African Pygmy Hedgehogs as Pets: Care, Temperament and Health
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African pygmy hedgehogs are the smallest hedgehog type, and one of the more common hedgehog varieties to be found as a pet. These snuffly night creatures can be entertaining and rewarding pets, but do have specific needs for their care which mustn’t be under-estimated. They are also nocturnal, so will need basic functions like feeding to be done in the twilight hours.
The basic facts
Going by the scientific name of Atelerix albiventris, the African pygmy hedgehog is also referred to as the four-toed hedgehog or white-bellied hedgehog. It originates from the west and central Africa. They are small, measuring only 5 – 8 inches long, and has smooth spines across their body, which feel like bristles. They come in a variety of colours, including salt and pepper, cinnamon and snowflake.
Pygmy hedgehogs are active at night, and can be quite adventurous! Their antics can be very entertaining. They are solitary by nature, and do not seem to require companionship, or be very cuddly.
They can become accustomed to human handling: initially, they will roll into a ball, but if you remain patient and quiet, they will unroll when they realise you are not a threat. Consistent, gentle and frequent handling will increase their confidence until they are happy to be handled frequently. As their spines are their defence mechanism, they are not known to bite, but hissing can be a sign of aggression or defence.
One interesting habit to be aware of if you are planning on handling a hedgehog is their ‘self-anointing’. This is a reflex action when introduced to a new scent (food or animal/human): they produce a large volume of frothing saliva which they spread all over their backs. This can be a very strange thing to witness, but is perfectly normal for the species.
Pygmy hedgehogs are surprisingly active and need more room than you may think. They can travel miles in the wild, and a small cage is unsuitable for their needs. They also have quite specific dietary needs.
Hedgehogs do not tend to live in groups and preferably should be kept alone. It is common to experience fighting when it is attempted to house multiple hedgehogs together.
African pygmy hedgehogs may be small, but they are active and require space to explore. Their enclosure should be at least 3 feet wide, preferably larger. A solid floor rather than wire is needed, as the wire can cut their sensitive feet. Aspen or pine shavings (not cedar), or paper alternatives are fine as bedding. Carpet or fleece can also be used, but loose threads can get wound around their feet and legs so this type of substrate must be carefully maintained.
Hedgehogs are not known to be able to litter train, and therefore the enclosure will need regular cleaning. An enclosed area for sleeping will help them feel secure and safe.
Hedgehogs are surprisingly active and can travel for miles if not enclosed. An exercise wheel can help to maintain fitness and provide enrichment.
Hedgehogs usually eat once or twice per day. They have a pretty varied diet. They are nocturnal, and therefore are best fed in the evening and again later at night if possible, or necessary. Their diet in the wild is omnivorous. It consists mostly of insects alongside some fruit and vegetables, and they consider mealworms to be a particular treat!
It is possible now to buy specific hedgehog food, which is designed to provide everything they need. They only require about three teaspoons full of this food a day, supplemented with a teaspoon full of chopped fruits and vegetables. If this is not available, a high quality, grain-free cat food will provide what they need, especially if supplemented with insects such as crickets.
Providing live crickets for your hedgehog to chase and eat is a valuable mental and physical experience for them, as well as a food source. Mealworms are also a huge treat, but care should be taken not to allow over-indulgence. These should only be given 3-4 times weekly, not every day.
Hedgehogs will manage to drink fine from either a bowl or a water bottle. Provide clean water daily, and if using a bottle make sure it is working correctly as they can easily become blocked. Pygmy hedgehogs are particularly small, so ensure the bottle is low enough for them to easily reach the end.
African pygmy hedgehogs have quite extrusive eyes for the species, and so can be more prone to eye injuries. Shavings and bedding can occasionally irritate eyes. Monitor your hedgehog closely for red, sore eyes, any discharge or injury.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is well-reported in all hedgehog species and can occur in any age. It causes weakness of the back legs and can get progressively worse.
Pet hedgehogs can easily get obese due to over-enthusiastic feeding. Most hedgehogs only need to feed once daily, and mealworms and other treats should be given sparingly. Obesity can lead to a multitude of health problems, such as arthritis and heart disease.
Hedgehogs can carry foot and mouth disease, which means there are some restrictions on their movements in the pet trade. They can also carry various Salmonella species, which can pass to humans. This, as well as their susceptibility to fungal skin disease and parasites such as fleas and mites, means that it is a good precaution to use gloves when handling them.
If you are concerned your hedgehog is unwell, it is best to consult a veterinarian with some expertise in exotic animals.
African pygmy hedgehogs are a compact version of these inquisitive animals. Hedgehogs can be quiet, fascinating companions, who require careful monitoring of diet and regular calm handling to become good pets. Their nocturnal nature and love of the quiet means they can be difficult pets for many modern busy households. It is best to do some research to check these animals are right for you.
Do pygmy hedgehogs make good pets?
Pygmy hedgehogs are small, quiet and fun to watch. They can make good pets in the right circumstances. However, they do require certain levels of care, and their nocturnal nature means they need most of this care in the evening or night-time, so they are not suitable for everyone.
Is it cruel to keep a hedgehog as a pet?
It can be, if kept in improper conditions or an unsuitable home. Pygmy hedgehogs may be small, but they do require sufficient space to perform their natural behaviours. They prefer quiet and dim conditions, and are active at night, so if this cannot be provided then they should not be considered as a pet.
How long do African pygmy hedgehogs live as pets?
The average lifespan is 3-5 years, but they can live up to 10 years in captivity.
Are pygmy hedgehogs legal in the US?
Since 1991 it has been illegal to import hedgehogs from Africa into the US, because of the risk of transmission of foot and mouth disease. However, pygmy hedgehogs are legally allowed to be owned as pets in most of the US, although New Jersey and Wisconsin require a permit or health certificate. There are some states in which the owning of hedgehogs is restricted: New York City, California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Hawaii.