Hedgehogs – why can’t they share?
Exotic pets, especially in North America, are becoming very common. Hedgehogs which are small, spiny coated, energetic animals are gaining popularity because of their uniqueness and relatively easy care. Most hedgehogs that are kept as pets are the African pygmy hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris), weighing between 300 and 600 grams.
Autumn Syracuse, a full time aquarist at the Aquarium of Niagara, cared for hedgehogs for about two years at her home. “Taking care of my hedgehogs was fairly easy,” she said. “Even though they are nocturnal, they would wake up several times throughout the day and have a few small meals.” She hung a water bottle on the side of the cage and provided soft absorbent bedding.
“If you are able to get a hedgehog at a young enough age, they are able to be litter trained,” Syracuse stated. “This makes cleaning a lot easier, but if they are unsuccessful with a litter box, you can scoop any droppings that you see on a daily basis, and replace their bedding about once a week.”
Autumn has a B.A. in psychology with minors in animal behavior and zoo biology from Canisius College. Hedgehogs expend a lot of energy searching for food and Autumn understood how important play sessions outside of the enclosure were for the wellbeing of the hogs.
“Their play sessions provided them with most of their enrichment. I had a small pen where they could run around, and this is where they played with most of their toys. I would also put them onto a hamster wheel, were they often decided to take naps after their workout,” Syracuse observed.
Hamster wheels are very important to their fitness. In the wild they can travel up to 2 miles a day looking for food. The wheels that have a solid surface are best, as the wire type could allow your hedgehogs feet to get stuck in between the bars.
Small cat, ferret or other store bought toys are popular enrichment items. Autumn’s hedgehog’s favorite thing to play with, however, was free. Many hedgehog owners know that they love to stick their faces in one end of a toilet paper tube, and run around with it on their head. This behavior has its own term in the hog community: tubing. Supervision is strongly advised when playing with such items.
Reducing animal waste and bedding from going into the food dishes can be accomplished by placing the dishes on top of a climbing rock or patio brick. The rough stone will allow them to keep their nails trimmed and provide them vertical space to explore. Placing some of their favorite treats, like waxworms, crickets or mealworms, in and around the rocks will provide them foraging opportunities which are good for mental and physical stimulation.
“Formerly classified as insectivores, hedgehogs are omnivorous and will feed on fruits, vegetables, eggs, frogs, insects, and a variety of other small prey,” Syracuse added. A pelleted hedgehog specific diet was what Syracuse and her vet decided on. As a treat she offered fruits, vegetables, mealworms, and ferret or cat treats.
Handling a hedgehog may seem intimidating at first. Their primary sense is smell and many hog owners recommend wearing a T-shirt and then placing it in the cage so they get accustomed to your scent.
“If you wait until they are calm, you can often place your hand underneath them where their soft belly is not so painful for you to handle. They did become affectionate once they were used to me, and often became excited whenever they saw me come home from work. They also loved all the interesting smells that came with me,” Syracuse said.
Hedgehogs live between seven and ten years. They make ideal apartment pets because of their size, quiet nature and produce little to no dander. The one down side is that they do not share well with others, especially hedges.