African Pygmy Hedgehog Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Hedgehog in hands
Christopher Li / Getty Images

Pet 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. 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 pets in a wide array of color patterns like salt and pepper, snowflake, and cinnamon. Pet hedgehogs are quiet, active, entertaining, and require a lot of care. They make great companion pets, however, as nocturnal animals, you will need to feed and care for them in the evening hours.

Species Overview

Common Name: African pygmy hedgehog

Scientific Name: Atelerix albiventris

Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches long, weighing between 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds

Life Expectancy: 3 to 6 years in captivity

African Pygmy Hedgehog Behavior and Temperament

Active mostly at night, these creatures are a good pet for someone who has a 9-to-5 job. They are solitary animals that do not crave human interaction or cuddling. They take time to get used to humans but can be hand tamed with constant, gentle handling and interaction.

At first, this discerning pet may 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 out. They are not known to bite; its spines are their main form of defense.

Most hedgehogs have an interesting "self-anointing" habit, which can be off-putting for people who witness it 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.

Housing the African Pygmy Hedgehog

These solitary animals prefer to be housed alone and may fight if kept with other hedgehogs. They seem to tolerate different types of pets in the house.

Active hedgehogs need room to explore; a bare minimum of two- to three-square-feet of cage space is sufficient (though bigger is always better). Any type of cage will work but avoid wire floors and make sure the spacing for wire-sided cages is 1 inch or smaller; you do not want your pet to squeeze through and escape. Large aquariums and even modified plastic storage bins with ventilation holes can also serve as hedgehog enclosures.

Aspen shavings or recycled paper alternatives make great bedding as do kiln-dried pine. But 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. If you choose this bedding, make sure to clip loose threads that can tangle up your hedgehog and always have a backup for easy cleaning and replacing.

Unlike cats, hedgehogs do not tend to use litter pans, so expect to do a lot of cleaning. Provide a cardboard box or box-like enclosure inside the cage so your pet can hide and sleep comfortably.

African pygmies like to exercise; in the wild, they travel great distances daily. Buy a running wheel for your hedgehog to get active. Buy an open-sided, solid-surface wheel that's large enough (preferably bigger than 10 inches) to allow room for your hedgehog to run in place.

Food and Water

In the wild, hedgehogs are 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 animals, you will need to feed it at night when it is most active. Scheduled evening feedings are your best bet, once or twice a night. Give it food in the early evening and again in the late evening, if you are still awake. Although most hedgehogs are fine with one feeding per day.

African pygmy hedgehogs love mealworms. When using them as a food item, make sure you gut-load or feed the insects a quality diet (fruit, vegetables, and dog food) before feeding it to your hedgehog.

Hedgehogs also like chasing and eating crickets (which should also be gut-loaded). This action mimics their foraging efforts in the wild and provides mental stimulation for captive hedgehogs. Provide small amounts of hard-boiled egg, baby food, or fruit as occasional treats.

Supply water in either a water bottle with a metal tip for drinking or in a small bowl. Some young pets may need both until they get used to using the bottle. Whatever you choose, make sure to change your hedgehog's water daily and check that the bottle tip is working.

hedgehog pet care sheet
Illustration: Lisa Fasol. © The Spruce, 2018

Common Health Problems

Obesity is a common problem in pet hedgehogs (usually resulting from too many treats). You can avoid skin problems, ear mites, and respiratory conditions if you regularly clean your pet's enclosure.

Hedgehogs are susceptible to a genetic condition called wobbly hedgehog syndrome, which causes progressive paralysis. It can occur at any age and may make your hedgehog appear to have wobbly hindquarters.

Since African pygmies have protruding eyes, these creatures are more prone to eye injuries or irritation. If you see your pet pawing at its eyes or holding an eyelid closed, plan a trip to the vet.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet African Pygmy Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are legal in most of the United States. Unfortunately, hedgehogs are still illegal or restricted in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New York City. New Jersey and Wisconsin require a permit or a certificate of health to own one.

These restrictions were likely enacted due to the ability of some hedgehog species to carry foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious condition of cloven-hooved animals. Also, they can become invasive pests if introduced into the wild where they don't naturally occur.

Purchasing Your African Pygmy Hedgehog

Instead of buying your spiny pet from a store, look for a reputable breeder. Look for someone who breeds for sound temperament and handles their young regularly. Young hedgehogs are easier to hand tame if you can get one at 6 to 8 weeks of age. The average price can range anywhere from $75 to $250.

Look for an animal with 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. Check around its legs and watch its hindquarter movement for signs of obesity or wobbly hedgehog syndrome.

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