Pixie's Exotic Hedgies

Breeder of African Pygmy Hedgehogs

CARING for your hedgie

Hedgehog Welfare Society: "FAQ":  http://www.hedgehogwelfare.org/Hedgehog_FAQs.pdf

Hedgehog Welfare Society: "care sheet": http://www.hedgehogwelfare.org/Hedgehog_Care_Sheet.pdf

ONLINE BOOK "Complete Guide to Hedgehog Care":  http://www.westcoasthedgehogs.com/files/hedgehogbook/PetAfricanHedgehogs2-byKimberlyGoertzen.pdf

A Kid's Introductions to Hedgehogs: http://www.meetmeatthecorner.org/episode/a-kids-introduction-to-hedgehogs

More info!  http://www.petside.com/article/make-2011-year-hog-how-guide-hedgehogs

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What should I expect when my hedgie comes home? 

When you bring you new hedgehog home, place him or her in their new cage and let them have absolute privacy for at least a day (24 hours). You may pick him up and hold him once or twice for a few minutes the first day. But remember, it will probably be more like a week or longer before he begins to feel at home. 

It is good to have a soft blanket to lay them on in your lap, this will help protect your hands when they get scared and will also allow them to walk on you and not make a huge mess.  Don’t use towels with loops because they can get their toes caught.  It is recommended that after day three, you try to spend at least a half hour holding them, or handling them so they get use to you. 

Be patient with your new hedgehog, some will adapt sooner then others and once they do you will have a wonderful pet.  Also wear an old tee shirt (so it smells like you) and place it in your hedgehog’s cage.  This will allow him/her to get to know your scent sooner.  They will more then likely self anoint on it. This is a behavior where they will foam at the mouth and place it on their quills.  So don’t panic if this happens, they will do it a lot when investigating new things.

Baby hedgehogs need quite a bit of sleep the first month after they come home with you, so don't be too concerned if he sleeps a lot at first. They may also be VERY cranky during their third month due to quilling, but I assure you things will get better.  Just imagine them like babies that are teething.  You will find quills in their cage and places that they run around, make sure you pick these up as they can be sharp if stepped on.  They will get adult quills (much less sharp) around 5-6 months and from there on out it gets better.  Once your hedgehog knows you and learns to trust you, you should be able to pet it with out causing him/her to hiss and ball.

Green poop…This is not something to be alarmed about.  Hedgehogs will have a green poop when they are introduced into a new environment.  They tend to have them when they are stressed and a new home is a big change for them.  This will pass after a few days when they have adjusted.  

What supplies will you need?

Cages: We recommend GUINEA PIG cages with solid bottoms (never wire floors).  Extra large "Sterilite storage containers" also work well as cages.  They are cheap and you can do many things to them.  The lid must have adequate ventilation though so your hedgehog gets all the fresh air it needs.  You can even make your cage multi level so the hedgehogs have more surface area to run on.  A good rule of thumb is no less then 2 sq feet of surface area for your cage.  This is the bare minimum that is recommended.  Glass aquarium with locking screen lids can also be used, but they are a lot more expensive and very heavy when it comes to cleaning time.  A 30 gallon aquarium is the correct size to purchase, but never buy smaller than a 20 gallon long model.

BEDDING:  Never use Cedar bedding! The aromatic oils in cedar can cause respiratory problems for most small pets, including gerbils, hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, and hedgehogs.  Wood type beddings that are safe for small pets are "kiln dried pine shavings" or "aspen, in shavings or pellets". You can also use many types of commercial bedding like CareFresh or Yesterday's News.  Some people like to make liners out of fleece, flannel, or cotton type materials.  These can be washed and replaced as needed, which will lower your costs on bedding materials.  PEH uses Yesterday's News CAT LITTER.  We've tried wood products and found they bothered our allergies.  We've tried fleece liners and did not like them because the hedgies end up walking around in their own poop and it sticks to their feet and quills.  Yesterday's News are pellets made of recycled newspaper.  It does not bother our allergies, and is very odor absorbant.   

FOOD BOWL:  When picking out a food bowl make sure it is nice and heavy. Hedgehogs that get bored love to spill over and waste food to play with the food bowl. Small ceramic ones sold at the pet store work very well.  PEH uses ceramic bowls made for ferrets.  They are perfectly sized for free-feeding.

WATER BOTTLE:  PEH uses large bottles sized for guinea pigs or ferrets in 32 ounces.   Hedgehogs like to fill water dishes with shavings, which prevents them from getting enough water to drink, because the shavings absorb all the water.  Hedgies will often poop in water bowls, making for a very nasty drink of water.  Water bottles attach to the sides of the cage and cannot be turned over like a bowl.

HIDING PLACE:  Stores sell houses that are pretty durable such as an igloo, logs, and wooden houses.  Again fleece, flannel and cotton materials can be used to make hedgehog bags for them to crawl in and sleep, but they can also get very nasty. PEH purchases small clear plastic storage boxes.  We use a box cutter to cut a door in the side of the box.  We like using the clear boxes because you can see your hedgies inside their nest and they can also see you.  We feel that using dark colored nest boxes, helps attribute to making the hedgehog nervous.  If they are constantly hiding inside a dark box, they can become nervous when they are outside of the box.  When they live inside a clear box, they can see what is going on around them and get exposed to the daily movements made by passerbyers of their cage.  Therefore, when they are outside their clear box, they are less nervous when a family member walks by the cage.

LITTER BOX:  Some hedgehogs will use a litter box if you provide it with one.  Although this can take lots of time and patience on your part.  If you plan to litterbox train, then you should make sure the material in the litter box is different from the rest of thei bedding. This will help them associate the litter box with where to go the bathroom.  To start the training, you will need to clean up and collect as much poop as possible from their bedding.  Place the poop inside their litter box.  This will help give them the idea that they are supposed to go potty in the litter box.  You must do this several times per day and be sure to keep their poop picked out of their bedding material.  Some hedgies will catch on rather quickly (within a week) and other will take longer.  If your hedgie is not litter box trained within one month, then it is time to give up and let them poop wherever they wish.

TOYS:. Wheels are a great way to get exercise for your hedgehog.  Make sure they have a solid plastic running surface. If you get a wheel that is not solid, a hedgie could get their legs stuck inside the wire holes and possibly break their legs.  Be sure to purchase a wheel large enough (12" diameter), so that your baby hedgie will not outgrow it.  Other great toys are baby toys, toilet paper rolls cut down the side, tunnels, and anything that will provoke their curiosity.  Typically a hedgehog will be intrigued by any CAT toy you provide them to play with.   A playpen for small pets is also a must if you are going to have them out of their cages.  This allows them to run around but not find those small hiding places around your house.  A ball is also a good idea when letting them roam freely around your house.

What should I feed and how much?

There are many debates on what to feed your hedgehog.  NEVER purchase prepacked hedghog food from the petstore.  It is a reformulated guinea pig food, and does not provide adequate nutrition for a hedghog.  There's also many ingredients in the prepackaged food that a hedgie cannot digest properly. 

We recommend a good quality cat food that is high in protein and low in fat. Make sure that the first ingredient in the cat food is a meat product.  PEH free-feeds our herd, Purina One "Chicken and Rice" cat food.   This is supplemented by a variety of other foods such as vegetables, mealworms and crickets, cooked meats and  fruit and vegetables.  However none of these should be fed as anything more than a treat 3 or 4 times a week. The dry food should be the staple.

Treats that you can give them:

             Yogurt drops

             Vitamins (small animal)

             Meal worms, Super worms, Silk worms, Crickets (live or freeze dried)

             Fresh fruits and veggies (with exception to those listed above)

             Lean cooked meats (hamburger, steak, chicken, etc)

             Baby foods

             Cottage Cheese and cooked Eggs

Treats should be given in small portions (typically thumb-nail sized).  Be sure to remove any left over food or treats within two hours, so your hedgie is not eating spoiled foods.

How do I give my hedgie a bath?

Your hedgehog will more than likely need a bath some time or another in its life.  PEH usually bathes once a month.  Of course if your hedgie gets lots of poop on its back (typically from running in its wheel), then you can bathe as often as needed.  If you handle your hedgie and suddenly your hands start to itch or slightly tingle, then you need to give your hedgehog a bath to wash the self-anoniting spit off its quills.  Don’t worry it’s not as hard as it seems.  Simply place your hedgie in the kitchen sink.  Fill the bottom with warm water (about an inch deep) and a small amount of BABY shampoo.  Place your hedgehog in the sink and use the cup to get water on his back.  Do not wash their head or face, in order to make sure you don't get soapy water in their eyes or ears.  Use the toothbrush to scrub their quills and belly.  Once you are done bathing them, be sure to rinse them thoroughly.  Have a warm towel ready to wrap them up.  You will need to hold them in the towel until they are dry, to prevent them from getting sick.

Why is my hedgies itchy and scratching all the time?

Dry skin, itching, and quill loss can be signs of a mites. If you think your hedgehog may have mites, it is important for you to get to the vet right away. Your vet will do a simple skin scraping (it doesn't hurt the hedgehog) and look for mites under the microscope. If your hedgehog has mites, we recommend using Revolution; the same thing used on cats and dogs. Revolution is a one time treatment, and will last for 30 days (which outlasts the lifecycle of the mites). Your vet can give you the correct dosage. 

An easy way to tell if your hedgehog has mites, is to do a preliminary skin scraping yourself.  You will need a black piece of construction paper and a butter knife.  Hold your hedgie over the black paper and use the dull side of the butter knife to scrape back and forth over their back.  This will usually cause white flakes to land on the black paper.  You will need to rub their back several times, in order to get a good sample.  Now, take the black paper and place it on a flat surface with lots of bright light.  Observe the white flakes and see if any of them start to crawl.  If you see any white flakes crawling around on the black paper, it is a sure bet that your hedgies has mites.


How to handle your hedgie

Many new hedgehog owners are nervous about handling their new pet.  
Follow these suggestions, and soon you and your hedgie will be best friends forever! 
  1. Start in the evening, when your hedgehog is likely to be awake. A sleepy hedgehog can be grumpy!
  2. Allow your hedgehog to sniff your hand, so that he/she will recognize you.
  3. Place your hands palm side up on either side of the hedgehog. If necessary, you can gently corner your hedgehog in it's cage.
  4. Gently push hands under hedgehog. You can even scoop up a bit of bedding to protect your hands a bit more if you are nervous.
  5. Cup hands and lift hedgehog cradled in your hands. Keep your fingers together and out of the way if your hedgehog rolls into a ball.
  6. Your hedgehog may huff or roll into a ball. Try to persist unless your hedgehog is unduly upset; it's okay to scoop him or her up if she has rolled into a ball.
  7. Hold your hedgehog (try cradling your hedgie on one hand or forearm and placing the other hand gently over his or her back for security) or place him or her in your lap. Most will unroll shortly and begin exploring.
  8. Feel free to resort to bribery if necessary. If your hedgehog rolls, offer a treat such as a tasty mealworm as soon as he or she unrolls. Your hedgehog will probably decide quickly that being picked up is a good thing!
  9. Once your hedgehog is out, allow it to explore your hands and lap at his orher own pace.
  10. A relaxed hedgehog lays down its spines, and at this point you can try petting him or her (in the direction the spines lay, of course).
  11. Offer treats intermittently while handling your hedgehog, and your pet will likely learn to look forward to handling.

Tips:

  1. Hedgehogs will recognize you by smell. Wearing gloves will only confuse your hedgehog; hand lotion or heavy perfumes may confuse the hedgehogas well. Placing a worn t-shirt in their cage may familiarize them with your scent.
  2. If necessary, a thick towel can be used to pick up a a stubborn hedgehog at first, rather than gloves.
  3. Do not grab your hedgehog from above (ouch) or hold it in such a way that a finger could get trapped by the hedgehog rolling into a ball (big ouch!).
  4. Remember the spines are not barbed nor do they come out like porcupine quills -- if you do get poked it will be a bit painful but not terrible, so try not to be nervous. 

The first step to handling a hedgehog is learning to pick it up with as little stress and pain to either of you as possible. The best way to pick up a hedgehog is by holding your hand flat on each side of the hedgehog with your palms up, then gently moving your hands together to fully support the hedgehog's feet and belly. Even if your hedgehog is grumpy and rolled into a ball, this will distribute the quills over a larger area, making it less uncomfortable on your hands. Providing the hedgehog with a firm support underneath will help the hedgehog feel more safe and secure, reducing the likelihood of them panicking. People with especially grumpy hedgehogs or sensitive hands can use a small blanket (such as a piece of vellux or a baby recieving blanket) to help cushion their hands when you first pick them up.

Depending on your hedgehogs' personality, there are different ways to spend time with them. Nervous or laid back hedgehogs will likely get most benefit from their daily handling by being held while you are sitting quietly, such as while watching tv, playing on the computer, or reading a book. Providing these hedgehogs with a blanket or hedge-bag to snuggle in while on your lap may help increase their comfort levels. If you have an active wiggly hedgehog, trying to sit quietly with them is not very productive, and may in fact make your hedgehog more grumpy. These hedgehogs benefit most from having the ability to use their owner as a human jungle gym, with the owner sitting or lying on the floor of a small room that has been hedgehog proofed, and allowing the hedgehog to actively explore the floor and climb on your body. Almost all hedgehogs benefit from daily handling, even if the handling is as short as just picking your hedgehog up for a couple of minutes until they start relaxing, and then placing them back into their cage. Be aware that hedgehogs, especially the ones who sit quietly on your lap, may give you some signs that they are wanting to go back to the cage. These signs can include sudden restlessness or irritability. If you notice these signs, it is a good idea to return your hedgehog to the cage. They may be hungry, thirsty, or needing a moment to go to the bathroom.

Occasionally hedgehogs will bite. Most of these bites are actually taste nips, exploring some taste or smell that is on your skin. These are typically a quick nip, usually accompanied by a few licks, and often followed by self annointing. Make sure to wash your hands very thoroughly before handling your hedgehog to reduce the chances of these bites. Once and a while though, hedgehogs can bite out of irritation. These are typically sudden bites, with the hedgehog holding onto your skin firmly. Irritation bites are NOT accompanied by licking. If your hedgehog bites, do NOT put them back in the cage right away. This will train them to bite when they are ready to go back to their beds. If possible, sit still while the hedgehog is biting you until they let go on their own. You do not want to jerk, as this can cause more injury to you and can hurt your hedgehog's teeth. Some people will recommend blowing on the hedgehog's face, running water over your hedgehog, or other discouragement techniques when your hedgehog bites. I don't encourage this for a single biting episode, frequently just refusing to reward their behavior with a return to their cage is enough to convince your hedgehog that biting is not worth while.

Self Annointing

Self annointing is an often discussed part of hedgehog ownership. Many first time hedgehog owners post panicky messages to mailing lists or hedgehog friendly forums with concerns of seizures, vomiting, and occasionally even demon possession. None of these are to be worried about, self annointing is a completely natural behavior of hedgehogs that is displayed by a particularly interesting new scent or taste.

It is unknown exactly why hedgehogs self annoint, though there are several possible explanations. They may be trying to disguise their scent with ones less likely to be interpreted as food by predators. They may be trying to "arm" their quills with a possibly toxic substance that will make their quills more irritating to those who get poked. They may be acclimating themselves to substances that may be mildly toxic to prevent future reactions. Or, my favorite explanation, they might be trying to drive their owners nuts. This last one doesn't exactly work though, since wild hedgehogs also are known to annoint, even without owners to worry.

Self annointing begins with a hedgehog chewing or licking on a foriegn substance, which can be almost anything that is new to the hedgehog. They then usually chomp their teeth a few times, and begin to produce a white foamy spit. Then, they bend into amazingly impossible contortions and wipe this saliva onto their quills. Typical target areas are going to be the rump or the sides, but I have seen hedgehogs that were capable of annointing right in the middle of their backs above their shoulder blades. Often, the animal will fall completely over onto their sides or back while vigorously spreading the foamy saliva as far as the tongue can reach.

Self annointing itself has no risk or danger to the hedgehog. It is not a sign of illness, nor likely to cause an illness. However, some substances that your hedgehog may find fascinating or desirable are not safe. You should not allow your hedgehog to come in contact with cleaning products, other chemicals, spoiled foods, or other animal feces. Annointing can make nasty messes on your hedgehog quills, depending on what they prefer to annoint with, but these can almost always be cleaned up with a good bath. In my opinion, the lighter colored the hedgehog, the more likely they are to annoint. I am not sure if this observation is simply because annointing splotches show up more on albinos and light hedgehogs, or if they actually DO annoint more to help camoflauge themselves.