Caring for Pet Hedgehogs - Spiny Little Dorky Balls of Sunshine

Caring for Pet Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs can be wonderful little pets, as long as you are prepared for what caring for them entails. Here's more...
I'm one of the first to admit that when I was young I wanted a pet hedgehog, because I was just a huge fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. Being that I was only six years old, my parents (rather wisely) denied me my wish. Now that I'm an adult, however, I felt it was a good time to fulfill that wish, and allow myself to get a little hedgie friend. Hedgehogs can be wonderful little pets if people are willing to put the effort into properly caring for them.
Nutritional Needs
Despite what common sense might tell you, foods packaged as 'hedgehog foods' are not actually the best choice. My theory is that, because there isn't enough demand, these companies must use low-quality ingredients in order to profit on the sales. What's been recommended to me by many owners and breeders is a high-quality cat food. I use a brand called Felidae, because I already feed it to my cats, but many owners will mix in several brands including Royal Canin, Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul, and Purina One. Not only will your hedgehog get the nutrients it needs from these foods, but you'll find it to be cheaper, because you get more food for the money when you buy cat food. Keep it in a cool, dry place, so that it will keep longer.
Snacks and Treats
Hedgehogs are insectivores in the wild. They thrive on worms and beetles in their natural environment throughout Europe and Africa. In captivity, many owners give their prickly friends mealworms and crickets as snacks. You can buy them in either live or freeze dried varieties, and your hedgehog might prefer one over the other. Most hedgehogs have no problem with the dried ones, though I have heard of some not particularly liking to 'hunt' their food, so don't be worried if you don't want to use live worms or crickets.
Housing
Hedgehogs are primarily solitary creatures. Though sometimes two females will get along living together, for the most part they are kept separately. They don't require a very large cage per se; however, the more space you can give your hedgie, the better. The minimum recommended cage size is two feet by three feet.
Pet store cages with wire bars or a simple Rubbermaid tote with air holes drilled into it are the most common. Glass aquariums are not recommended, because there isn't enough air flow, and your hedgehog could overheat in such an environment.
Keeping the cage in a dry area with a stable room temperature is essential. If the temperature drops below 62 degrees Fahrenheit, your hedgehog might begin to hibernate! This can be hazardous to its health, and should be avoided.
Providing your pet with an exercise wheel, something to hide under, toys (toilet paper rolls are well liked among hedgies), and litter are also essential. Some owners choose to provide a litter box for their hedgehogs, though some hedgies refuse to use it. Many owners are using fleece materials to line the bottom of their cages these days, because it is cheaper than buying Carefresh or other commercial beddings, and hedgehogs find it rather comfortable. Try to avoid using wood shavings, as the dust can irritate your hedgehog's nose and eyes.
Also, don't forget to give your hedgie a water bottle, so it can get a drink. Bottles are usually preferred over dishes, because the water stays cleaner that way, though a dish will also suffice.
Daily Attention and Care
Hedgehogs aren't pets that can merely be left alone in their cage with no human contact for days. They will not be very friendly when you do want to take them out if you ignore them for long periods of time. Once it gets used to your smells, it can be a very friendly an affectionate pet. Plus, if your hedgie is comfortable with you, it will relax its quills when you handle it, which makes things a lot easier.
When you first get your hedgehog, you might be tempted to wear gloves until it becomes used to being handled. This is not recommended, because when you wear gloves, the hedgehog will not become accustomed to your scent. If you absolutely cannot handle it without something between your hands and the quills, use a towel or a piece of fleece to pick it up at first, until it relaxes slightly.
Giving your hedgehog fresh food and water daily will ensure it remains in good health. Also, it is very important to make sure its cage remains clean and tidy. Remove used litter weekly or change any fleece cage liners twice or three times a week. This way, it will not only feel better and not require frequent bathing, but he or she will be a virtually stink-free pet.
Love and Affection
The most important thing any owner can do for their pet is to give it plenty of love and affection. If you do that, the rest will come very easily. If you think you are prepared to open up your home to a hedgehog, you will not regret it. They are curious, intelligent, and adorable little pets. Though they might not be as soft as a chinchilla or as cuddly as a guinea pig, they will provide you with just as much love, and they will brighten even the gloomiest of days just by being their silly little hedgie selves!
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