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Hedgehog Information Package


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Bowmanville Veterinary Clinic

Owning a Pet Hedgehog

General Information

Hedgehogs can make fun, enjoyable pets. They are mammals whose entire back is covered with spines. Unlike porcupines, they do not throw their spines. The spines are sharp and can injure owners. As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs "ball up" exposing their spiny backsides. Because they often "ball up" owners may not be able to handle them and play with them like other pets.

In the wild, hedgehogs eat insects. Their life expectancy is about 10 years. During the day, hedgehogs burrow and sleep most of the time; hedgehogs are nocturnal pets in the wild. As local laws often regulate whether or not hedgehogs can be kept as pets, this should be investigated prior to purchasing one of these unique animals.

Anatomical Interests

1. Hedgehogs have a keen sense of hearing.

2. Hedgehogs are covered with sharp spines on their backside.

3. Frightened hedgehogs may hiss or spit and "ball up".

4. Hedgehogs will hibernate if the environmental temperature falls below 60 degrees. Hedgehogs do not need to hibernate and many veterinarians recommend against hibernation as problems with diseases can occur if hedgehogs are not healthy prior to hibernation or if hibernation does not proceed correctly. Talk with your doctor about whether or not you should allow your hedgehog to hibernate.

5. Hedgehogs have a lower body temperature (95 F or 35 C) than most mammals. 

Selecting Your Pet

Hedgehogs are usually purchased at pet shops or through breeders; they are often also for sale at exotic pet shows. As with any pet purchase, avoid hedgehogs that appear ill. Hedgehogs should be bright and alert and move quickly when startled. Avoid pets with closed eyes or discharge from the eyes or nose. As they readily "ball up" when disturbed, it may be difficult to inspect them closely. If possible, check the ears for redness or excess wax, which might indicate an infection. Check the mouth for broken teeth or red and inflamed gums. The pet should neither feel fat nor thin; you should be able to feel the ribs with just a small amount of fat over them. Check the anal area for diarrhea or moistness, which might indicate a gastrointestinal infection. The spines should be free of excess scaliness.

The First Veterinary Visit

Your hedgehog should come with a health guarantee that requires a checkup by a veterinarian within a few days (usually 48 hours) after purchase. All pets including hedgehogs need regular veterinary examinations. Select a veterinarian knowledgeable about hedgehogs.

The visit includes determining the animal's weight, as well as checking for lumps or bumps. The animal is examined for signs of dehydration and starvation. A fecal test is done to check for internal parasites. The veterinarian can also determine the sex of your pet. Like all pets, hedgehogs should be examined annually and have their feces tested for parasites during the annual visit.

Vaccinations  - Pet hedgehogs do not require vaccinations

Housing Your Pet Hedgehog

What type of cage does my pet hedgehog require?

The cage should allow a lot of movement by the hedgehog. Walls must be high enough to prevent escape. A glass aquarium is used by some owners; others use dog or cat carriers or cages suitable for rabbits or ferrets. Care should be used if wire-bottom cages are provided as the hedgehog can easily injure a foot in the wire; the wire bottom must be thoroughly covered (as with Plexiglas).

Hedgehogs are very susceptible to extremes in temperature. Heatstroke is possible with temperatures above 85 F (29 C). Temperatures below 60 F (16 C) may induce hibernation, which is not recommended due to problems with disease.

My pet seems lonely. Can I house more than one hedgehog in each cage?

While hedgehogs can be housed in groups, fights can occur if adequate space is not available. For this reason, most owners choose to house only one pet per cage. 

What can I place in my hedgehog's cage?

A hiding box, such as a cardboard box or plastic flowerpot, works well. 

What about toys?

Chew toys can also be placed in the cage, although they are not necessary. The smallest piece of the toy should be too big to be swallowed by the hedgehog.

Does my pet hedgehog need bedding material in his cage?

Pinewood shavings make a safe bedding substrate for your hedgehog.

Anything else I need to know? 

 Cages should be cleaned at least weekly, with soap and water (rinse well), or when they become dirty as hedgehogs are susceptible to skin irritations from urine and feces.  

This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.

© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. February 22, 2018.

Feeding Your Pet Hedgehog

What do pet hedgehogs eat?

In the wild, hedgehogs eat mostly insects. As pets, hedgehogs should be fed a low-fat high-quality cat food. Small amounts of insects, such as worms and crickets, and a small amount of fresh vegetables and fruits can also be offered. Check with your veterinarian regarding what vegetables and fruits are recommended; avoid lettuce and celery, which are low in nutritional value, and avocados, which might be toxic. Insects should be purchased from a pet store or raised in the home; care should be used in obtaining insects from gardens where insecticides and fertilizers have been used. Your veterinarian may be able to provide some tips on successfully raising your own insects to offer your hedgehogs. 

Do I need to give my hedgehog vitamins?

Hedgehogs do not require additional vitamins if fed properly.

Can I offer my hedgehog treats?

 As a rule, hedgehogs don't require treats, although an occasional offering of fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains is acceptable. Don't offer any "people food" without checking with your veterinarian first.

What about water?

Freshwater should be left in the cage 24 hours a day. Most owners choose to offer water through a sipper bottle hung in the cage. Check it whenever you change the water (at least daily) to make sure the sipper tube has not become clogged with food.

This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.

© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. February 22, 2018. 

Common Diseases

What are some of the common diseases of pet hedgehogs?

Common conditions of pet hedgehogs include parasites, ringworm, cancer, and pneumonia.

What are the signs of these diseases?

Both internal and external parasites are seen in hedgehogs. Internal parasites ("worms" and protozoa) can cause diarrhea (intestinal parasites), coughing (lungworms), or be diagnosed during the yearly fecal examination in animals that are not showing any symptoms.

External parasites that may be seen include fleas, ticks, and mites, and cause various types of dermatitis.

Ringworm is not really a worm but rather a fungus. Clinical signs can include missing spines, hair loss, flaking, and crusting of the skin. It can be transmissible to other pets and people.

Respiratory diseases, especially pneumonia, are often seen in pet hedgehogs. Nasal discharge, sneezing, and difficulty in breathing may be seen. Severely affected pets may be listless and stop eating. One of the most common causes of pneumonia in hedgehogs is the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica, which causes kennel cough in dogs. It might be wise to limit contact between dogs and hedgehogs; all dogs in the house should be vaccinated against kennel cough.

Cancer often occurs in hedgehogs 3 years of age and older. Most commonly, cancer involves the stomach or intestinal tract. As is true with many hedgehog diseases, clinical signs may not be specific for cancer and simply include lack of appetite and lethargy.

How are hedgehog diseases treated?

Internal parasites are treated with the appropriate deworming medication. External parasites are treated with a safe flea spray, injectable medication, or medicated bath and dip.

Pneumonia and other respiratory problems are treated with antibiotics. Hedgehogs that are lethargic and have stopped eating require aggressive therapy in the hospital; fluid therapy and force-feeding may be necessary.

It may be possible to surgically remove cancerous tumors. Those involving the internal organs are often too far advanced at the time of diagnosis to properly treat.

How can I tell if my hedgehog is sick?

Signs of disease in hedgehogs may be specific for a certain disease. Often, signs are vague and non-specific, such as a hedgehog with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases including pneumonia, overgrown teeth, cancer, and even kidney or liver failure. ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.

© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. February 22, 2018.

Special Problems of Hedgehogs

General Information

Hedgehogs have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.


Cancer is very prevalent in hedgehogs, especially those over 3 years old. Tumors have been reported in all body organs in hedgehogs, but are especially common in the gastrointestinal tract. Signs are often vague and non-specific, including weight loss, loss of appetite, and lethargy.


Anting is a peculiar behavior seen in hedgehogs. When seeing an unfamiliar object, hedgehogs often lick the object repeatedly until frothy saliva accumulates in their mouths. They will then rub this saliva onto their skin and spines. It is not known why hedgehogs do this or the purpose the behavior serves.

Difficulty Examining

Hedgehogs commonly "ball up" when handled. This makes an examination by your veterinarian difficult if not impossible. Most hedgehogs will require anesthesia for even a simple examination. While there is always a risk with anesthesia, the risk of death is greater if an examination and needed tests [such as blood tests or radiographs (X-rays)] are not performed. In order to properly diagnose and treat your pet, these tests are necessary and so is the short period of anesthesia that may be required. 

This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.

© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. February 22, 2018.