Hedgehog
Small Pets
 

Hedgehogs


Hedgehog information

Hedgehogs are mammals belonging to the subfamily Erinaceinae in the family Erinaceidae. In the family Erinaceidae you will also find the much less well-known South-East Asian moon-rats who make up the subfamily Galericinae. 

Hedgehogs are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa and consist of 16 different species divided into five genera.

Hedgehog domestication
The Romans domesticated a relative of the Algerian hedgehog in the 4th century B.C. and raised it for its meat and quills. The quills were used for various purposes, including the weaning of calves (the quills kept them away from the udder).

Today, the most commonly kept domesticated hedgehog is a hybrid of the Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus), also known as the North African Hedgehog, and the White-bellied Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris), also known as the Four-toed Hedgehog. Since this hybrid is smaller than the well-known West European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) it is often referred to as African Pygmy Hedgehog.

Other species of hedgehog kept as pets are the Egyptian Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus auritus) and the Indian Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus collaris).

Hedgehog taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Mammalia
Order:           Erinaceomorpha
Family:          Erinaceidae
Subfamily:    Erinaceinae

Genus Atelerix
Four-toed Hedgehog, Atelerix albiventris
North African Hedgehog, Atelerix algirus
Southern African Hedgehog, Atelerix frontalis
Somalid Hedgehog, Atelerix sclateri

Genus Erinaceus
Amur Hedgehog, Erinaceus amurensis
Southern White-breasted Hedgehog, Erinaceus concolor
West European Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus
Northern White-breasted Hedgehog, Erinaceus roumanicus

Genus Hemiechinus
Long-eared Hedgehog, Hemiechinus auritus
Indian Long-eared Hedgehog, Hemiechinus collaris

Genus Mesechinus
Daurian Hedgehog, Mesechinus dauuricus
Hugh's Hedgehog, Mesechinus hughi

Genus Paraechinus
Desert Hedgehog, Paraechinus aethiopicus
Brandt's Hedgehog, Paraechinus hypomelas
Indian Hedgehog, Paraechinus micropus
Bare-bellied Hedgehog, Paraechinus nudiventris

Hedgehog care

Before you decide to get a pet hedgehog or care for an injured or orphaned wild hedgehog it is important to contact your local authorities to find out if it is legal or not and if you need any special permit to keep, breed or transport the particular species or hybrid you’re interested in. Hedgehogs native to a country are usually protected by wildlife regulations and not allowed as pets, and wild-life rehabilitators are often required to obtain a special permit. It is for instance legal to keep domesticated African hedgehogs as pets in many European countries but illegal to keep the native West European Hedgehog.

The domesticated African hybrid hedgehog, commonly known as African Pygmy Hedgehog, increased its popularity as a pet sharply in the early 1980s, perhaps as a response to allergies becoming more and more widespread in western societies. Hedgehogs produce very small amounts of dander and allergic reactions to hedgehogs are uncommon.

It is important to realize that the African Pygmy Hedgehog has been selectively bred for a comparatively low number of generations and these animals still retain much of their wild traits. They are naturally weary of humans and it is important to choose a reputable breeder that provides his or her hedgehogs with proper socialization from a very early age. It is also important to understand that wild hedgehogs spend the nights roaming over large areas of land in search of food and being confined to a tiny cage is not good for them. Ideally let your hedgehog out of its cage to explore the house in the evening. If the climate is favorable it will also appreciate having an outdoor playpen or similar. Without enough exercise and stimulation, hedgehogs can become depressed, lose their appetite, and engage in repetitious behaviour, self mutilation, and excessive sleeping. A lack of exercise can also lead to obesity; a condition linked to a long row of health problems in hedgehogs. Some hedgehogs can learn to use an exercise wheel, while others never take a liking to it. Only use solid-floor wheels without any crossbars to prevent injury.

All hedgehogs can hibernate but the wild ancestors of the African Pygmy Hedgehog do not hibernate in their native environment so there is no need to simulate a cold hibernation period in captivity. If an African Pygmy Hedgehog is exposed to temperatures below 21 °C (70 °F) it will attempt to hibernate but allowing it to do so is risky. Keeping it in a warm environment year round is much safer.  

Hedgehog feeding

Hedgehogs are omnivores that feed on both meaty foods like insects, snails, worms, snakes, amphibians, bird eggs, and carrion, and vegetarian foods such as roots, fruits, berries, and mushrooms. The exact feeding habits vary depending on species, habitat and season so it’s always a good idea to obtain species specific information before feeding a hedgehog. The West European Hedgehog is for instance primarily an insectivore.

If you keep an African Pygmy Hedgehog, it is a good idea to feed it insects since they are high in protein and low in fat, and their exoskeletons will provide your hedgehog with the chitin that it needs. You can for instance cultivate your own insects or purchase them from a pet store. Today, it is possible to obtain freeze-dried insects and insect-based commercial foods which are very practical but giving your hedgehog live food at least once in a while will make life in captivity less boring. Mealworms and waxworms should not constitute the bulk of its diet since they are a bit too rich in fat.

The safest course of action is to avoid food types that hedgehogs wouldn’t encounter in the wild, such as chocolate, treats containing added sugar or meat from large animals. Hedgehogs do however seem to tolerate small amounts of cottage cheese and low-fat yoghurt, and lean chicken, turkey, and similar meats are also okay.

The African Pygmy Hedgehog should also be given vegetarian foods, but never large amounts of fruit.

If you find ready-made commercial foods intended for African hedgehogs, read the label carefully because some of them aren’t very good. Stay clear of foods high in fat and carbohydrates and low in protein. Your hedgehog might like them but they aren’t healthy in the long run.     

Hedgehog breeding

The reproductive habits of hedgehogs vary depending on species. Larger species normally give birth to 3-4 young while smaller species have somewhat bigger litters, typically comprised of 5-6 young.

The male hedgehog has his penis located near the centre of his abdomen, looking a bit like a belly button. During mating, the female will curl her tail upward until her vulva protrudes behind the rest of her body. The male can therefore mate with his partner without having to get completely on top of her sharp quills. 

The gestation period is 35-58 days after which blind and quill-less infants are born. The quills are however already formed at birth, waiting beneath the skin, and will grow noticeably within just a few hours.

It is not unusual for adult males to kill newborn males.

Hedgehog health

  • Stress can cause digestive problems in hedgehogs, making them vomit and produce green faeces.
  • Some hedgehog species can carry foot-and-mouth disease.
  • Hedgehogs can transmit the parasite Trichophyton erinacei to other hedgehogs as well as to human handlers. Trichophyton erinacei, commonly known as ringworm, will cause characteristic circular patterns on the skin of an infected human and can be treated with anti-fungal medication.
  • Hedgehogs are prone to cancer with squamous cell carcinoma being especially common. The cancer spreads rapidly from the bone to the organs and treatment is normally not an option since it would involve surgically removing vast amounts of bone structure.      
  • Wobbly-hedgehog syndrome (WHS) is a condition that slowly degrades the animals’ muscle control, causing it to wobble. Eventually, the hedgehog will loose control over all its muscles. The underlying cause remains unknown, but it might be a genetic condition similar to multiple sclerosis or the result of a virus being able to infest the nervous system of the hedgehog due to an inherited weakness.  
  • Obesity is common in captive hedgehogs kept on an unsuitable diet and not given enough opportunity to exercise. If your hedgehog can no longer roll completely into a ball, it is clearly obese and needs to loose weight. Obesity is suspected to increase the risk of both fatty liver disease and cardiovascular problems in hedgehogs.  
  • Sickness and extreme stress can make a hedgehog lose its quills.

Hedgehog facts

Hedgehog facts # 1
If you notice small pink dots on your hands after handling your pet hedgehog, you’re most likely not allergic – the quills of your spiny friend have just caused a lot of tiny puncture marks on your skin. Wash your hands before and after handling your hedgehog to prevent infection. True hedgehog allergies are uncommon (but not impossible) since hedgehogs produce such small amounts of dander.

Hedgehog facts # 2
The quills of a hedgehog are hollow hairs made stiff by keratin. They are not venomous or barbed.

Read more Hedgehog facts

Hedgehog lifespan

Larger species have an estimated lifespan of 4-7 years, but reports of hedgehogs living for up to 16 years do exist. Small species are usually more short-lived; 2-4 years in the wild and 4-7 years in captivity (if well cared for).


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