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Hedgehog FAQ #3: Intro to Hedgehogs as Pets
Keywords: faq pet hedgehogs
Last-modified: 21 Dec 1995
HEDGEHOG FAQ (part 3 of 5) -- INTRO TO HEDGEHOGS AS PETS
Compiled and edited by Brian MacNamara (email@example.com)
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed
(in fact, desperately begged for, is probably closer to the truth)!
This document is copyright 1995 by Brian MacNamara. See section 0.5
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 five parts, all of which should be available
from wherever you obtained this one. A complete table of contents for
all five parts is given in part I.
Please note: I am not a hedgehog expert (in fact I am a relative novice),
and 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 hedgehogs ***
<3.1> What are hedgehogs? Should I get one? What's good and bad
about them as pets?
<3.2> Are hedgehogs wild animals?
<3.3> What's the average hedgehog lifespan?
<3.4> I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to hedgehogs?
<3.5> Do hedgehogs smell?
<3.6> Do hedgehogs have tails?
<3.7> Hedgehog monikers -- what do I call a hedgehog?
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> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/
rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble?
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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 upsidedown oval bowl,
that is covered with sharp quills, 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 projecting 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
Some hedgehogs have what appears to be a narrow reverse Mohawk hairdo
(a narrow furrow that runs lengthwise).
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
Running in size from about 6 to 8 inches in length, mature African Pigmy
hedgehogs look for all the world to be little armoured tanks being lead
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 of this ducking and snuffling will
The following is largely verbatim from Nathan Tenny and gives a good detailed
description of pet hedgehogs:
The "African pigmy or dwarf hedgehog" that's appeared on the pet market
is a Central African species, also called the white-bellied hedgehog,
and possibly the same as the Cape hedgehog or Pruner's hedgehog.
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.) There may be some overlap with _Erinaceus frontalis_
as well, and just to complicate matters, older works refer to the genus
_Atelerix_ as _Aethechinus_. The African hedgehog is related to the
European hedgehog, but is much smaller (and more tropical, of course).
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-socialised
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 over a dozen years, like I have,
there is just no question.
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.
Wayne Clendenin sends along the following advice on whether hedgehogs bite
and other useful advice on hedgehog as pets:
[Hedgehogs] seldom bite, it's not a usual trait. The short teeth and
dog-like mouth don't cause any damage, unlike a hamster or gerbil bite.
We have found that a pup will usually lick before tasting a finger or
hand...but we also have a real mean female. Maybe she's overly
protective, but she bites without the warning lick. (She also spent her
first 6 months unhandled in a pet shop). We usually don't recommend hhs
as pets for kids under school age...those spines can be sharp to tender
little hands. I've never had a pup "nip" or even an adult "chomp"...break
the skin...but, I wouldn't bet on that with a very young child.
One suggestion you can try for hedgehogs that nip or bite is to blow into
their face either when they do it or, if you can tell, when they are about
to. This doesn't hurt the hedgehog any, but they don't like it and it can
have the desired effect of stopping the bite and being gentle punishment.
Hedgehogs are also quite low 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.
Then there's always the one really effective decision factor: hedgehogs
are irresistibly CUTE!
Subject: <3.2> Are hedgehogs wild animals?
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 over a dozen years. As such, they should not be confused with the
European variety that are essentially wild animals (and are protected in
most European countries). It is somewhat unlikely that a pet hedgehog could
survive very long in the wild, especially in North America, which seems to
be where they are most popular. Needless to say, finding out whether or not
they can is an experiment best left to theory, rather than practice.
Subject: <3.3> What's the average hedgehog lifespan?
African pigmy hedgehogs can live from 6-10 years in captivity.
Subject: <3.4> 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.
Subject: <3.5> Do hedgehogs smell?
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 no odour at all. Most (some?) hedgehogs can be trained
to use a litter box, making the task of keeping the cage clean that much
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 they will smell, although
brands and types of food can have as great an effect as just wet versus dry
foods. 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: <3.6> Do hedgehogs have tails?
Yes, but barely. 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: <3.7> Hedgehog monikers -- what do I call a hedgehog?
I can think of a lot of things here -- especially when Velcro has closed
up on my fingers, again! 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 of late 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."
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!"
I don't know if an official term exists for a group of hedgehogs (other than
maybe a "contradiction-in-terms" since hedgehogs don't tend to live in
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 least!
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4. *** Getting a pet hedgehog ***
Subject: <4.1> Which types/colours are there? Male or female? What age?
There are generally three varieties of hedgehogs that are available
as pets: African dwarf or pigmy (white-bellied) hedgehogs, Pruner's
(Cape) hedgehogs, and Egyptian (long-eared) hedgehogs.
Of these three, the first two are similar in appearance and temperament.
African pigmy and Pruner's hedgehogs 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. African pigmy hedgehogs tend to
have a whitish or light coloured face, while Pruner's hedgehogs have a darker
or masked face.
Egyptian or long-eared hedgehogs are, however, known for having a somewhat
more aggressive personality, and will frequently nip or bite, as suggested
here by Nathan Tenny:
[Cerebus] (one of Nathan's 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.
Regarding colour, most hedgehogs are covered with white and grey or brown
ticked quills (sometimes called salt and pepper coloured, or more officially,
agouti), however, there are some hedgehogs known as "snowflakes" available.
These are generally all white, or almost all white, but do not possess the
albino gene. Albino hedgehogs also exist, but apparently are rarely healthy
and robust. Prospective hedgehog owners should beware of large areas of
white quills amongst what looks like normal colouration as this can indicate
an animal that was injured at some point (quills that regrow in injury areas
tend to be all white). Not all hedgehogs showing white patches have
necessarily been injured; there are some colour patterns starting to show up
involving white patches, but this is a point of caution.
As far as personality goes, females are generally friendlier than males, and
will become familiar with a new owner more quickly. This generally means
their quills will be laid back smoother, and they will have less of a
tendancey to roll into a ball. Females also tend to be quite a bit more
expensive, both because of their friendliness, and because of their ability
to produce more hedgehogs. 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!
Snowflakes are generally 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 propagate the snowflake
colouring. In any case, temperament is going to depend largely on the
breeding rather than the exact colouration.
It appears there is another way to create a differnt 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 embarassment) passed along a story to me. This kind hearted
hedgehog addict fed their 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 thinking 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! ;)
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.
Although hedgehogs can breed as early as 6-8 weeks, they should not be bred
(especially females) until at least 6 months of age, and preferably about 8+
months, when they become fully mature.
Subject: <4.2> How many should I get?
Hedgehogs are solitary creatures, who do not generally get along well
together, and in fact only like to be close to one another during mating.
Keeping a male within vision of a mother with hoglets (even if in separate
enclosures) will often result in the babies being eaten. If you do want
more than one, be sure you provide plenty of privacy for each.
It is possible to keep a number of females together in one enclosure, as
long as adequate space is provided, and as long as none are pregnant. Keeping
males together will almost certainly result in fights (gee, that almost sounds
like elementary school...).
Of course, opposite-sex pairs are a definite no-no unless you want babies.
-- Nathan Tenny
Subject: <4.3> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/
rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble?
In what little experience I've had, I have seen no problem with interaction
between hedgehogs and other pets -- I have four cats (Kit & Caboodle, Oreo,
and Snickers) in addition to Velcro and Sprocket, my hedgehogs. Velcro thinks
the cats would make nice mealtime treats and chases them whenever possible,
while Sprocket takes little notice of the cats, other than an occasional duck
of her 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 either one. The cats seem
to know that these snuffling little armoured tanks are actually an animated
pincushions that would hurt if they really connected. For his part, Velcro
has actually shoved the largest cat (16+ 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).
Hedgehogs are admirably well protected -- the worry is "how safe are your
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
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