Hedgehogs have smooth spines on their coat, similar to the bristles of a brush. Unlike rigid porcupine quills, which are sharp, these creatures are more approachable and not dangerous as pets.
The African pygmy hedgehog, or four-toed hedgehog, is the smallest of the hedgehog species and is the species often sold for the pet trade. You can find these animals in a wide array of color patterns, including salt and pepper, snowflake, and cinnamon. Pet hedgehogs are quiet, active, and entertaining, but they require a lot of care. They need spacious housing that must be cleaned often and a quality hedgehog food. Plus, as nocturnal animals you will need to feed and care for them in the evening hours.
Common Names: African pygmy hedgehog, four-toed hedgehog
Scientific Name: Atelerix albiventris
Adult Size: 6 to 8 inches long, weighing between 8 to 21 ounces
Lifespan: 3 to 6 years in captivity (up to 10 years has been recorded)
African Pygmy Hedgehog Behavior and Temperament
Requiring a moderate amount of care and active mostly at night, African pygmy hedgehogs are a good pet for someone who has a 9-to-5 job. They are quiet and solitary animals that do not crave human interaction or the company of other animals. They take time to get used to humans but can be hand-tamed with constant, gentle handling and interaction. Hedgehogs are not known to bite; the spines are their main form of defense.
Most hedgehogs have an interesting "self-anointing" habit, which can be off-putting to witness for the first time. When a hedgehog gets introduced to a new scent or food, it begins to froth at the mouth and spread its saliva all over its back. No one is entirely sure why hedgehogs do this, and some do it more than others. But it is not a cause for concern. Experts think it could be a stress release or a form of protection.
African pygmy hedgehogs stretch between 6 and 8 inches long and weigh about 1 pound on average. They reach maturity in roughly two to eight months.
These solitary animals prefer to be housed alone and might fight if kept with other hedgehogs. Even individually, they need room to explore. An enclosure that's at least 2 feet wide and 4 feet long is sufficient, though bigger is always better. Select housing with a smooth floor and walls, such as an aquarium. Make sure it has a tight-fitting mesh lid to allow for air flow and security. An enclosure with wire walls is also an option, but make sure the wire spacing is one inch or less to prevent the hedgehog from squeezing through. Do not use an enclosure with wire floors, as this can hurt their feet.
The hedgehog’s housing should be in a spot that's quiet, dimly lit, and warm (around 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit). Include a box or other hiding spot where the hedgehog can go to feel safe and sleep. Some hedgehogs also enjoy playing with toys, such as small balls, and they tend to enjoy tunnels. Unlike some small animals, hedgehogs do not tend to use litter pans, so expect to do a lot of cleaning.
Specific Substrate Needs
Aspen shavings and recycled paper alternatives are commonly used bedding options, as is kiln-dried pine. Avoid cedar shavings, as the scent can be toxic to small mammals. Some African pygmy hedgehog owners use indoor-outdoor carpeting or fleece fabric to line the cage instead of using loose bedding material. These options are more sustainable, as they can be washed and reused. However, if you choose carpeting or fabric, make sure to clip loose threads that can tangle up your hedgehog, and always have a backup piece for easy cleaning and replacing.
What Do African Pygmy Hedgehogs Eat & Drink?
In the wild, hedgehogs are primarily insect-eating mammals. High-quality cat food—supplemented with mealworms, crickets, and other treats—used to be the go-to food choice for pet hedgehogs. Nowadays, the pet industry sells high-quality hedgehog food that provides the exact nutrients your prickly pet needs. If you choose to feed it cat food, make sure it is a grain-free variety.
Being that hedgehogs are nocturnal, it's best to feed your pet at night when it is most active. Use a small bowl with low sides for its commercial diet. Dispose of any remaining food from the previous day, and add a fresh day's worth of food to the bowl. In addition to the staple diet, provide around 1 teaspoon of chopped fruits and veggies per day in a separate small bowl. It’s best to do this in the early evening, so you can remove remnants in the late evening before the fresh food spoils. Check with your veterinarian for appropriate fruits and veggies to feed.
Furthermore, you may offer insects, including mealworms and crickets, a few times a week. Chasing live insects mimics foraging efforts in the wild and provides mental stimulation for captive hedgehogs
Supply water in either a water bottle or a small bowl. Some hedgehogs might need both until they get used to using the bottle. Whatever you choose, make sure to change your hedgehog's water daily (or more often if it gets dirty), and check regularly that the bottle tip is working.
Common Health Problems
Some common health conditions that affect hedgehogs include:
- Obesity (usually from an incorrect diet)
- Dental disease
- Heart disease
- Eye injuries
- Mange and skin infections (typically from unsanitary conditions)
- Wobbly hedgehog syndrome (a progressive condition that causes paralysis)
Training Your African Pygmy Hedgehog
The most common training hedgehogs respond to is being hand-tamed. At first, this discerning animal might curl into a spiky ball when you try to pick it up. Be patient and cradle the ball in your hand, allowing your hedgehog to unroll itself and start exploring in its own time. When your hedgehog realizes you mean no harm, it will get more active and its spines will flatten.
African pygmies like to exercise, and they need it to prevent obesity and other health issues. In the wild, they travel great distances daily. Provide an exercise wheel for your hedgehog to get active. The wheel should be open-sided and have a solid surface rather than bars, which can cause injury. It should be at least 10 inches in diameter to allow your hedgehog plenty of room to run in place.
A hedgehog will generally groom itself. However, it might need periodic nail trims, as it likely won’t wear down its nails in captivity like it would in its natural environment. Many owners can learn to trim their hedgehog’s nails on their own after a vet shows them how. It’s important to keep your hedgehog calm and still during this process.
Regular purchases of essentials for your hedgehog will include a quality diet and fresh bedding. Some additional costs you might incur include treats and toys. Also, don’t forget to factor in the cost of an annual veterinary checkup, along with emergency vet visits. On a monthly basis, you can look at spending between $20 and $40 on average, depending on the types of diet and bedding you choose.
Pros & Cons of Keeping an African Pygmy Hedgehog as a Pet
Hedgehogs generally aren’t cuddly animals, and they’re most active at night. So they’re probably not for someone who wants a very hands-on pet to hang out with during the day. However, they’re quiet animals that don’t take up ample space and don’t need a lot of attention. Plus, they can be an interesting and entertaining companion.
Similar Small Exotic Pets to the African Pygmy Hedgehog
If you’re interested in pet hedgehogs, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Purchasing or Adopting Your African Pygmy Hedgehog
Instead of buying your spiny companion from a pet store where you don't know its origin, look for a reputable breeder or rescue. There are hedgehog-specific rescue groups in many areas. You also can check with a local exotic animal veterinarian to see whether they know someone who wants to rehome a pet. The average price ranges from $100 to $300, though this can vary widely. Young, hand-tamed hedgehogs often go for higher prices, as do hedgehogs with desirable coloring.
There's no difference between acquiring a hedgehog through a breeder or adopting one, though you might be able to find a younger animal via a breeder. A good breeder will breed for sound temperament and handle their young hedgehogs regularly. Their hedgehogs should have bright eyes, clear nostrils, and healthy skin, quills, and fur.
Beware of flaky skin, missing spines, or discharge around the eyes or nose. Also, make sure the hedgehog has a good body condition—not too thin, not too heavy—and shows no evidence of diarrhea. A veterinarian can help steer you toward a good breeder. To avoid accidentally becoming a breeder yourself, simply house your hedgehogs individually.
Do hedgehogs make a good pet for kids?
Hedgehogs prefer a relaxed environment and are nocturnal, so they likely wouldn't be good pets for young kids. However, they might enjoy interacting with calm older children.
Do hedgehogs like to be held?
Hedgehogs generally don't like to cuddle, but they can learn to trust humans and be comfortable with being held.
Are hedgehogs hard to take care of?
Hedgehogs require a moderate amount of maintenance, primarily in keeping their environment clean. But their feeding is fairly straightforward, and they don't require a lot of attention.