Hedgehogs: The Complete Guide To Caring For Hedgehogs

What do Hedgehogs Look Like?

The most distinctive feature about hedgehogs is their shield of keratin spikes. These spikes are referred to as quills and are the first line of defense for hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are found in wide ranges of colors, from white to its opposite – black and even in shades of brown.

Moreover, they appear more colorful because of the varying shades that run down their quills. Their faces, bellies, and neck region are covered with fur coats that are characteristically thick and rough to touch.

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs may also sport a dark brown or black mask across their eyes in a few individuals. These fascinating creatures also have little yet muscular legs and large feet that sport five toes, like human beings.

The only deviant type of hedgehog is the four-toed hedgehog, which, as its name suggests, has four toes. Adding to their merits, hedgehogs are also excellent diggers, thanks to their curved claws.

They have an excellent olfactory response because of their large snout and wet nose. They don’t lack in the auditory department either, with large ears that listen to their surroundings adeptly.

Because of the way they look – round and pointy, hedgehogs have also commonly been touted as ‘pincushions with legs.’

Types of Hedgehogs

The world is home to 17 different types of hedgehogs. Some of these are truly wild hedgehogs, while others are the result of extensive and selective domestication or hybridization for the purpose of reintroduction to the wild.

Naturally, many of these hedgehogs differ in terms of their physical appearance and some behavioral aspects. You can check out our article discussing the various types of hedgehogs in detail.

Still, for the time being, you can read a list of the different types of hedgehogs that are found across the globe!

  1. Indian hedgehogs
  2. European hedgehogs
  3. Northern White-Breasted hedgehogs
  4. Southern White-Breasted hedgehogs
  5. North African hedgehogs
  6. South African hedgehogs
  7. The Four-Toed hedgehogs
  8. Amur hedgehogs
  9. Somali hedgehogs
  10. Long-Eared hedgehogs
  11. Hugh’s hedgehogs
  12. Daurian hedgehogs
  13. Indian Long-Eared hedgehogs
  14. Desert hedgehogs
  15. Bare-bellied hedgehogs
  16. Brandt’s hedgehogs
  17. Gaoligong forest hedgehogs

What Can Hedgehogs Eat?

Different scientists and organizations actually have varying views about the classification of hedgehogs based on their diets. Some people classify hedgehogs as omnivores, while others consider them to be insectivorous animals.

Selective Focus Photography of Porcupine Eating Food

However, the hedgehog animal’s natural diet would probably force you into accepting that the species is more omnivorous than insectivorous. Why? Simply because wild hedgehogs eat a varied diet that goes above and beyond just insects.

It does hold true that hedgehog diets differ depending on their geographical origin and habitat. Still, as far as pet hedgehogs or domesticated hedgehogs are concerned, their diets are quite different from a wild hedgehog’s diet. Therefore, you must consider this before you create the ideal diet plan for your pet hedgehog. 

Having said that, it’s an undisputed fact that insects do form an essential part of a hedgehog’s diet. The reason is that insects usually have an exoskeleton that is composed of a protein known as chitin.

Now, hedgehogs do have the unusual ability to digest insect chitin. Further, chitin is not only a healthy source of protein for hedgehogs but also forms a part of their requisite intake of dietary fiber.

So, hedgehogs certainly require chitin in their diet, but, as we mentioned, it isn’t the sole nutrient they require. Thus you must provide a variety of foods in addition to insects.

Here are some of the food items that you must include in their daily diet to keep it healthy, nutritious as well as interesting for your pet hedgehogs.

Worms

Some types of worms are essential for hedgehogs since they deliver high-quality nutrition to their bodies. While you can feed mealworms pretty frequently to your hedgehog as part of its daily diet, you should try to reserve waxworms as special treats for special occasions.

This is mainly because mealworms offer chitin to your hedgehog but waxworms, on the other hand, offer lower amounts of chitin but higher quantities of fat. You can also choose to feed live worms to your pet hedgehog to make their meals more natural and engaging!

Crickets

Crickets are also a great source of high-quality chitin for your pet hedgehog, and you can buy them frozen or as live insects.

Vegetables

Veggies can be great additions to your pet hedgehog’s diet, but you must be mindful to avoid dry vegetables or starchy options. Some veggies that you can include in your pet hedgehog’s diet are beans, tomatoes, and cooked squash.

Fruit

Fresh fruits like apples, melons, and bananas are nutritious foods for your hedgehog.

Mice

While this may seem absurd to you, hedgehogs enjoy live mice as a treat from time to time.

Clean and cooked meat and eggs

Cooked animal sources of protein are healthy but in restricted quantities only.

Commercially available hedgehog kibble

Round off your hedgehog’s nutritional needs with premium-grade kibble that is specifically formulated for hedgehogs.

Regardless of whether you can include any of the other items mentioned above in your hedgehog’s diet, you must make sure to feed kibble that has been checked and suggested by your veterinarian.

See also  Can Hamsters Eat Spinach? What You Need To Know!

Everything You Need To Know About Hedgehogs’ Reproduction and Lifespan

Hedgehogs mature by the age of 2, after which they are also sexually mature and capable of reproduction on an annual basis until the end of their lives. Typically, hedgehogs have been observed to conduct their reproductive practices in the months of April through September.

Wildlife, Hedgehog, Background, Meadow

Amidst this time frame, they achieve peak reproductive numbers in the months of May and June. This peak time frame is called ‘the rut.’ Like some other species of animals, hedgehogs, too, have and actively participate in mating rituals.

Male hedgehogs use long encounters with circling and repetitive snorting and puffing to seduce female hedgehogs.

Rival males are drawn to the disturbance, and courting can be disrupted as interlopers are confronted, and rival males face up; head-butting and chases are not unusual.

The entire process of mating is a delicate process that requires hedgehogs to be attentive and careful with one another.

As the male mounts from behind, the female assumes a unique body position with her spines flattened so as to prevent any injury to the male hedgehog. Hedgehogs have been found to be indiscriminately polygamous during mating seasons using techniques such as radio-tracking investigations.

In a single breeding or mating season, both males and females may have multiple different mates.

Hedgehogs typically give birth in the months of June and July, after an average gestation period of 4 weeks that can extend to 6 weeks, but the hoglet season can start as early as early spring after a mild winter and last until the fall.

The normal litter size is four or five baby hedgehogs, although up to seven can be born. However, they usually only succeed in nursing two or three of them. It’s also possible that the mother hedgehog deserts or, in extreme cases, eat her babies, especially if she is stressed. 

Newborns have the appearance of fat white caterpillars. They are born with quills, but these quills are delicate and malleable rather than stiff.

To protect the mother during birth, the quills are covered by puffed, fluid-filled skin. The hoglet’s skin shrinks within a day, and roughly 150 white quills sprout.

Once the hoglets are about three weeks old, the mother will take them along to forage for food and essentials. After learning from their mother for about ten foraging trips, hoglets will choose to go solo to forage.

Now, according to experts, female hedgehogs can give birth to a subsequent litter by the month of October, but these hoglets are at a higher risk of premature mortality owing to the cold temperatures that are experienced in the winter months.

Things to Note About Hedgehog Behavior

Hedgehogs are peculiar creatures with some odd behavioral characteristics. One such characteristic is the process of self-anointing.

Basically, when a hedgehog detects a strong odor or taste, it spins its head around and, using its tongue, coats its spines and fur in frothy saliva, giving the appearance of being covered in soap bubbles! This act is known as self-anointing and is perfectly normal behavior.

A Close-Up Shot of a Hedgehog

However, no one knows why hedgehogs do it or what purpose it serves.

Hedgehogs also portray very effective self-defense mechanisms. When under threat of attack by a predator, hedgehogs will erect their spines and roll up into a tight ball, making it nearly impossible for a predator to attack them.

While most animals will simply give up once the hedgehog rolls into a ball, a determined fox can bust one such rolled-up hedgehog open! The spines are actually 25mm long modified hairs composed of hardened keratin.

The spines or quills of an adult hedgehog range from 3,000 to 7,000 in total, on average. Each one lasts about a year before dying and shedding, and being replaced by a fresh quill.

Another common behavioral tendency of the hedgehog species is the fact that hedgehogs are often solitary and nocturnal animals. During the spring and summer months, it sleeps in a makeshift nest and emerges at dusk to forage for food.

It is an insectivore that eats a variety of invertebrates, prefers bird eggs, and raids mouse nests for the young. Soft fruit is their primary source of nutrition in the autumn season.

Hedgehogs can travel up to 4 kilometers per night in search of food or for foraging purposes. It has the ability to scale short stone walls, obstacles such as fences, and even swims across the water in its pursuit.

Hedgehogs make a lot of noise as they shuffle through the bushes, snuffling noisily. They have low vision but excellent senses of smell, touch, and hearing, which is what allows them to be alert in their natural habitat.

You will find many of these behavioral characteristics replicated even in domestic settings. 

Hedgehogs in the wild seek protection under rocks and bushes or dig a charming little hole in the earth. In your home, a digging space, such as a box packed with diggable material like newspaper strips or fleece, would be appreciated by your pet hedgehog.

You can even choose to drop in a couple of live mealworm treats for him to forage to make it even more appealing.

Because the hedgehog’s food is scarce in the winter, it hibernates in a specifically built nest, which is normally at ground level in a hedgerow, a compost heap, under a thick covering of leaves, or under logs.

The hedgehog spends the autumn devouring as much food as possible before curling into a tight ball in its hibernaculum, storing it as fat that is used up during sleep. Hedgehogs who do not store enough fat during the autumn may perish during a long, harsh winter.

Hibernation lasts about a month, from November to March. During this moment, the body’s temperature falls to that of its surroundings, and respiration slows to a crawl.

Which Animals Are Predators to Hedgehogs?

The hedgehog is mainly hunted by two animals: the badger and the fox. Hedgehogs’ major predators in the UK are badgers. They are probably the only animals capable of dealing with a hedgehog’s sharp spines.

Scientists have actually observed that hedgehogs deliberately avoid badger-infested areas. Hedgehogs are less numerous where there are a lot of badgers.

Having said that, despite the fact that badger numbers have increased, there is no direct indication that they are the primary cause of hedgehog decline.

See also  Can Guinea Pigs Eat Peas? All You Need To Know

Hedgehogs struggle in gardens just as much as they do in the countryside, despite the fact that they rarely encounter each other. Moreover, the badger species and the hedgehog species also compete with each other for their daily food.

Hedgehogs are occasionally attacked by foxes, but adult hogs are normally protected by their spikes. Hoglets, on the other hand, can be prey for foxes, and injuries on the limbs are commonly observed when a fox or other predator has attempted but failed to get the hedgehog.

Hedgehog pieces are occasionally found in the stomachs of urban foxes, albeit this is most likely due to their diet of roadkill.

Apart from these two animals, the only predatorial threat that hedgehogs face are from dogs, aerial predators like hawks and owls, and occasionally, animals like weasels, rats, and pine martins.

Thanks to their impeccable defense mechanisms, the hedgehog is quite protected from common predators.

Keeping Hedgehogs as Pets

Keeping and maintaining a hedgehog as a pet can be a great experience if you can guarantee its healthy life in your care. Before you scurry off to the pet store, take some time to read about what it’s like to have a pet hedgehog.

Hedgehog, Animal, Cute, Hands, Prickly

We have answered the most common doubts and questions regarding the experience and requirements of keeping hedgehogs as pets in this comprehensive section!

Are hedgehogs good pets?

The European hedgehog, also known by the scientific name Erinaceus europaeus, and the smaller African pygmy hedgehog, also called Atelerix Albiventris, are the two most frequent varieties of hedgehogs kept as pets.

Hedgehogs are solitary animals that live alone in the wild. When you initially bring them home, they may take some time to warm up to you. Patience and time will help them gain confidence in you.

Hedgehogs can be a fun and low-maintenance household pet, but they do require specific attention. They have sharp quills that can be difficult to handle. Daily handling that is consistent and proper will help them relax and feel at ease with you.

The quills of a hedgehog are not as sharp as those of a porcupine, yet they are sharp enough to pierce your skin.

Are hedgehogs cuddly?

Person Holding Hedgehog

No, hedgehogs are not cuddly animals or pets at all. The reason is quite simple – hedgehogs have a prickly exterior; therefore, it makes it nearly impossible to hold them as you wish.

How difficult is it to have a hedgehog as a pet?

Hedgehogs make for unique pets, and this is one of the reasons that the idea of having a pet hedgehog is gradually gaining traction in the world.

Given the fact that they are certainly entertaining creatures to have as pets, there are still some issues and obstacles that arise in keeping hedgehogs as pets.

One of the very first issues that arise is due to the fact that hedgehogs are nocturnal animals. Therefore, they spend the majority of the day time sleeping. This leaves very little room for you to develop and hone engagement and a real relationship with your pet hedgehog.

Further, due to their solitary nature, bonding with them can take some time. Playing with them and allowing them to run around before sleep helps them become accustomed to your touch and attention.

Another issue that arises with hedgehogs is that they are extremely busy creatures. They have the ability to run for miles! Climbing, digging, and swimming are among their favorite activities.

Because they’re nocturnal, they’ll be digging and racing around while you’re attempting to sleep. Providing them with a wide cage away from your bedroom will allow them to vent their frustrations while you sleep.

Therefore, hedgehogs, while they can be good pets, come with their fair share of issues.

Are hedgehogs dangerous?

No, hedgehogs aren’t really dangerous to humans, especially when unprovoked. They are a bit anti-social and want to be left alone. If people go too close, they will usually roll up into balls rather than bite you for approaching them.

The only real danger arises if your hedgehog is frightened and retaliates by poking you with its quill. However, most hedgehog owners don’t report being bitten or attacked by their pet hedgehogs.

You will have to be careful about contracting diseases like salmonella from your pet hedgehog because often, even though the animal appears to be healthy, it can be a carrier of some diseases that even you can contract through its feces.

How much room do pet hedgehogs need?

The fact is that despite being small animals, you do need to ensure that your hedgehog has plenty of space to be active because hedgehogs do need and enjoy roaming around.

Therefore, the enclosure for your hedgehog must be large enough, or, alternatively, you will need to let them out of their enclosures for them to roam about.

What do hedgehogs need in their cage?

While hedgehogs can make for great pet animals, there are some things that you will have to provide for them in their living space to ensure that it stays healthy, active, and comfortable in your home.

The first requirement for making their cages habitable and comfortable is the presence of an external source of heat, especially if you live in cold climates. The reason is that in nature, hedgehogs live their lives in warm regions.

Therefore, they are not equipped to deal with cold temperatures as a species. However, while providing them with a heating device, you must ensure that it does not pose the risk of a fire.

Try to avoid open flames near and around your pet hedgehog’s cage, and be sure to regulate the temperature to meet your hedgehog’s needs.

Your hedgehog will also need wooden or fabric bedding for its cage. This helps in allowing them to grip the floor of their cage while moving about and also acts as protection from the temperature, whether hot or cold, of the flooring of its cage.

Providing good quality bedding in your hedgehog’s cage also makes it easier for you to maintain hygiene and cleanliness. Further, hedgehogs also need toys or exercise equipment in order to stay healthy.

The reason is that hedgehogs are active creatures and need that kind of physical stimulation. Therefore, keeping toys like a ping pong ball or an exercise wheel can help them in staying fit and satisfied.

See also  Can Rats Eat Blueberries? All You Need To Know

Other essential items that you will have to provide for your pet hedgehog’s cage are sleeping shelters like sleeping bags, or a plastic structure that your hedgehog can enter if it wants to rest, dedicated bowls for food and water that are placed away from the next essential item – a litter tray for its excreta.

Ensuring that your hedgehog’s cage is well supplemented with these items will go a long way in keeping your hedgehog happy and content!

Is a hedgehog the ideal pet animal for you?

In deciding whether the hedgehog is the right pet for you, you will have to first understand whether you can provide a home and a living environment that works for the proper development of hedgehogs.

The foremost necessity for you to be able to keep a pet hedgehog is legal permission. It is barred by the law to keep hedgehogs as pets in many countries.

In fact, many states in the United States of America itself, along with some European nations, have illegalized the practice of keeping hedgehogs as pets!

Therefore, before you can even consider bringing home a pet hedgehog, you must first check whether it is legal for you to do so.

Further, it’s best not to mix hedgehogs and children. The reason is that hedgehogs can be jittery and nervous when it comes to socialization, to begin with, and children may not understand the consequences of seemingly harmless and friendly actions toward a hedgehog.

Therefore, there may be a situation where your hedgehog reacts adversely and ends up injuring your child.

Another factor that you will have to consider is your activity level in the evenings and nights. Hedgehogs are most active at night (since they are nocturnal animals).

So, unless you can maintain your energy and make time to spend with and care for your pet hedgehog in the evenings and nights, the hedgehog may not be the ideal pet for you.

While hedgehogs are still among the category of ‘low-maintenance pets,’ you will have to ensure that you provide it with ample space and that you live in a region where the average temperature stays around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Only if you can meet these essential conditions should you consider buying or adopting a pet hedgehog.

Fun Facts About Hedgehogs

The name of the species arises from their foraging methodology.

Hedgehogs forage for food and living essentials by sifting through hedges and vegetative undergrowth. Therefore, the species was named on that very basis.

Groups of hedgehogs are called arrays.

Even though hedgehogs are known to be fairly solitary animals that don’t socialize well, every now, and then you can find a group of hedgehogs, typically consisting of a mother and her hoglets. Such groups of hedgehogs are known as arrays.

Hedgehogs can live in various types of habitats.

Interestingly, hedgehogs can be found all over the world. Credit to their 17 different species, different types of hedgehogs, are native to the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe, as well as the country of New Zealand, where they are an invasive species.

Hedgehogs have adapted to exist in a variety of environments, including woods, deserts, savannahs, parks, and private gardens. They may build burrows in the dirt or nest under tiny bushes or rocks, depending on where they reside.

Hedgehogs came into existence about 125 million years ago.

The first evidence of hedgehogs being ancient creatures were uncovered by a team of Spanish Scientists less than a decade ago, in 2015.

This discovery was particularly significant because it was the very first-time researchers had observed spine-like features in Mesozoic mammals.

Scientists compared the 125-million-year-old fossil to both spiny mice and hedgehogs specifically because of its size and the presence of characteristic keratin structures.

Hedgehogs protect themselves with their natural armors.

With a natural quiver of about seven thousand keratin quills covering their posterior expanse, hedgehogs are obviously well protected against most predators.

Rolling as a defense mechanism

The idea behind rolling up into a ball is simply to protect the parts of their bodies that aren’t covered in keratin quills. Once they roll into balls, their quills make it considerably harder for predators to attack and kill them.

All hedgehogs may not hibernate

The types of hedgehogs that live in warm regions that don’t typically experience harsh winters hedgehogs don’t feel the need to hibernate. It is only in the colder habitats that hedgehogs hibernate to protect themselves from the low temperatures.

Hedgehogs anoint themselves

Hedgehogs engage in a one-of-a-kind form of self-anointing. Toxins and other irritating compounds are licked and chewed by this species, which produces a foaming concoction.

Hedgehogs then rub this concoction over their exposed skin and their armor of quills. To date, scientists can’t explain why hedgehogs do this, but the popular theories include making themselves deadly to predators to it being a mating ritual.

Hedgehogs are immune to snake venom.

A fascinating defense mechanism that hedgehogs possess is a specific type of protein in their bloodstream that has the ability to render snake venom non-toxic. Even though this defense mechanism is not fail-proof, it is still extremely handy for these animals in the wild!

Conclusion

Keeping hedgehogs as pets will need you to be attentive and careful about meeting very specific needs for them.

Seemingly insignificant factors such as the daily temperature or the presence of another animal in your hedgehog’s living space can drastically affect these small animals.

Therefore, having a pet hedgehog is only a good idea if you can commit to offering it the shelter and affection it needs to flourish!

FAQs

How long do hedgehogs live for?

Most hedgehogs can live for up to 8 years of age in a domesticated environment. In the wild, hedgehogs have a much higher mortality rate.

Where do hedgehogs live?

Hedgehogs live all over the world in forests, deserts, savannas, and even urban settlements.

What do hedgehogs eat?

Being insectivorous animals, hedgehogs usually feast on worms, beetles, crickets, and other insects. Sometimes they will also choose to eat some vegetables and rodents.

Do hedgehogs hibernate?

Hedgehogs that live in colder regions of the globe can hibernate for nearly six months.

Photo of author
Author
Gulshan
Hi, I am Gulshan, a pet blogger, and author. I've been working with the local pet groups for the past five years. I have been fascinated by our pets and am here to share that wonder with you.