How Can I Keep My Hedgehog Warm?

     The hedgehogs that we keep as pets come from warm parts of Africa and need to be maintained at warm temperatures. You can tell that the temperature is good for them because they will eat, drink, stay active, and behave normally. A hedgehog that is too cold becomes sluggish and cranky, and it will ignore its food and water. Sometimes it will curl in a ball and not hardly respond to you at all, and it will seem cool to the touch.

     In general, a temperature 70 and up will keep your hedgehog happy and healthy. Hedgehogs are at risk during times of the year when we experience rapid temperature fluctuations, such as in the spring or fall, when we humans can adjust by throwing on an extra blanket or sweater, but hedgehogs are vulnerable. It can also be a problem for them if the overall temperature is warm, but their cage is in a draft or near a window or door where the cold seeps through. Hedgehogs who are very young, elderly, or ill are also more at risk because they can't thermoregulate as readily as healthy adult hedgehogs.

     If you find that your hedgehog needs an extra heat source, there are several options to choose from that have been shown to work well for hedgehogs. Here are some of your choices:
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Image result for snuggle safe disk
Snuggle Safe Disk

1) Snuggle Safe Disk: This is a microwaveable disk that is best used if you are nervous about anything that plugs in, and are able to check the temperature of the disk every 4 to 6 hours to make sure it's staying warm enough. You will want to follow the manufacturers recommendations for how long to place the disk in the microwave so that it does not become overheated and melt. The disks come with a cover, which should be used to provide a cushion between the hedgehog and the hot disk. These disks are especially awesome when travelling!

2) Ceramic Heat Emitter: Ceramic Heat Emitters (also called "CHE") are currently very popular among hedgehog enthusiasts. The Ceramic Heat Emitters are a ceramic bulb that looks a lot like a light bulb, but it only emits heat and not light. There are certain lamp fixtures that are made to work with CHEs, so make sure that when you purchase your equipment, you are purchasing a fixture that is made to work with a CHE. 
     Ceramic Heat Emitters get very hot and are an electrical system, so you will want to purchase a thermostat and thermometer. Testing before you put your hedgehog in the cage will let you make sure that the cage temperature does not get too hot for your hedgehog and that it maintains a constant temperature. I recommend plugging your heat emitter and thermostat into a power bar for an added layer of protection.

3) Reptile Heat Pads: Some people love these, while others very strongly express that they think they should never be used. Unlike human heat pads, reptile heat pads are designed to be kept on, using a thermostat to regulate temperature. For best protection, also plug your system into a power bar. When using a reptile heat pad, it needs to be able to go under the cage, with a layer of bedding and the cage surface between the hedgehog and the heat pad. It should be small enough that it only covers a portion of the cage (1/4 or less) so that the hedgehog can move further or closer away as it gets warm enough. 
     The problem that has caused people to hate reptile heat pads is that people have apparently placed them directly into the cage with no thermostat to regulate temperature and are reported to have burned their hedgehogs :( Definitely be smart about it and don't place your hedgehog at risk if using a reptile heat pad! It is also a good idea to research the brand and read reviews/look at ratings to make sure you are getting the quality you need.

4) Reptile Heat Tape or Reptile Heat Cord: This is much like the heat pads and should be used with a thermostat and plugged into a power bar. The heat tape/cord is made to go around the outside of the cage at the base, so that the cage will be warmer near the tape and cooler toward the middle. I have never used reptile heat tape/cord so I don't know how well it raises the ambient temperature or how hot it gets. Using a thermostat does help with preventing overheating,  but you will want to research to make sure that the brand you choose isn't going to melt your cage if you are using a plastic cage. Never place something like this inside the cage where it can burn your hedgehog with direct contact. I do know that many reptile owners do successfully use reptile heat tape/cord with their reptiles.
Thermostat


Reptile Heat Cord
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      I have been asked why I don't recommend reptile heat rocks or human heat pads for hedgehog heat sources. I don't recommend the heat rocks because I have not found that they raise the overall temperature in the cage and I have heard stories of animals being burned on them. They just don't make a reliable heat source so I would not use one. Human heat pads on low, underneath part of the cage and not in direct contact with your hedgehog, can be used as a short term warming solution. However, their manufacturer labeling tells you that they are not made for constant use and that it isn't safe to leave them on unattended.

     Hopefully this article will help you to come up with a heating solution that will work well for you and your hedgehog! Always be sure that any electrical system is checked regularly for problems and that you are using a thermostat and power bar fore safety. Also please be sure that if you are providing an extra heat source, that you provide your hedgehog with a temperature range. Allowing part of the cage being cooler than the rest lets your hedgehog decide where it feels most comfortable and prevents it from accidentally overheating!


How Much Space Does A Hedgehog Need?

Hedgehogs are busy little creatures who love to run! When hedgehogs first entered the pet trade, people often kept them in small kennel cabs or 10 gallon aquariums, or even hamster cages! This turned out to be disastrous for the hedgehogs because, without room to roam or explore, they tended to become bored, unhappy, unhealthy, and obese.

Fast forward to 2020 and there is a current trend toward enormous cages, which is awesome! If you have the space, by all means, go as big as you can! I have gotten emails from people who are worried about living in a small apartment and not being able to provide their hedgehog with a mega mansion.  They wonder what their options are for keeping a hedgehog happy and healthy.

Here are the guidelines I recommend for choosing a cage that is big enough keep your hedgehog happy and healthy:

1) The cage should have sides that are tall enough that the hedgehog can't just stretch and get up and out.

2) The cage should have enough floor space that you can place the hidey house, food dish, and water source and still have enough room for a wheel or other enrichment activities.

3) Once you put all of the cage furnishings in, the hedgehog should still have room to run freely around in the cage. In our experience, roughly 3 square feet of floor space or more has allowed our hedgehogs to run and stay happy and healthy. We have not had problems with our hedgehogs exhibiting obesity or other issues related to a sedentary lifestyle as they stay quite active!

4) Hedgehogs do not HAVE to have a wheel, after all, they don't have natural growing wheel bushes to run on in the wild. However, they DO need to be able to run and to explore, and a wheel or saucer is a great way to do that. If you do not have a wheel or saucer in your hedgehog's cage, be sure to take your hedgehog out daily for play time where hedgie can roam and explore. In addition, provide toys for enrichment.

5) I know this one doesn't have to do with size, but when talking about hedgehog cages, I always feel the need to include the public service announcement to remember that hedgehogs need a solid floor and not a wire floor. Guinea pig cages generally have solid flooring, while rabbit cages do not. Hedgehogs also tend to fall off of upper levels of cages until they have learned where everything is, so if your cage has multiple layers, make sure that you modify any ramps so hedgie can get a grip to climb it and modify ledges so that hedgie can't just walk right off!

If you select a cage for your hedgehog that follows these guidelines and provide the level of environmental stimulation that your hedgehog needs in the form of handling, supervised out of cage time, and toys, you will have a hedgehog that stays happy and healthy!

The cage above may look like a glorified bread box, but it has about 3 square feet of floor space, enough space to put a wheel or saucer in the middle, and room to roam. It also has a fixture for a heat emitter. This cage has the benefit of being escape proof for our hedgehogs who will not stay contained in any other cage I have ever tried for them!!

What Kind of Toys Do Hedgehogs Like?

Hedgehogs are very curious creatures who love to explore and stay active. Like most small animals, they do better when they live in an enriched environment with plenty of things to do and explore.

One of the things that hedgehogs really love to do is run around with toilet paper tubes on their head. Nobody really knows why they do this, but almost all hedgehogs will! You might think the hedgehog is stuck, but if you take the tube off of the hedgehog's head, it will give you a disgruntled look and go back into the tube! There have been hedgehogs who even learned to eat and drink through a tube. I had one who escaped and I found him because he was making a racket with a wrapping paper tube he was expertly winging around on his head!! We have used tubes made of craft foam with our hedgehogs, when there weren't enough TP tubes to  go around.


Hedgehogs also enjoy toys that they can crawl in, on, under, or through. In the pictures below, you can see quite a few different toys in this enrichment cage that we had set up at a pet expo.


When you are choosing toys to offer your hedgehog, think about the hedgehog's safety (no sharp edges, nothing they will get stuck in and unable to get back out) and what the hedgehog will do with the toy.

Hedgehogs may climb over, dig (or sleep) under, or push around a toy car. Small balls or Easter eggs can be pushed around. Some hedgehogs have figured out how to break open plastic Easter eggs to get to their favorite treats inside!



Hedgehogs also enjoy investigating things that smell interesting to them. Cinnamon sticks or catnip cat toys are popular. We do not know if catnip is dangerous for hedgehogs to ingest, so please make sure that if you offer catnip, you do not let your hedgehog eat any of the catnip.

If you set up your hedgehog's cage and play area with lots of toys that keep hedgehog busy and fulfill its curiosity, you will have happy hedgehog! You will also have hours and hours of fun watching what we call "hedgie TV." :) 

Do Hedgehogs Make Good Pets for Kids?

Hedgehogs can make good pets for kids. Here are four main points to help you decide if a hedgehog will be a good pet for your child:

1) The child is not afraid of the hedgehog. If the child is afraid, more than likely the hedgehog will sense the nervousness and will act nervous or aggressive, making the child more afraid. This isn't good for the child or the hedgehog. It's okay if your child needs canvas gloves or a hedgebag to have confidence to pick the hedgehog up because eventually, both hedgehog and child will get more comfortable and they will both relax.

 2) The child knows how to take care of the hedgehog and has adult backup support. If the child has not done their research, they won't know how to take good care of it. Hedgehogs are pretty easy to care for, but they do still have some specific needs that most other small animals do not have, like needing to stay warm. Hedgehogs are also not rodents and have very different care requirements that standard small animal pets like rats, rabbits, and guinea pigs. The adult backup support is needed because kids are kids and no matter how responsible they are, life happens. If your kid gets a pet,  you are getting a pet, because you as the adult are going to need to step in if your child is sick, goes on vacation, or forgets.

3) Your child has shown the maturity needed to respect and care for an animal. Kids will promise you the world because everything tends to be so right now to them. Kids may have the most absolute earnest intention of follow through. The important thing is that they have the track record for following through. I have had many children purchase hedgehogs from me whose parents made them earn some to all of the money to  buy the hedgehog. Those parents are  very wise because the same kind of stick-to-it skill that is needed to raise that large of a sum of money is the same kind of stick-to-it skill that will help the child to stick with caring for and respecting the hedgehog once it is home.




4) Your child has done their research about hedgehog care. This one is really important and might be harder than you think. There is a lot of information out there on the Internet and some of it is really bad! Once I saw a website where the writer recommended using lettuce for bedding "so your hedgehog can eat it, too!" Seriously not a good plan!!

Make sure your child has read multiple sources and has written down (with your help if they are very young) questions to ask the person that you are getting the hedgehog from. You can also have your child contact us with questions as we are really happy to help prospective hedgehog parents get good information. This can help clarify anything that might be confusing. 




What Kind Of Wheel Do I Need For A Hedgehog?


One thing that we definitely know about hedgehogs is that they LOVE to run! Hedgehogs are reported to run about 1.8 to 8 miles per night and can run in short bursts of up to four miles per hour. One researcher did the math and figured out that a hedgehog running these distances would be like you or I running a marathon every night!! This gives me tremendous respect for my prickly little buddies because I only walk 3 to 5 miles per day at an average of 3 to 4 miles per hour!

Hedgehogs are generally very happy to run laps in their enclosure, or to run in hedgehog proofed areas of the house. However, they do also like to run in wheels and it's very fun to watch hedgehogs running, running, running on their wheels.

An appropriate wheel for a hedgehog is 11" or larger in diameter. When you choose a wheel, it should have a surface that is not going to cause hedgie to slip and get caught or break a leg as the wheel spins on. The wire wheel below can be used as is or with a liner (duct tape makes a great liner).



I personally prefer solid wheels for hedgehogs. Solid wheels are great because they don't require any extra modification. The Silent Spinner and the Comfort Wheel by SuperPet are both  great. I like the Silent Spinner better because the ball bearing construction makes it quieter when hedgie is working out.





Something that you will need to keep in mind if you purchase a wheel for your hedgehog is that hedgehogs tend to potty on the run and their wheels get messy. Expect to clean the wheel one or more times per week.

The easiest way to clean a hedgehog wheel is to soak it in water for at least 15 minutes to loosen up the droppings, then spray the wheel with a hose to remove most of the debris. If you want to disinfect your hedgehog's wheel while it is soaking you can add bleach in a ratio of about 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. That might seem like a lot of work, but think about how hard your hedgehog is working at training for that marathon and you won't mind at all! 😄

What Do Newborn Hedgehogs Look Like?

Most of the time I do not handle infant hedgehogs because it upsets the mothers and can cause the mother to hurt, kill, or abandon the babies. Sometimes mothers are already hurting or abandoning the babies and I have to touch them to remove them for their safety. When this happens, the first choice is to put them with a foster mother. If a foster mother is not available, then I try to hand feed.

When hedgehog babies are born, they have a sac and fluid around them. The quills have not emerged yet, at the time of birth. The mama licks each baby to remove the sac, then moves them into her nest. Once, I was watching the birth when a mama left a baby in the middle of the cage and went into her nest box with the other babies. The baby began to turn gray and I assumed it was stillborn. After a few minutes it seemed clear that mama was done and not coming back so I picked up the baby to remove it. It looked so sad and sweet, still in the sac, and I gave it a gentle pet. To my surprise, it seemed to gasp so I did it again and saw that it definitely still had signs of life! I gently petted the baby to get it breathing and that loosened the sac, When its color had come back, I carefully lifted the next box, counted the babies, and slipped baby in with its siblings. It was such an awesome experience, and even more wonderful that all of the babies survived!

The babies in the photograph on this page were abandoned by their mother, who was trying to hurt some of them, so they had to be removed. I took the opportunity to photograph them before moving them to the cage with their foster mother. You can tell by the tiny emerging spines that they are only and hour or two old.











What is quilling?

Hedgehog quills are modified hairs, much like the center part of a feather, minus the fluff. When a hedgehog baby is born, it has no quills....