African Pygmy Hedgehogs are growing in popularity worldwide as an exotic pet that is easy to care for and very rewarding to keep. We have kept and bred African Pygmy Hedgehogs at Reptile Cymru for the last seven years and have sold our offspring as pets to people from as young as six years old to as old as seventy! The African Pygmy Hedgehog is an artificial hybrid that only exists in captivity. It is a cross between the Four Toed Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) and the Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus). It has now been bred for decades in captivity and is well established, with varied bloodlines. People are always amazed to see a hedgehog as a pet and if you are looking for a new pet, read on and see what you think!
African Pygmy Hedgehogs live indoors in cages similar to that you would keep a guinea pig or rabbit in. Some people keep them in glass tanks; others keep them in wooden vivariums. We personally recommend the Nero range (pictured below) of indoor rabbit cages. They should always be kept alone unless you are a breeder who is planning to breed and have thoroughly researched the topic. We keep this cage in stock in a variety of colours.
When choosing your enclosure you want to take into consideration
Ventilation - Hedgehogs are not a smelly animal but all animals will produce a certain odour. The odour of urine can be very strong in an enclosed space, unpleasant for you and your hedgehog. You need to have adequate ventilation for air flow. If using a vivarium you may want to remove the glass panels at the front and modify to mesh; in a glass tank, you may want to have a full mesh lid. Ventilation is just one of the reasons I use an indoor rabbit cage – the plastic bars ensure 100% ventilation.
Size - Hedgehogs are very active. In the wild, a hedgehog will run many miles in one night. They are constantly moving and foraging. Furthermore, hedgehogs are very inquisitive! Provide as much space as you can. I personally recommend a space of at least 36 x 18″ as a minimum. You can get indoor rabbit cages that go up to 48 x 24″.
Light - Although hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, they are still aware of the light cycle. They can become confused and stop eating when housed with no light at all. A 12 hour light cycle is ideal for them. If your enclosure is not getting natural light, you may need to provide artificial lighting.
Heat - The ideal temperature is between 65 and 80F. Most houses may never drop below the minimum amount; but if yours does, you will need to consider heating the enclosure. You can do this with a simple heat mat on a thermostat underneath. With a thermostat attached, you may find that this only switches on during very cold periods. It is vitally important that you never let the temperature go below 50F as this will cause hibernation – very dangerous in this species which does not naturally hibernate.
Substrate - You want to provide something that is dust free and not made of cedar (which can be toxic). I personally use wood based cat litter as a substrate as it is absorbent, clean, dust-free and easy to clean out. Hedgehogs can also be litter trained! If you want to litter train them you need to provide a section of the enclosure which contains litter.
Bedding - They need a secure enclosed area in which to sleep and some bedding inside it. Most indoor rabbit cages come with an underneath section for sleeping. I use old towels as bedding, as they can be washed easily. Hedgehogs don’t shred their bedding the way many rodents do.
Exercise & Decor – Hedgehogs are very active and energetic. A wheel is a must for any hedgehog, you will find that they run on it every night! The only downside to a wheel is that they may use it as their bathroom also, so frequent washing will be necessary. They will play with toys, especially tubes and containers (but be careful they don’t get stuck! They seem to have little sense as to what sort of size they can fit into!), and most will enjoy cat toys such as balls with bells on, or even bird toys. They are quite easily entertained but it is important that you provide them with a variety of things to keep them stimulated.
Fresh water is needed at all times and can be provided with a standard drinking bottle.
In the wild hedgehogs are insectivorous, but in captivity we feed them a diet that is primarily dry cat food. It is important you choose a good quality brand that is high in protein and low in fat, usually chicken based. Do not feed fish based products! Our hedgehogs are raised on go-cat chicken complete.
In addition to their dry base, you can supplement the diet with a wide range of food including cooked chicken, chicken based baby food, fruits and vegetables, low fat yoghurt, scrambled egg and insects (live or dried). Don’t take the insects from your garden though, as these may contain pesticides which are very harmful. You can buy dried or live mealworms, crickets, or locusts from us.
It’s important not to overfeed your hedgehog, although they often get a lot of exercise, they are greedy and can become obese – even to the point of no longer being able to ball up correctly. An adult hedgehog should weigh between 12 and 18 ounces. Any more than that, and you may want to consider a diet! A hedgehog should always be able to fully ball up tight without being restricted by their weight.
Hedgehogs, like any young animal can be scared of people. You are much bigger than them and look and smell very different to their mum and siblings. When a hedgehog is scared they will curl into a ball. If threatened they may “huff” up, sticking their spikes up and may even jump up slightly as a threat and make hissing noises!
You will need to spend time teaching your hedgehog that you are not a threat and in fact – you are a good thing – the bringer of food! Regular daily handling as a youngster will ensure you have a tame hedgehog that rarely huffs up and offering them treats after a handling session will make them quickly associate you with a reward.
If you are having trouble handling your hedgehog, wear gloves or pick them up using a towel. Don’t let them huff and put them back – this teaches them that huffing up returns them to their safety zone. You need to teach them that you are a safety zone, so even if they are refusing to unball, just have them sitting on your lap for 15 minutes before returning them.
Hedgehogs do have teeth which they use for crunching up their food but it is quite rare for them to bite unless they can smell something tasty. Wash your hands before handling because they have a very keen sense of smell!
When hedgehogs taste something new they will build up a froth in their mouth and then spread this on their backs. It looks very weird and may suprise you at first! No one really knows exactly why they do this – but it does not mean that they are scared or angry, it just means they have tasted or smelt something new or strange to them.