Building a Hedgie Home, part one: housing

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There are a lot of strange notions going around about how to house a hedgehog.  Assuming we’re speaking of a pet hedgehog, and not a wild one, there really isn’t a great deal of work needed to set-up a cage that your hedgie would be happy to live in.

There are a great deal of options when it comes to putting together a more complex setup, but for now we’re going to focus on the basic design. Consider this a beginning hedgehog home.

What type of cage should I use?

The short answer is: No cage.

The cages that are used for small animals like a gerbil or a hamster would be far too small to house a hedgehog. The larger cages for ferrets and rats would be not only too large, but also contain wire mesh or metal bars which are to be avoided at all costs in hedgehog cages.

Hedgehogs have a tendency to try to climb, and their bodies and legs aren’t built for it.. Wire mesh, even if it is tiny, is a perfect size for trapping toenails and tearing them out. Even if it doesn’t tear, it can break toes and injure paws to the point of amputation. Likewise, the wire bars can catch thin hedgie legs and ankles and break bone or cut off circulation. One of the most common problems hedgehogs suffer come from inadequate cages.

I’ve heard a lot of mention of aquariums as hedgehog cages, and that is also not the best idea. While aquariums can come in the right sizes to house the animals, they offer poor ventilation and tend to capture heat. It’s easy to overheat a hedgehog in such a cage and they are prone to suffer heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

The best cage for a hedgehog then?

A Plastic Tub

Honestly.

The best option for keeping hedgehogs is a large plastic tub. 105qts is the minimum size tub a hedgehog can be kept in, but the best dimensions tend to be 24″ x 36″. It’s vital to ensure that the sides of the cage are large enough that the hedgehog can’t climb out  of it, even if it gets on top of other items within the cage.

Now, you may be worried that the cage is too small for the hedgie at that size. Honestly, it isn’t. If the hedgehog has too much space it’ll go crazy trying to figure out what to go in it. They’re prone to OCD like behaviors if given too much space, and can be watched running back and forth repeatedly and rearranging items in an obsessive way. Too little space and the hedgehog will get depressed and may start self-mutilating.

The plastic tubs are the cheapest option, and the easiest one to work with when it comes to setting up the remainder of the cage. They can be bought at most shops, including even the larger chain grocery stores if you look into the storage sections.

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Is a Hedgehog Right For You?

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So, you think you want a hedgehog.

Look at those ears!

Look at that face. Look at those ears. Who could resist such an adorable creature? Combined with the novelty of having such an exotic pet, it’s not difficult to see how they’ve burrowed into our hearts and homes. Which leads us to the question…

Is a hedgehog right for you?

When deciding whether or not the hedgehog is the perfect pet for you it’s important to take into consideration certain aspects of our prickly friends that may make them a less than ideal pet for the casual owner.

Consider.

1. Hedgehogs are Primarily Nocturnal.

While hedgehogs can technically be considered diurnal, a bit active during the day as well as during the night, they are technically nocturnal animals. Although they can be taught to be more active during the day, this is very much not advised. They are most comfortable living the way they are genetically meant  to.

Hedgehogs tend to begin being more active around 7PM, with activity truly spiking around 10PM through to 5AM in my experience. All night they will be rooting around in their hedgie homes and running on the wheel. While some wheels can be very quiet, Carolina Storm Wheels being an excellent example, they still will be noisier than you are used to. Can you live with the noise and having a pet active at night time? Does this fit your lifestyle?

2. Hedgehogs are Exotics (and require specific care).

There are several important things to consider when caring for a pet hedgehog. Due to the fact that these are African Hedgehogs, it’s important to remember that their natural environment is one much warmer than most of the US states where they’re popular.  It is dangerous, and even deadly for them to reach temperatures under 70 degrees Fahrenheit and over 80 degrees Fahrenheit with most people reporting hedgehogs at their most active and comfortable around 76 degrees or so.

In addition to this their diet is one not yet well established.  While there are several hedgehog specific foods out there, these tend to be both ill-designed and expensive compared to giving them a primarily cat food diet.

3. Hedgehogs Are Not Domesticated.

It was only in the 1980s that African Hedgehogs began to be imported as pets in America. While, if bought from a good breeder, they could be deemed tame they are by no means yet domesticated. They retain a good degree of wild behavior, and as such are not necessarily the best choice for someone with little patience.  Hedgehogs can be very cuddly, very affectionate, and very entertaining pets. They can become very trusting of humans, but will always be a bit wary of strangers, especially if not socialized well when young.

As pets, hedgehogs require patience, persistence, and a good degree of understanding from their owners. Unlike dogs and cats, they will not immediately be the cuddly pet happy to be woken up at any time and be around you. Like anything good in life, they require time and effort to reap the best rewards.

Keeping all this in mind, is a hedgehog right for you? Seriously ask yourself this before seeking one out, and do your research beforehand!