by salmonella by accident, it probably won't bother your prickly little friend any. However, the chance then exists, that your hedgehog might self-anoint and you then hold him, or he might lick your hands, the result being that you come down with it. If you do, this is NOT the hedgehog's fault, it's yours for not taking proper care. Sorry for being a bit testy about this, but if anyone remembers the outcry over salmonella carrying turtles in the early 70's when turtles were banned everywhere, and many died for their dangers. Hedgehogs, unlike these turtles, are not inherent carriers of salmonella. While there has been a strain traced to hedgehogs, unlike the turtle situation in the 70's most hedgehogs that have been tested have proven to be free of salmonella. The cases which did occur, were very isolated, limited to specific groups, and happened some years ago. It is very important to avoid the same thing that happened with turtles from being applied to hedgehogs, where the situation is very very different.

Hedgehogs are insectivores, and as a result are essentially carnivorous, as opposed to Guinea pigs, rabbits, and most small rodents, which are generally much more vegetarian in nature (although many are somewhat carnivorous, often in the form of insects or scavenging to some degree).

The quantity they eat will vary depending on their age, sex, amount of exercise, etc., and, of course, on the type of food you are feeding them. A rough rule of thumb is somewhere around 2 tablespoons worth per hedgehog per day. More if they are young, pregnant, or nursing. Less if they are tending towards becoming a hedgeball.

Hedgehogs do tend to eat at least twice per day. In effect, their stomachs don't hold all that they need in one go, so after their dinner, they tend to rest for some time while they digest what they've eaten, then it's back to the dinner bowl for another helping, usually later in the night, or early morning. This is what leads to the two main ``active'' periods of late evening and early morning.

One last point, feeding a hedgehog a purely vegetarian diet is nothing short of deliberate cruelty. The proteins and nutrients necessary to keep your hedgehog healthy cannot be gotten from a purely vegetarian diet, so please don't try it.



Subject: <6.3> Commercial hedgehog foods and nutrition

After a number of early attempts, there are finally a number of good quality hedgehog foods showing up on the market. It will take time for these to actually spread around and become more available, but it is starting, and the results are very encouraging. Within the next couple of years, I expect that the only answer to the question of what to feed a hedgehog will be `hedgehog food' at last.

Accu-Feed is available is from Brisky Pet Products. This hedgehog food appears to have been well thought out and is far more appropriately formulated than many of the earlier foods on the market. Brisky Pets sells by direct mail-order, and is in the process of setting up distributors, so that it can be available in pet stores. You can contact them at:

Along with the food comes plenty of information on feeding, and on how to help convert your picky pricklier over to a new diet. Brisky Pets seems to be very friendly and responsive and many people have reported good results with the food. My thanks to Jon Simmons for helping arrange things with Brisky Pets to be shipable to Canada, and for getting me most of this information.

Brisky's has also come out with a flavoured variety of its hedgehog food to help solve some of the problems with overly spoiled and very picky hedgehogs. Because of Dick Brisky's insistence on using only natural ingredients and flavourings, it took a while to find something that would work. The solution appeared to be garlic, and the new garlic flavoured Accu-Feed is apparently much easier to switch picky hedgehogs to.

Brisky Pets hedgehog food was being distributed in Canada by Jenny Jones at Markham Creek Exotic Pets (covering Ontario and presumably Eastern Canada), and by Brenda Basinger at ABC Pet Products (covering Western Canada), though I'm not sure if either still act as the distributors. If you have no luck with them, you can always contact Brisky Pets at the address above.

or from:

The `flavoured' version of this food does highlight the biggest problem with this food in that it is not considered very `tasty' to many hedgehogs. In fact many simply will not eat it -- especially, if they are used to something with much more flavour, like cat food. The food also tends to be rather dry, which only serves to increase its lack of appeal to these hedgies. Possibly dampening it slightly might help increase the appeal.

I've had a number of people tell me that Accu-Feed also seems to cause much greater quantities of droppings, which are much softer than other foods. In light of recent studies suggesting that greater quantities of fibre are needed in hedgehog diets, I can only say that this food probably best addresses this problem, and that overly dry or hard droppings are much more likely to result in health problems. If anything, small hard droppings should be more of a worry.

Another excellent hedgehog food that is on the market is Select Diet (not to be confused with Science Diet cat/dog foods). This, like Brisky's Accu-Feed, is a complete hedgehog food, meaning you don't need any supplements with it. It does seem more palatable to most hedgehogs than the basic Accu-Feed's does, but it is also harder to find, as yet. There are starting to be a couple of distributors, but they are still few and far between.

I personally was using Select Diet (for the hedgies -- before anyone gets any wise ideas!), and found that even my overly picky eaters seemed to like it. While I do like the Brisky's, most of my hedgehogs just wouldn't eat it (I have not tried the flavoured variety), but they do have a reputation for not eating things which are good for them (sigh!). So far the results have been great, with happy, healthy, and very active hedgehogs.

Courtesy of Dawn Wrobel, I've heard of another new hedgehog food that is apparently on the market, now, called Ultra-Blend Select, from a company called 8 IN 1 Pet Products. The early indications are that this food is very good, and it does appeal to most hedgehogs it has been tried on. The biggest advantage to this food is availability -- it appears to be showing up in major pet supply chains, and should prove to be easier to find than most other hedgehog foods, at least for the time being.

8 IN 1 Pet Products also produces an Ultra-Blend Fruit N' Veggie Treat for hedgehogs. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this in the same way as the actual hedgehog food. Whoever formulated this `treat' clearly did not bother to learn much about hedgehogs before tossing it together. Among its contents are whole sunflower seeds (in the shell), and dried corn kernels. Not only will hedgehogs not eat these, the risk of them getting caught in the roof of their mouth is great enough that these should be removed before putting the rest into the hedgehog's bowl. I've had several reports of hedgies having to have these removed (not necessarily from this particular `treat' food), and even a couple dying from this. None of my hedgies would even touch it. It got a thorough paws-down on being a hedgehog `treat' -- something I've heard from others who've also tried it with their hedgehogs.

In December 2006, we found another new (to me) hedgehog food at one of larger pet stores where we live called Sunseed, Sunscription Vita Hedgehog Formula, African Species. This certainly has the appearance of something that is made for hedgehogs, based on the content (it's primary ingredients are Fish, Shrimp, Crab meal and Mealworms) being primarily protein based. It's also in very convenient sized pellets (very small, and not too hard) which will not get stuck in hedgie mouths. The one down side that I can see, based on my own experience, is that you have to be careful not to overfeed, as my hedgeies will inhale every last tibit of this food that they can get at. This is, hands (paws?) down the most popular (with the hedgies) hedgehog food I've come across.

I don't know how widely available it is, but the company is of some size and I hope it does well. Here's what information I have on the maker, from the canister:

Note that when I last checked their website, it did not show any information on the Hedgehog Formula, but they clearly produce a wide range of pet foods.

In July 2003, we discovered a new hedgehog food in a pet store, called Brown's Nutrition Plus, Premium diet. This food is in the form of very small pellets about 3mm or 1/8 of an inch in size. Mixed in with this are various extras, such as raisins, dried vegetables and fruits, and even cheese meal. What really caught my attention was that all the dried veggies have been cracked and broken into pieces that are a safe size for hedgehogs, so they don't get caught in the roof of their mouth or throat. This is decidedly not just a repackaged food for some other animal, but is clearly well thought out for hedgehogs.

The Brown's bag also stresses the fact that this is a low iron diet. That is a real plus as some of the other foods tend to be very very high in iron.

I do have to admit it wasn't an overwhelming success with my hedgehogs (they would really have preferred a nice piece of chicken) but unlike most new foods, they did eat it. That is certainly a positive sign. There is a fairly strong scent of banana from it, which is not surprising as that is one of the ingredients, and banana does tend to overpower most other smells. All in all a very promising looking food.

I'm not sure how widely available it is, though it is made in Pennsylvania, and I purchased it just outside of Toronto, in Canada, so it doesn't appear to be a limited availability. You can probably find a source by contacting the manufacturer at:

Here are the contents and nutritial analysis of Brown's courtesy of Melissa Kallick:

Peyton Creadick kindly sent the following information on the Pretty Pets Hedgehog food produced by Pretty Bird International Inc.:

There have been some suggestions about problems with the Pretty Bird's hedgehog food, including from Peyton herself, although I have heard from breeders who swear by it. I have no hard and fast details either way at this time. One very common side effect appears to be very smelly, soft stools from the hedgehogs eating it. Another aspect of it is that many hedgehogs, just plain don't like it. They will eat it if nothing else is available, but it usually gets put at the bottom of the preference list. Pretty Bird has apparently changed their formulation a couple of times over the past couple of years. As they appear to be trying to improve things, I do have to give them credit.

There is also a hedgehog food available from Vitakraft, thanks go to Tirya for the following information on it:

Laura Jefferson passed along the address for Vitakraft to me for anyone who might want it:

I've heard both good and bad things about the Vitakraft food. The good comments seem to center around many hedgehogs liking it (no mean feat), though I've also been hearing an increasing number of negative comments which seem to focus on the fact that it is primarily vegetable based, whereas hedgehogs are primarily carnivorous by nature. It would appear that Vitakraft is not a complete food, but rather one that needs to be supplemented with meat (remember, cooked only!), or cat/dog food to cover all the bases, rather than being given as a staple on its own.

One actual warning I've heard repeatedly, is that the peanuts in it can get stuck in a hedgehog's mouth. The number of cases of this that I've now heard of have reached the point where I really have to recommend against using Vitakraft for hedgehogs. Even with the peanuts removed or crushed, it still does not provide a complete diet. There are much better options out there, including cat or dog food. If you do want to use it, remember to please be careful and either remove the peanuts or break up the peanuts into smaller pieces before feeding it to your hedgies.

That said, it is probable that the fibre content is much higher than most other hedgehog foods currently available -- a fact that is quite important, as it is becoming clear that hedgehogs need more fibre in their diet than we are generally feeding them.

It does seem to be becoming quite widely available, and between the lack of being a complete food (not clearly noted on the packaging) and the peanut problems, it does create the potential for some nutritional and other health problems. I have heard that Vitakraft is working on solving the peanut problem (and in the future they will likely either be crushed or removed entirely), though I don't know if the food basis itself will be improved to where it can be a staple on its own. The fact that they are looking to improve this is definitely a point in their favour.

Janet Jones has also provided the following information on yet another source for hedgehog food:

To add another option to the fray, Del sent me information on a hedgehog food from the Exotic Nutrition Pet Company.

The food sounds interesing and looks to be produced specifically for hedgehogs, as opposed to being a more general food just being something remarketed for hedgehogs.

Exotic Nutrition also carry a couple of varieties of Insectivore diet, and something they refer to as Hedgehog Booster. The latter appears to be a vitamin supplement. The also carry a number of other hedgehog products and items that are suitable for hedgehogs. As an added bonus, they appear to be quite happy to ship internationally.

Melissa Kallick sent along the ingredients and nutrition from Exotic's Hedgehog Complete food:

Aside from the ``Hedgehog Complete'' food, Exotic Nutrition also have an ``Insect Eater'' food:

Melissa also had a great suggestion on getting veggies into your hedgie, to which she added the caveat ``IF they will eat them, is available via a company called ``Beak Appetite:''

Currently, the key problem with hedgehog foods is availability. There just isn't enough demand (or obvious demand) for pet supply stores to stock hedgehog foods. This in turn means that the quantities being produced remain low, and that keeps the costs up. It's a vicious circle, that will only slowly change as more and more people start to buy hedgehog food for their pets. Still, it is improving, and I expect things will be much different within the next couple of years.

As a quick sidebar to the availability issue, I've found it somewhat difficult of late to find what I would consider decent hedgehog food for my own little friends. As a result, I've been working with my vet to try a combination of commercial hedgehog foods, along with high fiber, and diet type cat foods. These are foods that are only available through a vet -- in effect prescription type foods. So far things are quite positive, but I would prefer to feed my hedgies something formulated specifically for them.

One other factor that is finally having an effect on commercial hedgehog foods is that some research into hedgehog nutrition is starting to happen. I have to give a great deal of credit to Dawn Wrobel, here, as she has almost single-handedly spearheaded much of the research that has been done and published to date. While answers are still very far from certain, we are starting to see some of the nutritional needs of hedgehogs defined.

The first glimmers of information started appearing a couple of years ago, in the form of suggestions that a much greater level of fibre is needed in their diet. More recent, studies have started to suggest percentages of various nutrients that are important. The good news is that the better hedgehog foods are generally not too far off the mark, although cat and dog foods, by themselves are generally a poor fit. I'm sorry that I don't have the details to publish, here, but hopefully they will become publicly available in the not too distant future.



Subject: <6.4> What are good treats?

There are a number of different things that can be given to hedgehogs as treats -- but all in moderation. Among the things that hedgehogs tend to like as treats are occasional small amounts of fresh fruit, and from personal experience I can tell you that all of my hedgehogs, will kill for a mealworm or a small taste of cream, and love raisins (but Velcro generally just chewed on them rather than actually eating much).

Other ideas are crickets, hardboiled egg which is finely chopped, and cottage cheese. Mealworms are available from many pet stores and are also available by mail order (at least in the U.S.) from companies like Rainbow Mealworms [2.1], and GrubCo.

Here's a suggestion from Anja van der Werf for live food treats:

You can also ``gut feed'' mealworms by feeding them for a few days on dry cat or dog food before feeding them to your hedgehogs.

While small amounts of these are great as treats, beware that they should not be given as the mainstay of the diet, nor too often, as they do not provide all the necessary proteins and nutrients needed to keep your hedgehog healthy.

It is also possible for a hedgehog to briefly suffer from diarrhea after imbibing too much in these treats. This is generally not harmful, but indicates that too much of a good thing isn't. If the condition persists, consult a veterinarian.



Subject: <6.5> Any suggestions on bathing, cleaning ears, and clipping nails?

Some of the literature I've seen suggests that you should not bathe a hedgehog unless it is absolutely necessary, because there is a chance of drowning. This is especially critical for babies and young animals. However, I have been told by several hedgehog owners that not only is it not a problem to bathe adults, but that they can often enjoy swimming in a pan or tub of shallow water (preferably on a warm day).

If you do bathe your little friend (say, because your hedgehog got into something he shouldn't have), you must make very sure he has a warm, dry place with no draughts to dry off in (after you do your best to dry him off with a towel first). The bath water should be shallow enough for the hedgehog to be able to stand and keep his nose safely above the surface, and should be at room temperature, not warm or cool. One good thing about hedgehogs in water is that rather than quilling up, they generally put their quills down smooth, and for the majority who dislike baths, concentrate on trying to get out. It's probably best to just gently lower the piggy hog into the water and slip your hand out from underneath. As far as shampoo goes, if you really must use one, make sure it is formulated for pets, preferably something like puppies or kittens, which will ensure it is very mild and safe. Make sure you don't get any shampoo into their ears or eyes. I find using an old toothbrush works well to work the shampoo into the quills. Finally, make sure that you rinse him thoroughly, so that there is no soap left on him, then as mentioned above, dry him completely and ensure he stays warm enough. One quick warning: do NOT use a hairdryer -- this is almost guaranteed to leave your hedgie severely stressed (besides, if he was that fashion conscious, he wouldn't have gotten into this mess in the first place).

When it comes to bathing, there are also some cautions to beware of when drying your hedgie. It appears that some detergents or fabric softeners can be a serious irritant to hedgehogs:

It is occasionally necessary to clean their ears. This is best done by a Q-tip moistened with mineral oil. It is also preferable to have a patient (or is that tolerant) hedgehog. If you do clean their ears, you must be very careful. Also, see section
[8.3] on tattered or ragged ears.

Hedgehog nails can get quite long and if your hedgehog doesn't manage to wear them down naturally, they may need to be clipped. As with any health related concern, the best cure of all is prevention. It is likely a good idea to provide your hedgehog with a rough surface like a flat rock that will work like an emery board as he scurries around. This may not guarantee you won't have to clip his nails, but it can certainly help.

Okay, let's say your attempt at a natural manicure doesn't do the job -- how do you go about doing it the hard way?

Here's another great idea, especially if your hedgehog is open to bribes, and not too nervous:

I'm not sure if that would work with my hedgies, but it sounds like it would be throughly entertaining at the very least.

It's a good idea to keep something nearby to stop potential bleeding when clipping hedgehog nails, just in case you accidentally cut too close to the quick and find your little friend bleeding. Given how profusely hedgehogs can bleed, it can become quite a scary situation.

There are a variety of things that work well for stopping the bleeding. One is an ``antiseptic first aid cream'' made by Hagan for just this purpose. It stops bleeding and coats the injury, and worked extremely well when we had to use it.

There is also a powder called ``Quick-Stop'' designed exactly for this purpose, that apparently works very well. Many pet stores will carry it at or near where nail clippers or grooming supplies are kept.

Steve Turpin has passed along the following tip, that you can also use cornstarch to stop bleeding quickly and painlessly, and is often available when other things might not be.

By the way, speaking of painless, or not. I have it on good authority that Quick-Stop hurts like #$%! if you're foolish enough to try it yourself (fortunately, I wasn't -- I have much too low a pain threshold for that).

Now, what you do about doctoring your hands (which, no doubt, have been severely prickled) is beyond me... :-) This is probably one of the few times that sometimes justifies wearing gloves while handling your hedgehog, but keep in mind that you should avoid gloves any other time unless absolutely necessary [4.6].

Rather than always trimming nails, there are some things you can do to try and help wear them down naturally. There are some suggestions about using fine sandpaper on the surface of wheels in section [5.6]. Another idea comes from Kelly Hodge, along with tips on how to trim the nails:



Subject: <6.6> Biting and nipping

Most hedgehogs rarely if ever bite, however, as with any animal, it does happen, and some just `are' biters. Many young hedgehogs will nip at almost everything -- it's their way of testing the world around them, so they can learn what is and what isn't food. Others will nip if they want to be left alone or are feeling a bit stressed (this often occurs just after they arrive at their new home -- don't be discouraged if it happens).

Regardless of the reason, if your hedgehog nips you, you want to discourage it. Here are some tips on how to curb little nippers before they get carried away.

Wayne Clendenin sends along the following advice on whether hedgehogs bite and other useful advice on hedgehog as pets:

If your hedgehog isn't the overly nervous type, one suggestion you can try for hedgehogs that nip or bite is to blow gently into their face either when they do it or, if you can tell, when they are about to. This doesn't hurt the hedgehog any, but they don't like it and it can have the desired effect of stopping the bite and being gentle punishment.

One of the most effective ways of curbing biting comes from Dawn Wrobel, who has dealt with numerous rescue cases, many of which were quite upset, nervous and hence prone to biting. She recommends using a Q-Tip dipped in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol applied to the end of the nose. This won't hurt the hedgehog, but they dislike it intensely and will let go. Dawn suggests that at most 3 or 4 applications will usually dissuade even the most insistent biter.

Linda Wheatley, an experienced breeder and hedgehog lover, provided the following advice on hedgehogs and biting:



Subject: <6.7> HELP, my hedgehog is LOST! (or Hedgehog Hide-and-Seek).

Don't panic. Here are some tips for finding a lost hedgie.

Hedgehog are experts at hide-and-seek. They like to sleep under pieces of clothing, in jacket sleeves, pants legs, etc. They may even crawl into a sock (and get stuck)! Don't move heavy objects that might injure a hiding hedgehog. Check furniture before sitting on it -- especially sofabeds. Many wall units, bookcases, and even built-in cabinets have a hollow base. The back of the unit may allow access to the base. This is a favorite hedgie hiding place.

If your hedgehog makes a huffing/hissing noise when he is disturbed, you can use this to your advantage. Carefully disturb potential hiding places and listen for a huff. Knock on the base of furniture and cabinets, holding your ear to the base to listen for a startle response. Repeat several times. One escaped hedgehog was found inside a stereo speaker because he huffed when his owner walked by (luckily, before he was blasted by loud music)! If you find your hedgehog in a difficult place you may opt to wait for him to come out on his own, rather than risk injuring him (or your back!). Blowing the scent of his favorite treat into the hiding place may help lure him out, but only if he's calm and ready, and, most importantly, warm enough to function.

If you cannot find your hedgehog, or need to wait for him to voluntarily leave his hiding place, consider whether he might get cold. If he could be in an underheated place (e.g. near an outside wall, on a cold floor) TURN UP THE HEAT. Make it downright tropical if you have to. If he gets too cold, he may enter into a dangerous semi-hibernation state, and will not be able to wake up and come out. (Of course, make sure he's not hiding in heat vents or behind radiators before you do this!)

A special thanks goes to Christine Porter for providing the entire section above! You'll be happy to know that Pokey, who inspired the piece, was tracked down and safely returned to where she belongs. I wish I could say I can't relate to what Christine wrote, but I can attest to its accuracy.