Proper Hedgehog Housing
Hedgehogs are very mobile little animals, and without a safe cage, they can be very adept at harming themselves. They need a solid-bottomed cage (no bars, mesh, or wire) and at least 3' of floor space. Acceptable caging options are 105+ qt Sterilite bins (lids and sides must be modified for proper ventilation), C & C cages, modified Ferret Nation or Critter Nation cages (ramps and second levels must be enclosed to prevent falls and horizontal bars must be covered to prevent climbing), and Midwest Guinea Pig cages. For photo examples of each of these set ups, please check out our links page. If you use a wire cage, please be sure that the bars within reach of the hedgehog are covered! Wire bars like those found on large guinea pig cages pose a risk to babies-- some will climb up and drop to the bottom repeatedly, potentially injuring themselves, and curious hedgehogs can get limbs or even their head stuck in the gaps. You can prevent this by covering the lower rungs with coroplast or another smooth, hard, easily cleaned material. The hedgehog community has seen babies and adults seriously injure and kill themselves with those exposed bars, so although it may seem like paranoia, the lower 6-8" of bars NEED to be covered.
Hedgehogs like to feel secure and hidden, so if you have a large cage, make sure there aren't big open patches of floor space-- fill it up with toys, snuggle bags, hides, dishes, etc. We use dishes for both food and water, but water bottles can be a safe option provided it is NOT a spring-loaded water bottle, and that is low enough for them to reach easily. If you choose to use a water bottle, you must clean the bottle daily, it's not a refill-once-a-week kind of thing. They still need fresh water daily, regardless of how it is offered to them, and the bacterial build up along the walls of the bottle needs to be cleaned off daily.
Bedding & Litter
Fleece liners are my liner of preference. They are 100% safe, easy to wash, and inexpensive (you don’t have to buy new ones every month)! My hedgies are very good about using their potty box when I use the fleece, but seem to get a little messier with Carefresh or shavings. If you decided liners aren't for you, remember that particulate bedding can harbor mites, so be aware of the risk, and please freeze particulate beddings for two days before use. Kiln-dried pine and aspen can be an acceptable bedding, but be sure that it is kiln-dried, as the oils from improperly cured pine can be very irritating to hedgies. Some have used Kaytee Clean & Cozy Care Fresh, and while some recommend pine pellets, please ONLY use pine pellets in the litter box. Using it over the full cage is uncomfortable-- imagine having to walk on gravel 24/7. NEVER use cedar shavings– hedgehogs are allergic to cedar and it can cause a variety of ailments. As far as litter, I suggest Yesterday’s News, pine pellets, or plain old paper towels as the litter tray liners. Corncob beddings, clumping or dusty kitty litter, newspaper, or shredded printer paper are not safe, as they can cause infections, cuts, and get lodged in sensitive areas.
Hedgehogs must be kept in temperatures between 72-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Failure to do so will result in hibernation attempts, which can kill your hedgehog.
The safest means of heating your hedgehog's cage are CHE (ceramic heat emitters) or space heaters. Be sure to attach a thermostat of some sort, so that the heater can kick on and off when necessary. Be particularly careful not to purchase light-emitting bulbs for heating, as the light will discourage nocturnal activity, and if they emit UV rays you could end up losing your hedgehog to cancer at a rapid rate. Please remember, a thermostat and a thermometer are NOT the same thing-- you need one of both! If you decide to use a space heater, be sure not to point the heater directly at the cage, as the drafts can dry out your hedgehog and even overheat them if you're not careful.
Heating pads or under-cage heaters are not safe! Not only do they provide inadequate heat (they only heat the floor, not the ambient air), but they are infamous for short-circuiting and burning hedgies severely. Remember, heat the air, not the floor!
Storybook babies will have started litter training when you get them, although they will still have “accidents” in their cage while they are still so small (babies do not have much bowel control-- just like with human babies, they eliminate more frequently and the muscle control is not developed yet). If you did not purchase your baby from me however, and would like to know how to litter train, it’s very simple! Every time you see an accident, scoop it up and drop it in the pan. After a few days, your hedgehog will prefer to go in the pan because that's now his established "go spot". It is also very helpful to the hedgehog (and for you!) to place the litter tray under the exercise wheel to catch run-off.
As a side note, do not expect them to ever stop pooping on their wheel. Most hedgehogs love running so much they will not stop to go potty, they just go as they run. Don’t get mad at them for this– they might outgrow it, but if they don’t, they’re just doing what their hedge-hoggy nature tells them to do!
We use cookie sheets lined with paper towels, and set the wheel on top. This provides ample space for the hedgehog to use as a bathroom, and is easily cleaned up. Other suitable litters are Yesterday's News, pine pellets (only for the litter tray, not the whole cage, it's uncomfortable to walk on constantly), or Carefresh. Newspaper is not suitable, as the ink creates toxins when mixed with urine. No clay based or corn cob litters, as these become lodged in sensitive areas and are often fatal when ingested.
Hedgies require high-protein, low-fat food with minimal "junk" in their diet. For this reason, we do not recommend commercially available "hedgehog food", since it is an awful lot of "junk" without the right kind of fat or protein. Instead, we suggest feeding a blend of 3 or more high-quality cat foods, which are both more accessible and often better quality. When looking for proper foods, look at the label. Fat percentages should stay between 9-14%, protein should be between 30-34%, and the list of ingredients should have limited "junk". We offer our hedgehogs about 1/3 of a cup each night, although hedgehogs with weight issues are served slightly less and a lower-fat mix than our standard maintenance mix. If you'd like a list of what we use in our mix, feel free to email us and we're happy to help!
Treats may include meal worms, wax worms, baby dubia roaches, and crickets, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables (be sure to check they are not on the toxic list first!) or babyfood. NEVER feed your hedgehog avocado, nuts & seeds, grapes, raisins, chocolate, or caffeine.
The one MANDATORY "toy" is a wheel. Mesh, wire, or wheels with gaps or seams are dangerous and can rip off nails or toes. The only safe commercially available wheel is the largest Comfort Wheel (chinchilla sized-- no smaller!). However, after using these for my hedgehogs for the first two years, I discovered that they broke often and easily, were noisy, and were difficult to clean. This is why I recommend investing in a bucket wheel. They are made specifically for hedgehogs, are durable, easy to clean, and virtually silent. See our "links" page to find places to buy one! Keep in mind that the wheel MUST be at least 10.5 inches in diameter, and the running surface MUST be at least 4 inches wide! The "Express Wheel" style is not safe for hedgehogs, and will not be approved if purchased for a Storybook hoglet. Silent Spinners likewise will not get approval, as they are known to be dangerous for hedgehogs (and they aren't silent anyways, the bucket wheels are!).
Other toys you can offer are ping-pong balls, baby-safe toy cars or toy skateboards, rubber duckies, crinkle ball cat toys, dig-boxes (a shallow dish or box with large, washed river stones or marbles with treats hidden among them), and TP tubes with the side cut. We offer a toy pack for sale in our Etsy shop, if you let us know you're interested in purchasing one before you come pick up your hedgehog we can have your purchase ready to go with your baby.
Handling, Bonding, and Socialization
Hedgehogs are naturally defensive animals, so proper handling is key to making sure they are properly socialized. When you first pick up your hedgehog, he will most likely be defensive -- scoop gently under his body and lift him to you. Hold him closely to your body to help him feel secure. Put him tummy-down on your hands if he is balled up (holding him on his back will make him want to stay balled up), and let him uncurl. Ignore any negative behaviors like hissing or jumping, since allowing him to "scare you away" will reinforce that behavior. You want to get him to understand that a) those behaviors are ineffective, and b) he doesn't have any reason to display those behaviors, because he is safe with you. Confident, firm but gentle handling and petting, even when he is bristled up, will help him figure that out. Light, tentative touches from above are going to make him more defensive, but confident strokes starting at the face and smoothing back the brow and quills helps them calm down.
Taking them out and about with you on short errands can be a great way to socialize. We take ours out either in a specialized carry bag or a snuggle sack tucked into my purse (both can be purchased through our Etsy shop, or you can email us and we can have them ready to buy at pick up so you don't pay shipping). We bring along a small supply of wetnaps, hand sanitizer, and a spare snuggle sack just in case. Make sure you aren't taking them into food establishments, but places like PetSmart, Home Depot or Lowes, drive throughs, etc. allow pets and don't mind at all if you bring them along. This is a good way to desensitize hedgehogs to new sounds and smells-- you'll notice many hedgies seem to kind of "come out of their shells" when they're out and about, with their nose up in the air and curious climbing.
Bonding time every day is important, especially during the quilling phase when they are young. This could mean active interaction and sitting in the playpen with your hedgehog, or it could mean letting them sleep on you in their snuggle bag while you work on the computer or read. Daily handling is important not only for bonding, but also to ensure that your hedgehog is not injured or exhibiting signs of health trouble. When you first bring your hedgehog home, sleep with a piece of fleece for a few nights and then put it into his cage to snuggle with. It will help him familiarize with your scent faster!
There are some things that will cause major roadblocks in your bonding and socialization. DO NOT use gloves to handle your hedgehog-- gloves prevent proper bonding and socialization because they prevent your hedgehog from becoming familiar with you and your smell. They can also cause biting problems, since typically the rubber on gloves is strongly scented to a hedgehog nose (they have powerful noses), which can cause them to lick and bite at that scent. Then, if in the future you attempt to hold him bare handed, you're going to go through the same process with your "new" smelling hands, and he will try the same on your hands. Instead, it is better to start off on the right foot and use your bare hands to handle your hedgehog. If you must use a piece of fleece to help you pick him up right at first, that's just fine, but be sure you are transferring him into your bare hands soon after. Another big mistake many make is creating a biting problem. Hedgehogs very rarely bite from aggression or fear-- almost all bites are because they encounter a new smell, and much like a human baby does, they put anything interesting they find in their mouth. Most of the time they will lick or sniff for a long time at a very focused spot before giving a testing nip to see if the spot tastes as good as it smells to them, so if a hedgehog begins sniffing intently or licking your fingers, move your hand away, wash your hands with unscented soap, and try again. If you do get nipped, do NOT put the hedgehog away immediately after. Doing so will tell him that nipping is how he is supposed to tell you he wants down, and he will begin to bite to try and communicate to you. Instead, ignore the nip and continue handling him-- 15-30 minutes after the nip at least. This way, he does not create a connection in his head that nipping is your language for "down please".
There are a few ailments that tend to be more common for hedgehogs. This is not to say your hedgehog will inevitably get them-- some hedgehogs go through their entire lives without experiencing any of these. However, it is important to know what these potential issues are, and what the signs may be that they are dealing with these.
Mites - This will manifest with constant itchiness, a yellowish or powdery buildup on the skin at the base of the quills, and/or drastic quill loss. If your hedgehog is going through a quilling, they will have new quill growth and no bald patches, but mite caused quill loss will create thin or bald patches at a rate new quill growth cannot keep up with. Topical Revolution from the vet is the safest treatment for this. Do not allow the vet to inject Ivermectin or Ivomec into your hedgehog, as ivermectin injections have a high rate of complications and sometimes deaths caused by it.
Raw feet - If you find a wheel with little bloody footprints on it one morning, chances are your hedgehog ran so much that his feet have been worn raw. Foot wounds heal very quickly, so just do a check over to make sure there are no injuries anywhere else that could be causing the issues, make sure your hedgehog's feet and cage are clean, and take away their wheel for a couple of nights. By the time you give it back, their feet should be fine.
Dry skin - Utah's dry air really makes this a common ailment here for hedgehogs and humans alike. This will appear much like mites, with constant itching, flaky skin, and in extreme cases quill loss, but there will be no yellowish buildup at the base of quills. The best way to treat this is with Humilac spray, which can be purchased online or at some pet stores, and can be used as often as necessary until the dry skin goes away, and then weekly for preventative measures. You can also add a spoonful of coconut oil to their bath water occasionally and then rinse the hedgehog thoroughly afterward. Don't get too heavy handed with oil application however, since too much can suffocate pores and follicles and cause skin conditions and quill loss.
Hibernation attempts - If your hedgehog is cool to the touch, sluggish or will not unball and is unresponsive to stimulus, has lost his appetite or has shown a decrease in activity, or is wobbly or lethargic, these are all signs of a hibernation attempt. Immediately warm him with skin contact-- under the shirt on your stomach and covered on the top with warm blankets is the best way to bring them out of this. DO NOT put a hedgehog in the middle of a hibernation attempt in a bath! This is more likely to harm them than to help them. Slowly bringing up their body temperature with yours is the safest method. Before putting them back in their cage, bump up the cage temperature by several degrees, since a hedgehog who has attempted hibernation once is prone to having it happen again shortly after. Remember, ideal temperatures are between 72-80 degrees, with most hedgehogs preferring 74-78.
Ingrown quills - This most often will occur with babies going through quilling (not in all babies, but it does appear occasionally). It will appear like a large, inflamed pimple under their quills. Most often, these remedy themselves if left alone, but keep an eye on it and keep the hedgehog clean and dry during this time-- if at any time it looks particularly concerning, the vet can provide a topical antibiotic to be applied. Do not apply a human triple antibiotic cream, since it can be toxic if ingested.
Loose or oddly colored stool - Green, slightly loose stools are a common response to stress, which can throw off the bacterial flora in their stomach. Usually, it will clear itself up, but if it doesn't after a few days, Benebac powder (again, available online or through certain pet stores) over their food can help restore the good bacteria cultures in their stomach. Diarrhea (very runny with no structure, all or mostly mucous, pink or red tint to the mucous) is cause for a vet visit, since this is usually due to a full blown intestinal infection and hedgehogs can be lost to dehydration in a short time. The vet will be able to prescribe the appropriate antibiotics, and you can rehydrate your hedgehog by using a small syringe to hand feed them clear, unflavored pedialyte.