Hedgehogs in Nature
Species: A. albiventris
Binomial Name: Atelerix albiventris
Common Name: Domestic Hedgehog
Life in Captivity
"Exotic mammals seldom behave like domesticated cats and dogs."
People thinking of keeping Hedgehogs as pets, need to realize that whereas a dog loves constant attention, a Hedgehog is far more likely to appreciate its own space. most simply don't like change and are often anti social, sometimes to the point that they prefer only to interact with one or two, human companions who they are familiar with. They are not usually the type of animal that you can teach to be obedient. They don't really care if you, their owner, is pleased or displeased with them and do not care how much you love it or how much it would mean to you, if he / she would love you back. It cares only cares about its own survival!
It usually takes a bit of time for them to become accustomed to new people, but they are known to be able to form a bond with their caregivers. Constant attention, patience, and a lot of socialization, are the key to building a trusting relationship between you and a Hedgehog. Once a Hedgehog recognizes your voice, smells, and realizes that you are not a threat, it may look to you as a provider of food and as a safe place to be comfortable.
Because some hedgehogs are known to be capable of bonding with their caregiver and because they are not as demanding as a dog or a cat, leads many people feeling that there is no better pet than a Hedgehog. Just because they are not as domesticated, as dogs and cats does not mean they will not make a nice pet. People living in small spaces and who prefer a pet that is undemanding, then this just may be the perfect type of pet for them!
Pet Hedgehogs are nocturnal.
During the daytime light hours, hedgehogs spend their day sleeping. They depend on daylight to have a restful sleep, which is opposite of what we humans who require darkness to achieve a proper rest. In captivity, Hedgehogs need to have their habitats kept in a place that receives indirect bright natural light but out of direct sunlight. Ideally, they should be able to experience the changes in morning, afternoon, and evening of natural light. They are naturally nocturnal creatures who become active at night. Hoping not to become dinner for birds of prey and other predators, hedgehogs prefer to do most of their scurrying around their territory after twilight, where they remain in the shadows of moonlight. They are often seen searching for a meal or looking for a mate during the darkness of night.
In captivity, they remain most active after sundown, but it appears that after many generations living in captivity hedgehogs seem to be adapting. Those that becoming a bit more relaxed during the day. Seem to be evolving their sleeping habits and some lines are slowly becoming a little more diurnal.
Being that hedgehogs are naturally nocturnal they are most active at night; it is best for caregivers to try and plan their time to interact with it by synchronizing your schedule adapt to the pet’s nocturnal schedule. For most people, scheduling, well timed visits to the evening ours and early mornings are the best time for most pet hedgehogs who might eventually begin to adapt to your personal schedule and look forward to and enjoy your visits.
If you continually wake an animal up when it is tired, it will not want to be bothered with you. It just wants to sleep and if you disturb him, he may become grumpy towards you.
Keeping One versus Two Hedgehogs
Wild, Hedgehogs are not social beings! They are naturally shy, nervous little creatures who prefer to live solitary lives. In fact, they prefer and choose to live alone, away from other members of their own species, and will chase other Hedgehogs away from their territory. Sometimes siblings can tolerate cohabitating with nest mates for a short time, but even then, they have been known to be territorial and attack their siblings. They want their own space and eventually they will need somewhere more secluded, where they can make their own little den, and live out their lives the way hedgehogs have evolved to live.
They are solitary animals who prefer not to live in the company of another Hedgehog and typically only come together to breed. Two or more males will almost always fight. On occasion females, may sometimes co-exist together in what appears to us as companionship, but they are just two animals who have been put together by well-intended humans and forced to tolerate living with each other. Unfortunately, even though it was well intentioned, this union seldom works out as hoped.
Sometimes, even after living together for extended periods of time, two females may, without provocation, turn on each other.
Although Hedgehogs are not usually nasty towards other species, they can become extremely aggressive towards members of their own species. Fights can get vicious, causing serious physical injury to one another and sometimes resulting in death.
We strongly suggest housing all Hedgehogs in separate cages only letting them explore together while being supervised. .
Pros and cons of
Choosing a male versus a female
One of the most frequent questions we get asked, is whether a male or a female makes a better pet.
Although when cared for properly, both genders can make excellent pets. However, there are a couple of minor differences that probably should be taken into consideration before deciding on a specific gender.
'It is very important that everyone who is considering purchasing a Hedgehog to be aware that it is not uncommon for a Hedgehog to breed while they are still in the nest. In the wild, hedgehogs have a short life expectancy. They mature quick, breed young and live life quickly. We have personally known of females giving birth as young as 10 weeks of age. Of course, this is too young and very hard on the female. Most often when a female gives birth at such a young age the babies are a result of a sibling breeding. Females that become pregnant at such a young age often do not make good mothers. They run a much higher risk of complications and even death.
Usually at this age the mother has not mentally or physically developed fully and often the babies do not survive. Sometimes the new mother cannibalizes her babies, and this can quickly end her maternal instincts and her reliability in a long term breeding program.
We all need to keep in mind that nature and evolution allowed hedgehogs to breed at a young age and there is not much a breeder can do to change that. Both males and females in a litter to stay with and nurse from mom until they are at an age that they can be fully weaned which sometimes is too late to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, to avoid unexpected surprises choosing a male would obviously be a better choice for those who absolutely do not want to raise an unexpected litter.'
At some point in a female Hedgehog’s life, she will experience wanting to raise a family. This is a natural cycle and when hormonal changes signal that it is time to nest then sometimes, they can become a bit moody and become nest (cage) protective. Usually this is only temporary and when her hormones change back to nonbreeding mode, providing she still receives daily interaction, her personality usually returns to "normal".
Like many other species, the male Hedgehog tends to be a little more of a risk taker than a female. In the wild he is either looking for food or looking for a mate. His wanderlust in search for a mate, constantly exposes him to different situations and different surroundings, therefore he needs to be adaptable and more flexible. Sometimes a female can be more rigid in her routine. She sticks closer to home and is thinking of raising a family, building the nest / home and protecting her small territory.
I think that if I were to pick a Hedgehog to keep as a single pet, then based on gender, I would choose a male. But, without considering all the other factors (some of which I have listed in the next section) that contribute to the development of their personalities, choosing a pet based on gender alone is not the ideal way to pick out a Hedgehog.
Firstly, you need to decide if you want a single pet. If so, then there is not too many differences. Do you plan to raise multiple pet hedgehogs. If so, same sex groups, housed separately are the safest way to go. Do you want to breed them? If so, we suggest that you consider making the male the primary pet. Females should not be disturbed during the final weeks of pregnancy and the first few weeks after giving birth. During this time, she may become a bit grumpy and after giving birth she may feel threatened and cannibalize her babies. It is very common for hedgehogs to consume their offspring being that all hedgehogs require daily interaction if she does raise her babies she may never be the same after she has weaned them.
Keeping in mind that besides gender, other factors play a huge role in developing the personality of a hedgehog. Every Hedgehog has its own unique personality and while to some degree, gender does play a bit of a role in the development of their personality there are also many other things that influence their unique personalities.
Health - A Hedgehog that feels ill will likely not want to be disturbed and may react fearfully.
Heredity - Genetics is certainly an important factor in predetermining the personality of pet Hedgehogs. Traits are passed on from their parents but learned behaviors can also influence personality especially when learned at an early age. Being that Hedgehogs have naturally evolved to be self-reliant and loners, many of these traits are passed on to the next generation. It is important that when breeders are planning a new litter, to carefully select and assess the calmest, healthiest parents before pairing them together for mating. This selective breeding practice will increase the chances that these desirable traits will be passed on or taught to their offspring. We now know that many personality traits are written ‘in part’ in an animal’s DNA but we do not exactly know which traits they are or how babies learn from reacting to various situations or from copying their parents.
Habitat - Next to genetics, inadequate housing may be the leading cause of moodiness in Hedgehogs. ‘Most of the adults that are turned over to us to be fostered, tend to be a lot more anti-social if they have previously been kept in an enclosed space (usually bins). They have been deprived of normal smells, light, external movements and sounds that only an open-air cage provides and after a short while living under those conditions they have become a bit disturbed.If housed improperly, especially when an animal is born in an enclosed habitat, such as a bin, box, crate aquarium or a similar confined space that he or she can not hear or see out of or smell it environment and it does not have the opportunity to experience much outside world, it can become cage crazy! It often develops a skittish and nervous personality and often when it is taken out of its' enclosure to be played with, the whole experience is overwhelming and shocking, and the little hedgehog will be scared, and it will react defensively’‘ When housed properly; in an open-air cage that is located in a place within the home that has constant temperature, away from drafts and sunlight, whereby it can experience different movements, new sounds, smells and other changes on a regular basis, Hedgehogs housed this way tend to become a bit more social
Socialization – For first time Hedgehog owners, it is often best to start interacting with a Hedgehog at a young age so you can familiarize your pet with other humans. Even before they are fully weaned from their mother, we start off at a slow but steady pace, getting them familiar with and accustomed to human companionship. While it usually takes less time when they are young but however even a more mature hedgehog can be socialized, it just takes longer and with a bit of more patience. If a Hedgehog has not been handled at young age you can still work at befriending it by visiting and spending time interacting with it slowly; increasing the amount of interaction time, you spend with it each day. You may need to force your love on it for a while, but be patient, it will take some time for your new pet to start trusting you. Repetition is the key use it as a tool for training and establishing a new report with your pet. This can be done by doing the same things around the same time every day for a few days or until your pet gets used to whatever it is you are doing. Offerings of food as a bribe often works as a distraction because food is an excellent motivator for Hedgehogs. When they are comfortable with your presence (voice and smell) they will become, friendlier and start looking forward to your daily visits. "Socialization takes patience".
Lack of sleep - Being that these animals are naturally nocturnal, if you wake any animal up, if it is tired it won’t be in the best mood. If this is done repeatedly and the animal is not getting the rest it needs, it will become constantly irritable. Sometimes when you wake up a Hedgehog it may have fearful reaction and get huffy. This is often mistaken for an anti-social personality, but it is not. It is just a reaction with a bit of time and patience, many Hedgehogs become less nervous, less scared, less shy and a lot less "grumpy".
Seasonal Changes - Temperature and light changes can have a huge effect on the personality of Hedgehogs and other animals. Hedgehogs are survivalists! During the time of plenty, which is usually rainy season (spring and summer) you may notice that your pet is a little more active then he or she would be during the fall and winter (when food is harder to come by). This is because many animals have an internal clock hardwired as part of their genetic makeup and they are preprogrammed to conserve energy by being less active at certain times of the year. This is especially noticeable in Hedgehogs. When the weather is starting to get cooler and the days are darker these changes send a message to them that food will not be as readily available and that they need to conserve energy by resting and being less active. (Hedgehogs in captivity are still preprogramed and they function the same way a wild Hedgehog does, it does not realize that food will still be as readily available year-round in captivity). When they start to prepare themselves for winter they slow down, sleep more and they do not want to be disturbed.
Breeding too young - It is especially important that everyone who is considering purchasing a Hedgehog to be aware that it is common for a Hedgehog to breed while they are still in the nest. To avoid unexpected surprises a male would obviously be a better choice for those who absolutely do not want to raise an unexpected litter.'
Hormonal changes in females - At some point in a female hedgehog life, she will experience wanting to raise a family. This is a natural cycle and when hormonal changes signal that it is time to nest then sometimes, they can become a bit moody and become nest (cage) protective. Usually this is only temporary and when her hormones change back to nonbreeding mode providing, she still receives daily interaction, her personality usually returns to "normal". Like many other species,
Torpor - Some animals will instinctively hibernate while others such as Hedgehogs can go into a state of torpor. which is a time when they don't want to bother doig anything. (Torpor is discussed in more detail further down on this site)
At times when a Hedgehog encounters an unfamiliar smell or taste, such as fruit juices, soaps etc., it may lick, bite or chew at the object, attempting to accumulate some of unusual substance in it’s mouth. Then the Hedgehog, using its tongue, produces a mass of frothy saliva, and spreads the saliva over it’s quills.
While this is a natural behaviour it is more often observed in baby Hedgehogs’ who often find everything new and exciting. As pet Hedgehogs mature and become accustom to numerous smells and tastes they tend to self-anoint less often. Some of our teenage and adult Hedgehogs never bother to self-anoint.
As with many species of animals Hedgehogs can and will enter a state of torpor when the temperatures fluctuate or sometimes when light and humidity levels change. If it gets too cool or if they lack adequate lighting and humidity they may enter a state of torpor. If it gets too hot it may enter a state of estivation which can also be dangerous.
Temperature: Hedgehogs are sensitive to extreme temperatures but are extremely sensitive to quick fluctuations. Ideally, they prefer temperatures that are maintained between 22 to 25 degrees Celsius. Higher temperatures 29 degrees Celsius or above can induce heat related estivation while temperatures lower than 19 can induce torpor.
Light: Hedgehogs require an equal balance of day light and nighttime darkness to thrive best. Avoid putting your pets’ cage in direct sunlight. Hedgehogs that are housed in a dimly lit room within the home should be provided with addition bright but indirect light for several hours per day. They depend on daylight to tell them it is time to sleep.
Humidity: They thrive best when the humidity level is between 40% to 60%. (which is also within the optimum humidity level for us humans)
and often develops an introverted and nervous personality. When it is taken out of its' enclosure to be played with by its' caregiver, the whole experience will be very shocking and the little hedgehog will likely be scared and it will likely react defensively. When housed properly; in an open-air cage, located in a place within the home whereby it can experience different movements, new sounds, smells and other changes on a regular basis, Hedgehogs housed in open-air habitats tend to become a bit more social. Most of the adults that are turned over to us to be fostered tend to be a lot more anti-social if they have been kept in an enclosed space (usually bins). They have been deprived of normal smells, light, external movements and sounds that only an open-air cage provides.
- Socialization- It is important to start at a very young age. You must familiarize your pet Hedgehog with humans at a slow but steady pace. The best time to get them to become accustomed to human companionship is done even before they are fully weaned from their mother, but even a more mature can be socialized, it just takes longer and a bit of patience. If a Hedgehog has not been handled from a young age you can still work at befriending it by visiting and spending time interacting with it slowly. Then increasing the amount of interaction time, you spend with it each day. You will need to force your love on it but be patient because it will likely take time for your new pet to start trusting you. Try to use repetition as a tool for training and establishing a new report with your pet. This can be done by doing the same things every day for a few days until your pet gets used to whatever it is your doing. Offerings of food as a bribe often works as a distraction because food is an excellent motivator for Hedgehogs. When they are comfortable with your presence (voice and smell) they will likely become, friendlier and start looking forward to your daily visits. It is very important to understand that hedgehogs are not herd animals. They are introverted little creatures that often react nervously. .."Socialization takes patience".
- Sleep Time -Being that they are naturally nocturnal, if you wake an animal up and it is tired it probably won’t be in the best of moods. If this is done repeatedly and the animal is not getting the rest it needs, it will likely become irritable.
(Often witnessing a fearful reaction to something new, is often mistaken as an anti-social personality but when housed properly, with a bit of time and patience, many Hedgehogs become less nervous, less scared, less shy and and a lot less "grumpy").
If keeping your pet hedgehog in a cage is not for you then why not consider a screened habitat. They are available at pet supply stores . I have posted a picture of a Zoo Med Repti-Breeze Open Air Screen Cage, Extra Large . It offers a safe open air enclosure which is far superior to any bin.
What ever habitat that you decide to choose for your pet ...common sense needs to prevail!