Keywords: faq pet hedgehogs
Last-modified: 20 October 2008
HEDGEHOG FAQ (part 3 of 7) -- INTRO TO HEDGEHOGS AS PETS
Compiled and edited by Brian MacNamara (email@example.com)
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed.
This document is copyright 2008 by Brian MacNamara. See section [0.6]
for authorship information and redistribution rights. In short, you
can give it away, but you can't charge for it.
The basic Hedgehog FAQ has seven parts, all of which should be available
from wherever you obtained this one. A complete table of contents for
all seven parts is given in part I.
Please note: While my knowledge of hedgehogs has grown (far beyond my
wildest expectations when I began the FAQ), my knowledge is still quite
limited, especially in areas of health care. I did not write, or verify,
all the information in this FAQ. I have done my best to include only
accurate and useful information, but I cannot guarantee the correctness
of what is contained in this FAQ, regardless of the source, or even that
it will not be harmful to you or your hedgehog in some way. For advice
from an expert, I recommend you consult the books listed in part 2 [2.1],
or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem, a veterinarian
who is familiar with hedgehogs.
Subject: CONTENTS OF THIS FILE
3. *** Introduction to pet hedgehogs ***
<3.1> What are hedgehogs? Should I get one? What's good and bad
about them as pets?
<3.2> Where are pet hedgehogs illegal?
<3.3> Are hedgehogs wild animals?
<3.4> What's the average hedgehog lifespan?
<3.5> I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to hedgehogs?
<3.6> Do hedgehogs smell?
<3.7> Do hedgehogs have tails?
<3.8> Hedgehog monikers -- what do I call a hedgehog?
<3.9> Her-hog or Him-hog? What sex is Prickles?
4. *** Getting a pet hedgehog ***
<4.1> Which types/colours are there? Male or female? What age?
<4.2> How many should I get?
<4.3> What to look for in a hedgehog / How to choose a hedgehog
<4.4> How can I find a hedgehog breeder/contact in my area?
<4.5> When Hedgie comes home
<4.6> Hedgehog handling / socializing
<4.7> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/
rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
3. *** Introduction to hedgehogs ***
Subject: <3.1> What are hedgehogs? Should I get one? What's good and bad
about them as pets?
Hedgehogs are small insectivores, looking much like an upside-down oval bowl,
that is covered with sharp quills, which feel much like a bristly brush, with
an adorable little face and ears peeking out from one end. Neither legs nor
tail are very visible during normal movement. Hedgehogs roll into a ball of
interlocking spines when threatened, leaving themselves all but invulnerable
to any natural predator.
Hedgehogs do have soft fur on their faces and bellies, and so are not
entirely prickly. Their spines or quills have no barbs on them, and feel
much like a stiff brush, rather than bunch of needles, unless the hedgehog is
Some hedgehogs have what appears to be a narrow reverse Mohawk hairdo (a
narrow furrow that runs lengthwise), though this is not present in all
species (e.g., the Egyptian hedgehog doesn't have this).
It isn't a scar, they haven't lost quills. It is natural and helps
the quills point forward without getting crossed when they bristle.
-- Katherine Long
Ranging in size from approximately 4 to 9 inches, or 10 to 22 cm, in length,
mature African Pigmy hedgehogs look for all the world to be little armoured
tanks being led around by one of the busiest noses in the animal kingdom.
Hedgehogs tend to be quite nervous in their temperament, and will generally
duck their head down, accompanied by rapid snuffling or snorting. This
presents a very prickly forehead to any possible enemies. The more used to
you (and awake) a hedgehog is, the less they will duck down and snuffle, and
the more their quills will be flat.
The hedgehogs that we keep as pets, throughout North and South America [4.1],
and I believe many other parts of the world, have managed to muddy the
already very clouded waters of hedgehog taxonomy. What we call ``African
Pigmy'' hedgehogs, are actually a hybrid of a couple of species from northern
and central Africa. Specifically, they are a combination of the Algerian
(Atelerix algirus) and the White-bellied (A. albiventris). The Southern
African or Cape hedgehog (A. frontalis) is not really part of the mixture,
although they do seem to be sporatically kept as pets in their native
regions. The status or categorization of the Pruner's hedgehog (A. pruneri)
is up in the air, and this may actually be an alternate name for the Cape
hedgehog (A. frontalis).
Just to add to the mess, there is more than a little uncertainty which
species actually makes up what we call the long-eared, or Egyptian hedgehog,
in the pet world. You see, there are Long-eared hedgehogs (Hemiechinus
auritus), and there are Egyptian hedgehogs (not an official name from what I
can tell, most likely these being Ethiopian hedgehogs) (Paraechinus
aethiopicus). Both of these, as you can tell by their taxonomic names, are
of quite different genera let alone species.
So, as you can see, things are a more than a bit muddled when it comes to
deciding which hedgehog is what. I must extend my regards to Nigel Reeve,
whose research helped provide some sense of consistency to all of this, at
To add to the fray, here are some comments from Nathan Tenny:
Hedgehog taxonomy is kind of a mess, and they have multiple Latin names;
the leader now seems to be Erinaceus albiventris, but one also sees
Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix pruneri. (I think that Pruner's
hedgehog is now considered to be a separate species, but it hasn't
always been.) [this remains pretty uncertain and iffy in most research
that I've found - ed.] There may be some overlap with Erinaceus
frontalis [Atelerix does seem to have become the accepted genus name
for A. frontalis - ed.] as well, and just to complicate matters, older
works refer to the genus Atelerix as Aethechinus.
Grzimek's Animal Encyclopedia says that they weigh about 200-220 grams
(about seven ounces); this is for wild animals. Captives seem to be
much larger; the smallest of our three hedgehogs is 250 g and growing,
and our large male weighs about 400-450 g when he isn't overweight.
(However, all our animals have come from exceptionally large bloodlines.)
Adults are about six to eight inches long, depending on how far they're
stretching when you measure.
Hedgehogs are basically nocturnal; they may wake up a couple of times
during the day to wander around their enclosures, get a snack or a drink
of water, and so on, but they really get active late at night (ours wake
up between 10 PM and midnight, but that may be because that's when we
turn the lights off).
Whether they have wonderful personalities depends on your taste. Your
prospective hedgehog will sleep all day, and, while it may well become
quite sociable when awake, it probably will not let you pick it up when
it wants to sleep. (Can you blame it? More to the point, can you argue
with it?) We've never met an African hedgehog that would bite
aggressively, though there are rumours of such. (Note that all the
Africans we've known have been not only captive-bred but hand-raised
from infancy; we make no guarantees about imports or non-socialized
animals.) They do explore with their mouths, so if you smell
interesting, you may get licked or nipped; they have fairly sharp teeth
(a row of short pegs with points, but nothing drastic).
As pets go, hedgehogs are generally not cuddly lap-fungus type pets, but if
you want something that's a little different, not too big, and definitely
adorable, then maybe a hedgehog is for you. If, however, you have been
fascinated by hedgehogs for about twenty years, like I have, there is just no
Among their pros and cons, you should keep in mind the nocturnal nature of
hedgehogs. If you are a night-owl, or often find yourself up and around
during the dark hours, a hedgehog can be a very welcome companion. On the
other hand, if you jump out of bed early in the morning and fade with the
sun, you and your hedgehog may never see one another.
Although most hedgehogs rarely, if ever, bite or nip, it does happen, as can
occur with any animal. For information on biting see section [6.6]
Hedgehogs are also relatively low maintenance (though not ``no
maintenance''). There's no need to take them out for a walk around the block
in the middle of a raging blizzard, or head off to the park, pooper-scooper
in hand, during a heat wave, with a hedgehog. Their small, but not too
small, size also makes for a good compromise. They do prefer regular
attention, but it doesn't need to be long at a time.
Then there's always the one really effective decision factor: hedgehogs are
Subject: <3.2> Where are hedgehogs illegal?
Unfortunately, there are some locations that do not yet allow pet hedgehogs.
The IHA [2.5] can possibly help provide guidance on how you can enlighten
any backward bureaucracies you run into. The list below started as a very
stripped down version of the last list published by the N.A.H.A. to which I
have also included additional notes thanks to people sending me information.
At the moment hedgehogs are not permitted in the U.S. in the states of
Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii and Utah, although I've been told that
hedgehogs are quite available in both Alabama (where they are quite available
in pet stores, according to Tim Pearson), and Utah (the official word there
seems to be somewhat uncertain -- possibly the same situation as existed in
To start this off, I have some good news to add for a change. I have
received word from Julihana, in Alaska, that:
The Alaska Board of Fish and Game called off the ban on hedgehogs on
July 1, 1998. There is still a little talk over having to have permits,
but after talking to them today, Game and Fish assured me that they are
99% sure that no permit will be required.
This is indeed good news, and even if permits are required, that makes it
much better than before. Banning hedgehogs in Alaska is one of the few cases
which made no sense, from any environmental perspective, as there is
essentially no chance of feral hedgehogs surviving through the winter. Kudos
to the Alaska Board of Fish and Game for showing a healthy dose of common
Arizona is somewhat open to doubt as to its status. It appears that given
the right forms of registration, keeping hedgehogs is possible, though this
level of registration may be very difficult to obtain. Here are some
`clarifications' on the situation:
The restrictions in AZ are rather bizarre. A.P. hedgehogs are
``officially'' legal, but F&G doesn't want them there. So, to get
around the rules, they say that hedgehogs ``are'' legal if you can
first meet certain housing and other requirements. The requirements
that they stipulate are virtually impossible for even large, accredited
zoos to meet, so the chances of the average Joe being able to keep
hedgehogs as pets in AZ are virtually nil.
-- Bryan Smith
California is well known for being closed to most `exotic' pets. This,
unfortunately, appears to be cast in concrete, with essentially no chance for
change. At present the Ferret people have been working hard to get ferrets
legalized, but even this (ferrets are officially domesticated), is being
blocked at every turn, with laws in the works that are intended to all but
permanently block any future attempts.
The reasons given are `environmental,' with the claimed fear that any such
animals being introduced might escape and survive in feral conditions, and
possibly upset some part of the existing ecosystem. There are endless
further `political' opinions as to further reasons, but this is not an
appropriate place to delve into such suggestions.
I do know that entering California, you are basically subject to inspection,
and if found to be with hedgehog(s), you will be politely, but firmly turned
A couple of years ago, Georgia clarified their position on hedgehogs, making
them officially illegal. Thanks to Jerry in Atlanta for this unfortunate bit
My thanks to Alicia Look for letting me know the official word for Hawaii --
hedgehogs are not allowed.
The N.A.H.A. had Idaho listed as not allowing hedgehogs, but courtesy of some
checking by Wendi Smit, it appears the law is against allowing European
hedgehogs as pets, African Pigmy hedgehogs are allowed, and are available in
Regarding Maine, I've received information from Jazmyn Concolor that
indicates there is no actual law which prevents sale of hedgehogs in pet
stores. Prior to this the information I had (from Jesse and Kris Welsh)
suggested that it was apparently legal to own them, and to sell them
privately, but not for pet stores to sell them. Whether this is because of
a happy change in the laws, or from the previous situation being either an
odd interpretation of obscure statutes, or even a case of it being a
municipal regulation, I'm not sure, at least it seems to be a move in the
Maryland has seen the light (in November of 1994 -- Woobie), and is now legit
New Jersey requires a permit from the State Fish and Game. The permit is $10
no matter how many you have. My thanks to Pam Powers for clearing this up.
In early 1997 there was a scare that hedgehogs had been banned in Oregon, but
on further investigation it turned out that the ban only really applied to
European hedgehogs, and that African Pigmy hedgehogs were legit, no permit
Pennsylvania apparently has a law to protect its own animal breeders, making
it illegal to import hedgehogs into PA (which thereby manages to make it
impossible for PA breeders to legally get new stock), although PA-bred
hedgehogs are legal. Please note that I've recently (Feb/2002) seen some
indications that hedgehogs in general might be being considered illegal in
Pennsylvania, and to be very careful of this. I'm sorry that I haven't had
the time to look into this futher at present.
Wyoming's statutes clearly allow for pet hedgehogs, which is good news:
(E) Mammals: [...] hedgehogs (Erinaceus spp.); [...]; certificate of
veterinary inspection is not required.
-- Courtesy of Steph Hyne
Some states also require you to go through their local Fish and Game
department (or the equivalent) to get a permit. For example Wyoming and New
Jersey require this, as pointed out to me by Marcia Kautz and Pam Powers,
In addition to all the above information, anyone breeding hedgehogs in the
U.S. for sale or trade, must be USDA registered. This has changed from the
previous exemption for ``Pocket Pets'' which allowed small breeders to go
without registration and inspections. My thanks to Sharon Massena for
passing along the change.
In Canada most of the information I have been able to find (courtesy of John
Ofner) is that hedgehogs are permitted in all provinces. Until recently, they
were not permitted in Quebec, but thanks to Michael Simla, for passing along
the following response he received after looking into the matter, it's now
clear that they allowed:
``since November 14th, 2002, it is allowed to keep hedgehogs in captivity
in Quebec, except the ones from Europe because of the risk of accidental
introduction in Quebec's nature.''
There had been conflicting reports that hedgehogs are illegal in the province
of Alberta, but it appears that this is now something for the history books.
At the very least, there are an abundance of breeders there.
Courtesy of Linda Wheatley, I finally have accurate information on the status
of hedgehogs in the province of Alberta:
Hedgehogs are legal in Alberta but our Fish and Wildlife people are still
requiring us to have a temporary shelter permit. Some Fish & Wildlife
offices are telling people that it is not necessary to get them and some
are saying it is necessary.
In short, the letter of the law appears to be that you still need a permit,
but some jurisdictions, are simply acknowledging the reality of hedgehogs
being pets, and waiving the obvious extra workload it would cause them.
Prince Edward Island is that allows Hedgehogs to be bought and sold privatly
but Pet stores are not allowed to sell them. Thanks to Shirley Ann Blakeney
(and Wesley), for this information on the situation in PEI.
There are also some municipalities which have passed laws banning hedgehogs.
Here is a brief list of the ones that I am aware of:
New York City, NY, USA
Windsor, ON, Canada
A recent attempt to ban hedgehogs and other exotics, in Toronto, was narrowly
averted. I'm still not sure who managed to get thing changed, but they have
my personal gratitude!
In the U.K. it appears that African Pigmy hedgehogs are allowed as pets:
European hedgehogs are partially protected in the U.K. Trapping them
requires permission from the proper authorities. However, African
hedgehogs are commercially available.
-- Travis Carter
It also appears that they are allowed as pets in the Netherlands, and
possibly throughout other European countries as well.
Here in the Netherlands (and other European countries as for as I know of)
you're allowed to keep hedgehogs. In the Netherlands the only species
that is not allowed to be kept, is the European hedgehog (!?). I know
that you are permitted to keep the European kind in Germany. Therefore
it's no coincidence that a lot of books about European hedgehogs are of
German origin. I'm not sure about regulations in other countries
according to the E. europaeus. I think that you can keep them there,
except for the U.K.
(I know that they are considered to be a delicacy in Portugal and in some
-- Anja van der Werf
I should point out here that in spite of Anja's claim about being on the
menu, I've been informed that due to their name in Portuguese this seems
somewhat unlikely (at least in relatively modern times). Thanks to Teresa
Claudino for this information, and as almost every hedgie lover out there
probably feels, I can only hope this is true! ;-}
It appears that Finland (now) allows African Pigmy hedgehogs as pets:
We (yes, here in Finland) now have pet hedgehogs, and its all legal too!
(1) it is illegal to hold "European Hedgehogs" as pets in Finland.
They are a "protected" spieces, but there are some things you can do:
o It is legal to feed the hedgehogs on your yard, as long as you don't
take them home
o It is legal to build them shelters on your yard, as long as you don't
take them home
o And (this should be ok) you can take hurt hedgehogs to see a veterinarian
(2) apparenlty this protection law doesn't apply to other spieces of
hedghogs such as the African Pigmy Hedgehog. Hence they can be freely
kept as pets. There are several rules you need to obey when bringing
a pet hedgehog from abroad to Finland, but they are mostly quarantine
and paperwork related.
(3) you can now find pigmy hedgies in at least one pet store (sorry,
can't really say much more about this). As far as I can tell, there
is now somewhere between 10 and 20 pet hedgehogs in Finland. I know
one other owner personally, and know that one couple purchased one from
the same petstore we got Noa from. These hedgies arrived from the USA
during summer 2001. There should also be at least one breeding couple,
but I don't have much info on that.
-- Marcin Dobrucki
It also appears that African Pigmy hedgehogs (both the white bellied and
especially the Egyptian long-eared varieties) are quite popular as pets in
Japan, and are legal there. My thanks to Tetsuro Oka, DVM for this
There is also a growing interest in hedgehogs as pets coming from other parts
of Southeast Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.), and from South America
(Brazil, in particular). I am presuming that they are legal as pets in these
locations (or that there are no laws limiting pets in place), but that `is'
an assumption on my part, only.
Again, I have no official confirmation of most of these (although the bans
listed at the beginning, of this list, are pretty certain), and you should
probably check first. There are a number of U.S. states that require
permits, and various localities, and individual municipalities may also
require special permits.
While keeping European hedgehogs as pets is not permitted throughout much of
Europe, there are exceptions. I believe it is quite common in Russia, and
there is an interesting situation in Germany, as related by Jan Micheel:
It is generally illegal to keep pet (European) hedgehogs in Germany since
they are an endangered species and therefore protected.
There is a notable exception: if you happen to find a specimen in the
autumn months which does not appear to be fit for winter (there is also
a weight limit), you may keep it until the end of winter.
In this case, hedgehogs get free medical treatment.
To my mind, at least, this is a policy worthy of some real commendation, and
one that should probably be a model for other countries and animals as well.
Is my pro-hedgehog bias showing again? ;-}
Subject: <3.3> Are hedgehogs wild animals?
This depends on whether or not you are talking about African Pigmy hedgehogs
or European hedgehogs. In the case of European hedgehogs, the answer is, of
course, yes. In the case of the African Pigmy variety, the ones being
offered and kept as pets are now far removed from their wild ancestors. In
parts of Europe, some African pigmy hedgehogs are still being imported, which
results in this being a more grey area.
As Nathan Tenny pointed out [3.1], the hedgehogs available as pets are a
captive-bred African species. These have been bred in captivity for roughly
twenty years. As such, they should not be confused with the European variety
that are wild animals (and are protected in most European countries). It is
unlikely that a pet hedgehog could survive very long in the wild, especially
in the colder parts of North America, which seems to be where they are most
popular. However, the chance does exist, at least in the warmer climates,
and needless to say, finding out whether or not they can is an experiment
best left to theory, rather than practice.
Subject: <3.4> What's the average hedgehog lifespan?
The absolute answer to the question of how long hedgehogs can live is that
nobody is really certain.
The average lifespan for African pigmy hedgehogs in captivity runs from 4-6
years, with some living as long as 8 years. From what I have read, this is
already far better than the average of 1-3 years in the wild (though this is
due more to predation, disease, and other environmental factors than to old
African pigmy hedgehogs have not been kept in captivity for many years
as yet -- that along with the fact that we are still in the early stages
of learning how best to care for them, is likely to allow their longevity
to continue to increase over the upcoming years.
In addition to the good care aiding this, the fact that hedgies are starting
to settle down and become much less nervous will likely also help
All in all, their lifespan is quite long compared to many smaller mammals,
which means that there's a good chance you can continue to get along with
your prickly little pal for many happy years.
Subject: <3.5> I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to hedgehogs?
The short answer here is, probably not.
The main reason for being allergic to cats is because of the dander, not the
hair. When a cat 'bathes' itself, it deposits a coating of saliva over its
fur. It is this coating turned to an extremely fine dust that is the cause
of most allergies to cats. While hedgehogs do not generally do this (other
than when self-anointing [7.1]), it is not inconceivable that a person could
be allergic to almost any animal.
I would suggest that if you have severe allergies to cats (or any other
animal), you find a friend who has hedgehogs and visit them where they keep
their hedgehogs to see whether any reaction occurs. Note: if your allergic
reactions are serious enough, you may want to discuss it with a doctor first,
and/or take precautions in case a reaction occurs.
In almost every case I have heard of where a person appears to be allergic to
a hedgehog, the actual culprit is often the bedding, rather than the animal.
Most forms of bedding are dusty to some degree or other, and are much more
prone to causing problems than the hedgehogs themselves are. If you suspect
this might be a problem to you, there are various forms of bedding you can
experiment with (such as products like CareFRESH, astroturf, or even good old
fashioned dirt or gravel) that have much lower levels of dust than most wood
fibre bedding products.
Subject: <3.6> Do hedgehogs smell?
They have VERY busy noses; they smell everything they can!
People who have had experience with small pet rodents, or with ferrets seem
to ask this question most often. Hedgehogs do not have scent glands like
ferrets, and as long as their cage or pen is kept reasonably clean there is
generally very little odour. Most (some?) hedgehogs can be trained to use a
litter box, making the task of keeping the cage clean that much easier. Even
those that don't adapt to using a litter box will often use one area of their
cage or pen for this which assists in cleaning.
While hedgehogs do generally have little in the way of odour, what you feed
them can affect whether or not their droppings smell. Generally the more
``wet'' food you feed a hedgehog, the more their droppings, and their
environment, will smell, although brands and types of food can have as great
an effect as just wet versus dry foods. Also, Pretty Pets hedgehog food is
has been reported to result in smellier than average droppings [6.3].
Younger hedgehogs and pregnant/nursing females also tend to have much
stronger scented urine and droppings. If your hedgie is still in his or her
`teens' just be patient, and keep cleaning the cage, often. They will almost
certainly grow out of it.
If you are finding your hedgehog pen tends to smell, try changing the blend
of food he is getting, or just clean house on him a bit more often.
Subject: <3.7> Do hedgehogs have tails?
Yes, but barely. There really is a tail under there. Most hedgehogs have
only a pointed little nub of tail that spends almost all of its time hidden
under the quills. This leaves the poor hedgehog looking for all the world
like he doesn't have a tail.
Here are a few interesting words from Katherine Long on hedgehog tails:
My hhog, Ambergris, uses her tail - it isn't a useless appendage.
She uses it as a pusher when she is trying to go underneath stuff.
Strange and wondrous.
Subject: <3.8> Hedgehog monikers -- what do I call a hedgehog?
I can think of a lot of things here -- especially when I remember the times
that Velcro closed up on my fingers! However I will try to keep this civil.
This section is more for amusement than much else, and to keep track of some
of the ways people refer to our prickly little friends. Probably the most
popular one I've seen is ``hedgies'' with ``hhog'' running a close second. I
would argue that the first is probably more pronounceable but they both pale
in comparison to the following from Cathy Johnson-Delaney who contentedly
referred to her FussGus as a ``Tribble from Hell.''
With the media's love of ridiculous catchy names, it probably comes as no
surprise that the term ``Yuppie Puppy'' has appeared in some places
(including the N.A.H.A.?!?!) applied to hedgehogs.
While I'm on the subject, baby hedgehogs are usually referred to as
``hoglets'' or ``hedgehoglets'', or more frequently as ``aren't they so
CUTE!'' The term piglet seems to be used quite frequently in Europe, and
sometimes elsewhere as well.
I don't know if an official term exists for a group of hedgehogs (other than
maybe a ``contradiction-in-terms'' since hedgehogs often don't tend to live
in what we would consider groups. The official name for a group of hogs is a
``drift'' but I question if that applies to hedgehogs. Most breeders appear
to refer to their hedgehogs as a ``herd'' but I have to admit the thought of
trying to ``herd'' hedgehogs strikes me as somewhat ridiculous to say the
Subject: <3.9> Her-hog or Him-hog? What sex is Prickles?
One question I get asked a lot, and I haven't the slightest clue why I didn't
add the answer here earlier, is how do you tell what sex a hedgehog is.
Unfortunately, hedgehogs don't come with blue or pink tipped quills to make
the job easy (at least most don't). Some breeders add a spot of non-toxic
paint, etc., but even that's no guarantee. There have been more than a few
people who brought home ``male'' hedgies, only to have them give birth to a
litter, only a short time later. In fact, it can be downright difficult, to
figure out the sex, unless your hedgehog is willing to let you hold him or
her on their back long enough for a look. The idea is to get a good look at
If you can't get your prickly little friend to unroll enough while being held
in your hands, you might try a piece of glass or clear plastic and look up at
them while they are wandering (hopefully not too far) on it.
Anyway, enough beating about the quills, on to how to tell if you have a
her-hog, or a him-hog.
For male hedgehogs, the sex organ, or penal sheath, is located about 2/3 of
the way from the nose to the tail (along the tummy), and looks like a large
In the female, the sex organ is located all the way down the tummy, directly
adjacent to the anus. The female will also have a row of nipples along each
side, below the quill line, within the soft tummy fur. These are often hard
to see, but do show as small pink spots, if you have the chance to look
In babies, it can be difficult to tell sexes, without experience, due to the
small size causing everything to be together. Beyond the baby stage, the
rule of thumb is that if you look, and can't tell for certain, it's probably
a female, as males are usually pretty unmistakable.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
4. *** Getting a pet hedgehog ***
Subject: <4.1> Which types/colours are there? Male or female? What age?
What are referred to as African Pigmy hedgehogs that are available as pets,
throughout North America [3.1], and most of the world, are generally a blend
of a couple of species of hedgehogs: Four-toed or White-bellied hedgehogs
(Atelerix albiventris) and Algerian hedgehogs (A. algirus), though there has
been some speculation that that there is some Pruner's (Cape) hedgehog
(A. frontalis / A. pruneri) added as well. My thanks to Sharon Massena, for
reminding me that most of our pet hedgies are actually hybrid varieties, and
again to Nigel Reeve for helping straighten the whole mess out. This is not
necessarily the case elsewhere, such as in Europe, however, even with African
pigmy type hedgehogs. In addition, Egyptian (? long-eared) hedgehogs, are
kept as pets in some places.
Of these, the first group are similar in appearance and temperament. These
tend to be very well behaved, and will rarely, if ever, nip an owner, but
like with any animal, given the right (or wrong) circumstances, it can happen
(see [6.6] for advice on biting).
Four-toed or white-bellied, and Algerian hedgehogs tend to have a whitish or
light coloured face, while Pruner's hedgehogs have a darker or masked face.
The real difference, though is in the number of toes on the hind feet:
Pruner's and Algerian hedgehogs have five like most hedgehogs, while the
White-Bellied hedgehog is also known as the Four-toed hedgehog for obvious
reasons (but only the hind feet).
Egyptian or long-eared hedgehogs (the ears being the most obvious
differentiating factor) are, however, known for having a somewhat more
aggressive personality, and will frequently nip or bite, as suggested here by
[Cerebus] (one of Nathan's former troupe -- ed.) is an Egyptian hedgehog
(_Hemiechinus auritus_). The [care instructions in this FAQ also]
apply to him, but his personality is rather different. There aren't
many on the market as yet, but they're distinguishable by their
loooong ears. They are extremely cute animals, very active and
seemingly rather intelligent, but they *really* bite, and are not
recommended as cuddly pets! We hand-raised Cerebus from a very young
age, playing with him a lot in hopes of making him comfortable with
us, but to no avail; as he's reached adulthood, being comfortable has
come to mean that he's not scared to bite us. Oops.
This behaviour has been confirmed by Anja van der Werf, who has also pointed
out that in spite of this, they are generally more popular as pets in Europe
than are White-Bellied or Pruner's hedgehogs.
Regarding colour, most hedgehogs are covered with white and grey or brown
ticked quills, sometimes called salt and pepper coloured, or agouti (though
I'm told this term is now `out of favour' as it largely implies all such
`banded' appearing hedgehogs are the same, which is incorrect).
As colour research has progressed, one of the things that has come to light
is that there is no such thing as a `basic' hedgehog colour. Each hedgehog
is a specific colour, even though many of the grey or brown ticked ones will
look `similar' to an observer who is unaware of the (sometimes subtle
Some of the more dramatic appearing colour variations are the ``snowflakes.''
These are often all white, or almost all white, but do not possess the albino
gene. Albino hedgehogs also exist, and apparently the early problems with
them being unhealthy and not terribly robust, are now largely a thing of the
past (if, indeed, there ever were problems).
The list of known colours seems to be ever expanding with new variations
appearing every time I turn around. For details on colours, see the Advanced
Topics part of the FAQ, in section [10.4].
As far as personality goes, it has historically been thought that females are
generally friendlier than males, and will become familiar with a new owner
more quickly. This, however, appears to be primarily a result of how a lot
of breeders handle their animals -- males are usually not handled as much,
and hence are not as gentled down. Properly handled when they are young,
there is little or no personality difference between sexes. Being friendly
generally means their quills will be laid back smoother, and they will have
less of a tendency to roll into a ball.
Females tend to be more expensive, both because of their perceived
friendliness, and because of their ability to produce more hedgehogs.
Breeders usually keep a ratio of several females for each male, which makes
for a higher quantity of males available as pets, and hence another reason
for the usually cheaper selling price of males. Males on the other hand, do
tend to self-anoint [7.1] more often than females, and this amazing feat of
dexterity is something not to be missed!
The unusual colour varieties, such as snowflakes, were originally considered
to be somewhat more high-strung in temperament than the more common salt and
pepper hedgehogs. From what I have been able to determine, this is not
directly related to the colour, but is more a side-effect of the inbreeding
done to try and propagate the special colouring. In any case, temperament is
going to depend largely on both the breeding, and on the type and amount of
handling, rather than the exact colouration.
It appears there is another way to create a different colour hedgehog ...
while not quite in the same genre as the colourations above, one of the
people I've been in touch with on the net (whose name I will withhold to
avoid potential embarrassment) passed along a story to me. This kind hearted
hedgehog addict once fed her little herd of hedgies a treat of strained
carrots (baby food) one night along with their normal food. The hedgehogs
seemed to find this new item interesting and proceeded to munch on it, then,
as hedgehogs will do, they all self-anointed. My friend thought nothing of
it, other than that hedgehogs don't really like strained carrots. In the
morning, however, when the light wasn't quite so dim, my friend (who is
probably a lifelong enemy by now) discovered an entire small herd of very
``orange'' hedgehogs! There it is folks -- the latest in hedgehog fashion --
the Orange Hedgehog. I have since learned from friends and relatives with
small children, that few things come close to strained carrots in staining
ability, so I can well imagine that the effect of this was pretty amazing. I
know I'll probably be blacklisted for life for adding this, but it was much
too good to resist! ;-)
To compound the trouble I've gotten into above, I have also heard of another
kind hearted hedgie addict who offered her hedgehogs a treat of raspberries.
Come morning, once she realized they weren't showing the results of a vicious
fight and that the `blood' was nothing more than two seriously
raspberry-anoited hedgies, it too, became time for a hogwash. It seems you
can create an amazing variety of impromptu colours (and flavours) of
The best age to acquire a pet hedgehog is shortly after they have been weaned
(after about 6-8 weeks of age). Hedgehogs are completely independent by this
stage, and adapt to new owners much more readily when young. This doesn't
mean that an older hedgehog won't become used to you and friendly towards
you, it will just take a little longer and a little more patience.
Subject: <4.2> How many should I get?
Hedgehogs have historically been considered solitary creatures, that do not
particularly get along well together, and in fact only like to be close to
one another during mating. This now appears to be changing, with many
breeders keeping at least females together in groups, and in some cases even
males. I don't know whether this is the result of African Pigmy hedgehogs
taming down as a species, or whether they were always a bit more social than
we gave them credit for. In any case, keeping same sex groups together
(though groups of females do better than groups of males, who still seem to
be a bit more territorial) can tend to be just fine, though it is always
important to keep an eye open for problems. Kept together, hedgehogs will
often curl up together to sleep, and if one is quite young, it might treat an
older one as if it were its parent, and follow it around -- an adorable site
One of factors that helps in keeping groups of hedgehogs together is to
provide adequate space. If things are too crowded, you can usually count on
fights (gee, that almost sounds like elementary school...).
All that having been said, hedgehogs are quite happy when kept individually,
and don't seem to miss the company of other hedgehogs, unless they were
previously housed with others. There is no problem with having only a single
hedgehog as a pet.
Keeping a male within vision, or scent range of a mother with hoglets (even
if in separate enclosures) can result in the babies being eaten. If you do
want more than one hedgehog, be sure you provide plenty of privacy for each.
Of course, opposite-sex pairs are a definite no-no unless you want babies.
-- Nathan Tenny
Hedgehogs that are used to being kept together with others, do often tend to
show signs of depression if separated. This is something to keep in mind if
you do plan to keep your hedgies together, then need to separate them later.
Subject: <4.3> What to look for in a hedgehog / How to choose a hedgehog
The one carrying the little sign saying `hedgehog lover wanted, inquire
within' is probably a good start. If that fails, pick the one with the cute
face! Oops, I can see myself getting in trouble from someone who bought them
all by following that advice.
Selecting a hedgehog can be rather difficult. Unless you are after a very
specific colour, it's largely a case of trying to see enough to decide on
which hedgehog to pick.
The normal situation for looking at a prospective pet is not very well suited
to looking at hedgehogs. Hedgies like to be up and around in the very early
morning, or in the late evening. They don't like bright lights, and often
get nervous around people they don't know. All of this can make it difficult
to look at hedgehogs.
So what do you try to choose based on? Here are some tips that should help:
(1) It is best to start young. About 6-8 weeks old (just after having
been weaned). At this age, hedgies should be quite small, still --
about 2" or 5 cm long. Older hedgies are also fine, but may take a
bit more time to get used to you, or if from a pet store, they may
not have been played with and socialized for some time.
(2) In spite of the time and lighting, the best hedgehogs will wake up
and come out to play readily, exploring and sniffing your hands
without balling up or snuffing too much. Some snuffling is to be
expected, but the quills should stay pretty smoothed down once your
potential new little friend wakes up. Balling up, snuffling too
much or being too afraid are not good signs. Of course, biting
(not the tasting, gentle nibble type) is an instant black mark.
(3) Look for bright clear eyes, and a well rounded body. Some hedgies
do have a leaner, straighter body shape, but this is usually not a
good sign in a young hedgehog. Hedgehogs should be energetic and
(4) Check the paws and toes to make sure they all look good and the
hedgie is able to get around just fine. If possible, you should
also check the tummy for any problems, sores, or just to double
check the sex.
Beyond that, there isn't a lot I can suggest. There will always be some
potential for problems -- hedgehogs are prone to congenitive problems, some
of which don't appear until the hedgehog is a few months old. Even the
healthiest seeming hoglet can wind up having such problems.
Besides, you're only going to get as far as seeing the first little face
and lose all sense of control, anyway...
Subject: <4.4> How can I find a hedgehog breeder/contact in my area?
One of the best options here is to contact the International Hedgehog
Registry (IHR) [2.3], who can probably direct you to a reputable local
breeder, and who may be the best source of information.
In addition, you can check in the yellow pages under exotic animals, or look
in the classified ads section of your local newspapers. Many breeders will
place an ad here, especially when they have babies available.
Another good source, and one with a beneficial side effect, is to contact
veterinarians in your are, to see which treat hedgehogs, and whether they can
point you to any breeders in your area. You're going to need to know a
hedgehog friendly veterinarian, anyway, and this will ensure you find a
breeder who takes good care of their hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are becoming more readily available, and are showing up in many pet
stores, and I've even heard of them occasionally being available at animal
Another possible lead towards finding that perfect hedgehog is to contact the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). Breeders in the U.S. are
generally supposed to be registered with the U.S.D.A. This is generally not
observed very seriously. Still, the U.S.D.A. may be able to provide names
and addresses of large breeders in the U.S.
Subject: <4.5> When Hedgie comes home
Congrats! Your new little friend just came home with you. So what do you
need to know ASAP, other than to spoil him absolutely rotten?!
(1) Hedgehogs are escape artists! Make sure that whatever cage or
enclosure you use, has openings too small to get through, or to
get stuck in. Hedgehogs can squeeze through any opening just a
fraction bigger than their skull, and they will. They can, and
will, also climb -- anything, especially water bottles. Lids are
NOT optional, especially with babies.
(2) Temperature. Hedgehogs need to be warm -- warmer than you keep your
house. See section [5.2] for ideas on keeping a hedgie warm enough,
but generally something like a heating pad on its lowest setting,
under part of the enclosure (so the hedgie can get away from the
heat if it gets too warm) is the usual way to go.
(3) Food and water. For food, at first, the best thing to do is use the
same food your hedgehog was eating at the breeder or store, at least
to help them adjust to the move. Ideally, you should feed them one
of the better hedgehog foods now available see section [6.3]. If you
can't find that, then a diet, or light, premium cat or dog food will
suffice, at least for now. A Guinea pig water bottle works well (if
your hedgie is used to one), if not, a small water dish works well.
(4) Cage, bedding, and a den. The enclosure is up to you, but beware of
number (1) above. It should also be big enough -- 2' x 3' is pretty
much a minimum for a hedgehog. If yours is smaller -- it's VERY
temporary, at most. See section [5.2] for ideas on cages. For bedding,
pine or better yet, aspen chips work well -- avoid cedar! A den can
be anything from a big piece of plumbing tube to an empty Kleenex box
with a door cut in one end.
(5) Playtime. Play with your new friend as often and as much as you
want, keeping in mind that your new hedgie will likely tire quickly,
especially if young, so give your new friend a break at times. It will
also help to keep the lights low, and not be too loud -- both of which
will increase the nervousness of a new hedgehog.
(6) Expectations. Your hedgie is going to be nervous and upset over the
change to a new home. Hedgies don't like change, and rely mostly on
sense of smell to know their way around. Don't be surprised if your
hedgie gets a bit withdrawn for a while. It takes time for a hedgie
to adjust to a new home.
Subject: <4.6> Hedgehog handling / socializing
There's an old joke that goes:
Question: How do you pick up a hedgehog?
Actually the original tends to deal more with the mating habits of our little
friends, but I'm sure you get the point (or would that be points?).
One of the points I had missed in early versions of the FAQ was the need for
handling pet hedgehogs to socialize them with you. Until recently, this
section has dealt primarily with the technical side of the rather thorny
question of how to handle a hedgehog, rather than why.
Hedgehogs tend to be very nervous by nature and do not enjoy nature's best
eyesight. Hedgehogs rely primarily on sense of smell. Their sense of
hearing is a distant second, and their vision is way down the list. In fact,
vision is generally used mostly as a source of warnings of danger. Hearing
serves both purposes -- tracking interesting sounds, or warning them of
dangers, and smell is usually used for finding things they are used to. Keep
all of this in mind when trying to win the heart of a hedgehog.
When you first get a hedgehog as a pet, it is important that your new friend
come to identify your smell with that of a friend. Because of this reliance
on sense of smell, if you are constantly changing perfumes, or sometimes use
strongly scented items, you are going to have much more difficulty than
normal, but by no means is it an impossible task.
The best way to socialize your hedgie is to spend as much time as you
reasonably can (without over-stressing the hedgehog) and gently hold or play
with him. Hedgehogs that are thoroughly familiar with their human friends
tend to be a lot friendlier in most cases -- although it depends on the
hedgehog, as it does with any animal with a personality (or should that be
In simple terms, hedgehogs do best with (possibly short amounts of) regular
attention, rather than large periods of infrequent attention. A few minutes
each day is far better than hours once a week.
It is also important to keep up the contact, to maintain the bond. Spending
some time with your hedgehog(s) every couple of nights should do the job.
Clearly, doing so almost daily is better, but reality rarely lets you do
One point that I've missed here, until now (my thanks to Lisa Ladouceur for
pointing this out), is how to handle your hedgehog. Most hedgehogs, at
least, at first, do not like to be patted on their quills. Just try gently
holding your hedgie, and letting it uncurl in your hands. Let it explore
around your hands and arms, and it will eventually start to become
comfortable around you as it realizes that you are safe. Eventually, you can
get to the point of petting most hedgehogs along the back, and some even like
to be scratched in amongst their spines, but, this level of trust can take a
while to develop.
What do you do when you just won't have the chance to spend as much quality
time with the hedgekids as you want, or if you've just gotten a new hedgehog
and want to do everything possible to help get him used to you? Here is a
tip from Dave Ehrnstein, who, as a fairly large breeder, doesn't have the
time to spend with each and every new hedgehog:
Another way to acquaint them with your scent is to wear an old T-shirt
for two days, then put it in their cage. They will nest under it, and
your scent will become ``homey'' to them, not threatening.
You should be careful that there are no loose loops of thread on the shirt
(or hairs) that hedgefeet can get caught in (see caution in sections [5.2]
and [9.1]) and you should also at least check on the hedgehog daily, but
otherwise this idea will help acquaint your new friend with your smell, and
settle him into his new home.
Now on to the ``how do I pick up a pincushion with the points all facing
Picking up a hedgehog, or otherwise handling him is difficult, at least until
he gets to know your smell. Because of this, there is one cardinal rule
about hedgehog handling and that is ``never wear gloves.'' If you do, your
hedgehog will never become used to you, and your smell. That said, there
are, indeed, times when you have to. As with any so called rule, there
are exceptions, and using your common sense is the best thing. Remember,
it's much better to use gloves and take your hedgie out to play, then not to
play at all.
One thing you should do before trying to pick up any hedgehog, is to let your
little friend sniff your bare hand, before you pick him up, that way, he will
come to know the picking up is safe.
The recommended way to pick up a hedgehog is with one hand at each side of
him, then bring your hands gently together to cup him. Never grasp a
hedgehog in a way that could allow any of your fingers to be caught in the
middle should he decide to roll into a ball. Being in the middle of a
hedgehog ball is an extremely painful experience -- it's truly astounding
just how strong their muscles are [words of a single, never to be repeated,
unfortunate experience by the editor].
Most hedgehogs, unless really upset, will end up stepping up on your hands as
they come together. Once on your hands, you can transfer your little friend
to your lap (a towel spread on your lap can help, here), or onto your chest.
Properly handled, from shortly after birth, pet hedgehogs are very friendly,
playful animals that will keep their quills smoothed down, and enjoy being
with people. Once socialized with you, your hedgehog will be like this any
time you want to play (at least after it has had time to wake up, if you
decide to play during hedgie's naptime).
Are all hedgehogs like this? No, of course not. That's the ideal, and it is
something most people will only achieve if they get lucky, and kept up the
right attention, or if they are persistent at trying to win their little
friend over. The one key thing to remember, above all else, is patience,
patience, patience, and patience!
So you say your hedgehog is a grump? Fear not, that's not unusual. I must
admit that Velcro, my first hedgehog was a thoroughly endearing little grump
who took me 4-5 months to win over. Once I did win him over, though, he was
a real little sweetheart, and would often come to his cage door when he heard
me, to come out and play.
So why are some hedgies so grumpy or seem to be unfriendly, and what are the
reasons? For the answer, we need to look at the making of our little grumps,
um, er, friends, and how they relate to you.
Keep the noise levels low around hedgies, and preferably the lighting not too
bright. This will help avoid triggering nervousness.
Remember that, to a hedgehog, you are very large, and cast a huge shadow.
Think of yourself being picked up by something the size of a small
skyscraper! Move slowly, and do your best not to suggest you might be a
If you are still at the glove stage, once you have your little friend out,
try to take off the glove and do without it as much as possible.
Remember too, that with hedgehogs, bribery IS considered appropriate. Treats
are welcome. Let's face it, your hedgehog is not going to turn you in for
So what about hardcore cases? The I-wanna-snuffle-myself-into-a-fit-
and-you-can't-do-anything-about-it type grumps?
The first thing to do is to decide if something is bothering the grumphog.
Often, a problem, like being too cold or not feeling well can be the source
of the excess grumpyness. Even something like toenails that have become
ingrown are frequent causes of grump syndrome in hedgehogs.
If you've made sure of the basics, here are a series of things (some of which
might be a bit redundant after all the discussions above), for dealing with
(1) Make sure that the lights are low, that there are not causes for
discomfort (cold, injuries, mites, etc.), and that there are no major
disturbances like loud music, etc., nearby.
(2) Does your hedgehog have a secure feeling den, and comfortable cage,
or enclosure? Somewhere a hedgehog can curl up in and feel safe can help
boost his sense of security. This doesn't need to be too elaborate.
(3) Play with him regularly, for 15-20 minutes each day, at around the
same time of day. Some hedgies treat this as a battle of wills. Once he
knows he's going to come out and play, whether he snuffles his butt off,
or not, he will knuckle under. If you let him get the best of you,
you've lost, and he will know it. After that, he can do whatever he
wants, and you are at his mercy.
(4) Think of your little friend's situation. Most new hedgehogs are
still essentially babies. Here you have a timid little animal which has
just lost everything it ever knew. It was recently separated from its
mother and then from any brothers or sisters that it might have been
with. Now everything smells different, tastes different, sounds
different, and this huge creature is grabbing for it. Needless to say,
this is a pretty nerve-wracking experience. This is why patience is so
(5) Bribery works. It can even be fun experimenting to find out what
treats your hedgie likes.
(6) Hardcore snufflebutts can sometimes be won over, at least in part,
by a bath. Almost every hedgehog will smooth their quills down when in
water, and you can become the rescuer when extracting him from the
evil bath. Some hedgies even actually enjoy baths! See section [6.5]
on how to bath your hedgie.
Remember, patience is the key. It will often take time, sometimes weeks of
patient playing to win over a hedgie, but it is worth it, and it can be done.
Okay, so Spike is coming along fine, he's willing to come out and play, or
sometimes even snuggle, but there are some little habits that are leaving you
a bit unsure of things. It seems a favorite trick of some hedgehogs to go to
the bathroom just after you pick them up and start to play. Is this an
attempt on their part to be left alone? You may be starting to think so, and
that it might work, if it keeps up.
Of course your hedgie is not mistaking you for a litter box, nor is he making
a social commentary on you -- basically, he just can't help himself. This
particular `habit' is far more common in young hedgehogs who still don't have
as much control over their bodily functions as they will have later on. It
also appears that in hedgehogs, there is usually a need to go to the bathroom
shortly after waking up, when you combine this with the fact that hedgies
like to go, when on the go, it pretty much covers the causes.
So what is the solution? Obviously, one necessity is to just keep some
Kleenex or paper towel handy -- it's going to happen at times, no matter
what! The other thing that can help is when you first wake up your little
friend, give him a minute or two back in his cage to try and do his business
before you really take him out to play. Of course, there is the wait until
he grows up approach, but just try and resist wanting to play for that long!
For dealing with problem behavior, like biting, see section [6.6].
Subject: <4.7> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/
rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble?
In what limited experience I've had, I have seen no problem with interaction
between hedgehogs and other pets -- my wife and I have five cats (Kit &
Caboodle, Oreo, Snickers, and Scrapper) in addition to our group of hedgies.
Velcro always thought the cats would make nice mealtime treats and chased
them whenever possible, while some of the others take little notice of the
cats, other than an occasional duck of the head and a snuffling session. For
their part, the cats have only shown peaceful curiosity towards the
hedgehogs. The occasional very careful paw will reach out and almost, but
not quite touch one of the hedgehogs. The cats seem to know that these
snuffling little armoured tanks are actually animated pincushions that would
hurt if they really connected. For his part, Velcro omce actually shoved the
largest cat (18+ lbs.!) out of the way with nothing more than a slightly
indignant look from the cat.
Aside from this, I imagine that it will really depend on the personality of
your other pet(s). I would expect more aggressive cats/dogs to try nipping
at or swatting at a new hedgehog (an action that is unlikely to be repeated
by any animal with the ability to learn from its mistakes). Some terriers
and other hunting dogs might be an exception here, and might be best kept
separate from hedgehogs for the safety of both parties (not to mention any
humans who try to separate them!) Hedgehogs are admirably well protected --
the worry is ``how safe are your other pets?''
As long as you supervise the first few encounters between your hedgehog and
your other pets, there `should be' no problem in either direction. The only
time there should be cause for worry is if one or more of your other pets
could potentially be food in the eyes of your hedgehog (such as pet
mealworms?). By way of an example of this, I would recommend that you not
introduce your hedgehog to any herps you might have -- it seems that, for
example, hedgehogs enjoy the taste of iguana tail.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Brian MacNamara - macnamara@HedgehogHollow.COM
Hedgehog Hollow: http://HedgehogHollow.COM/
Brian MacNamara - macnamara@HedgehogHollow.COM
Hedgehog Hollow: http://HedgehogHollow.COM/