Handling & Bonding
3 Key elements to successful handling:
Patience. Persistence. Confidence. Hedgehogs naturally have very poor eyesight,
so they will use their others senses (smell, hearing, taste) to compensate for
their poor vision. Some recommend not to overly interact with your hedgehog the
first day(s) to give them time to adjust but we say if you have the confidence
and are willing to most likely deal with a temperamental, spiky ball of hate,
go for it! While we do say to get up close and personal with your hedgehog,
don’t overwhelm them or yourself by trying to do everything all at
once. Letting them sleep in a blanket or cuddle sack on your lap is just
as much bonding as actively playing. Just being close to you, being able to
hear and smell you will help familiarize and socialize your hedgehog. Although
easier said than done, try not to be hesitant or question yourself when
handling. Be confident and firm even if your hedgehog is acting defensive or
throwing a tantrum. Ignore it and keep handling, just don’t give up or in to it
because this teaches them a learned behavior to get what they want. The more
you man-handle the better! We recommend at least 30 minutes of bonding time
every day, but try to handle your hedgehog as often, and as long as possible to
get him/her used to you. It's suggested to sleep with your hedgehog's fleece or
to put a T-shirt worn by you into their cage, this is to get them accustomed to
your scent and recognize it as safe. When bringing your new baby home, they’re
going to be more defensive the first couple days (or weeks) because everything
smells new to them (including your family and yourself). We try to express to
people not to think of them as "scared" or "mean", but
rather as understandably defensive and reactive. Your hedgehog does not hate
you, but rather they are just reacting because they are not yet comfortable
around you and they are not sure if you are safe. Your hedgehog may ball up and
in turn take a while to come out, or it may seem huffier and pricklier then
when you first met your hedgehog. Don't stress! The best thing you can do
is stay calm and start handling him/her.
It is recommended that hedgehogs, like any pet, should have yearly routine health checkups to make sure everything is going well. You will need to find a good vet that accepts exotic animals and is well versed in hedgehogs. There are a lot of vets that don’t know proper care and nutrition for hedgehogs. Please reach out if you need a recommendation on a good vet in your area. If your vet suggests you feed your hedgehog a commercially made hedgehog specific diet, please do not listen to this advice, as they are almost all crap quality (Hedgehog Precision and Spike’s Ultra Delight are the only 2 we would recommend)! Vets are not nutritionists, and most are NOT well informed on hedgehog diet specifics!
• Hibernation and Obesity problems can typically be handled from home with proper actions. We will touch more on hibernation in the heating category, and obesity in nutrition.
• If you suspect your hedgehog is ill or is acting off please make a vet appt for a proper diagnosis as hedgehogs are great at hiding illness.
• WHS is a slow progressing and degenerative neurologic condition that can only be diagnosed with a post-mortem necropsy. A tentative diagnosis can be given by properly educated veterinarians based on symptoms but a definitive diagnosis is only possible from post-mortem examination of spinal cord and brain tissues. Please do not jump to conclusions with the symptoms as they are common with other health issues as well; ear infection, stroke, etc.
Accessories and Enrichment
• Hide - this can be a snuggle sack, hard igloo or something you make yourself. Whichever route you take make sure it's something that can be thoroughly cleaned or replaced if necessary. The hide also needs to be large enough for the hedgehog to move around with ease.
• Food Bowl - this should be somewhat shallow and heavy. Ceramic, Pyrex glass, etc. are good options as hedgehogs are burrowers and may try to burrow under or around their bowl, in result flipping it. These should be washed often to prevent any bacteria growth.
• Water Bowl or Water Bottle - Whether you choose a bottle or bowl both should be cleaned often to prevent any bacteria growth. Water bottles need to have a gravity fed nozzle rather than spring-loaded (we recommend Hedgie Hog Tied water bottles, look for them on Etsy). Water bowls should be heavy and shallow enough for the hedgehog to drink from without climbing onto it. If you choose to use a bowl, check it often to ensure that your hedgehog has access to clean water at all times.
• Toys - All hedgehogs have different personalities, some will play with toys, some will not. Some like toys that make noise while others like some with lite scents, and some just don’t play with toys period. You as the owner have to experiment to see what intrigues your hedgehog. Cat toys are great options for hedgehogs but you need to be careful with a few things; make sure there is nothing toxic to your hedgehog, there is nothing they can ingest and that they cannot get their mouth/jaw or paws caught in anything.
• Wheel - A wheel is not an option; it is a must. After your baby reaches 12 weeks old, they must have access to a wheel at all times. Hedgehogs are natural foragers and often walk 1-7 miles each night. An exercise wheel provides your hedgehog with a way to satisfy their natural need to walk. Wheels also aid in maintaining a healthy weight and can help to alleviate stress and anxiety. Nearly all hedgehogs will poop on their wheel as they run, it’s a natural instinct and often leads to a daily cleaning needed to be done. The wheel should have a solid running surface, no wire mesh.
Anointing is a possible response that a hedgehog will exhibit when they encounter a smell or taste that they are unfamiliar with. In such an event the hedgehog will possibly bite or chew at the source of the smell, then they will froth at mouth to create a lather. Next, they will deposit their foamy saliva on their quills by contorting their bodies. No one knows why they wipe the saliva on themselves, it is normal behavior.
Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs!Hedgehogs would be classified as insectivores since in the wild their main diet consists of insects and worms, with the occasional egg or small reptile. The main part of their diet while in captivity should be a high quality, dry cat food with more than one protein source. You want to look for a real meat (not a “meal” or “by-product”) as the first ingredient, corn should not be in the top two ingredients and you want grain free. The protein should be between 34-38%, while the fat should be between 12-15%. Kibble available to our herd at all times, but they also get other meats, insects, and treats! Variety is pinnacle to providing a balanced healthy diet. Our kibble mix consists of 4 different cat foods and 2 hedgehog foods (most hedgehog foods are all fillers, but if you would like to mix some in, we recommend Hedgehog Precision or Spike's Ultra Delight). An adult hedgehog should be fed 2 tbsp per day as obesity can become a problem if over feeding occurs. As all hedgehogs vary in personality, they also vary greatly in body type. A healthy weight could be 250-600 grams, you can use a small kitchen scale to monitor your hedgehog's weight.
Never feed any raw protein because of the possibilities of bacterial and parasitic infections. While cooked veggies and softer fruits can be fed, it’s recommended only to in very small tiny amounts. Hedgehogs do not have a cecum which is part of the digestive tract that helps to digest and pull nutrients from plants/vegetables/fruits. Baby food can be a great way to test what they do or don’t like. Freeze dried insects (such as mealworms, crickets, and black fly larvae) can be an occasional treat but too much can be too fattening, can cause bloating, and can cause constipation because they have no moisture in them at all. Hedgehog's cannot digest lactose well but things cottage cheese and yogurt are okay to give in very, very small quantities.
Hedgehogs are prone extremely dry skin, so please try to refrain from full baths as little as possible. Foot baths can be done as often as necessary for "poop boots" but full baths should only be done once a month or less. Keep the water level low enough so they can stand and walk around easily. A toothbrush can be used to scrub the quills. Aveeno oatmeal baby wash is the only OTC wash we recommend for bath time, most shampoos are too harsh on their skin, and will dry it out too much so do NOT use dog/cat shampoo.
(Extra: Oatmeal baths are also great for quilling or dry skin! Get a sock or cheesecloth, add your dry plain oatmeal and let the cheesecloth soak with the oats for about 5-10 minutes in hot water until the water is a milky color. Let the water cool until it is only warm and then let your hedgehog soak for about 10-15 minutes. The oatmeal will soothe and soften the skin and will help those new quills to poke through easier too).
Like most animals, hedgehogs will need their nails cut since they do not have a natural way to wear down their nails. About every month or two you'll need to trim their nails to prevent any curling into the paw pad. Never place sandpaper or anything similar on your hedgehogs' wheel, as this not have the desired affect and in turn will only tear up their feet. There are a couple tips and tricks people have found since like most animals, hedgehogs hate this! Leaving them in about an inch of lukewarm water is the most common, since they cannot ball up. But there is also the rag method (knit rag where their legs fall through the wholes) and the squish method (squish hedgehog in chest and grab one paw at a time). We also offer nail trimmings for free for any of our prior babies, just reach out and we will get you scheduled.