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Monday, 31 October 2016

Keeping an African Pgymy Hedgehog

Why a Hedgehog?

Since I was young I have owned small furries; guinea pigs, gerbils, mice and rats. After a particularly difficult time after uni, moving back in with the parents I needed something to fill the Man-Void. Degus (large gerbils) were a possible although they need to live in groups, a Chinchilla -another option but we always thought they needed a quiet lifestyle (they don't) which our house, isn't. So at The London Pet Show 2013 I found my companion: An African Pygmy Hedgehog.

African Pgymy Hedgehogs are a specially domesticated breed. They live indoors, have a simple diet and live for 3-5 years.

I bought Peggy (named after Fuzzypeg from the Little Grey Rabbit stories) for the princely sum of £275. This was the cost of the Hedgehog Starter Kit: cage, litter tray, food, wheel, litter and the hoglet! There are lots of different colour variations of Pgymy- check out the list HERE
They are viewed as Exotic Pets and are not suitable for children- mainly due to the prickly handling! They are not agile creatures so if dropped or mis-handled they will come to a lot of harm mainly to themselves but also You! Those spikes are like individual needles I can tell you that! They also do tend to bite out of curiosity of new smells/tastes or fright. They sense people's nervousness which will also make them feel nervous and uncomfortable.

Hedgehogs are pretty self-sufficient. Their cage can be spot-cleaned each day for stray poo and fully cleaned once a week (which only takes about 10 mins). Like all pets, they require handling to bond with their owners but other than that, they sleep a lot during the day and come out for 'me-time' during the night.


Where do they live?

Unlike wild hedgehogs, African Pgymy breeds live indoors: a large guinea pig cage is best. These hedgehogs originate from hot climates so keeping the room their cage resides in, warm is crucial. If they get cold they will go into hibernation which can be fatal! They don't have the physicality to hibernate unlike the woodland hedgehogs you see out and about in your garden. To ensure this I keep an electric radiator next to her cage and in winter add an extra fleece and sometimes a microwavable heat pad.

To prevent any possible respiratory issues it is best to steer away from saw-dust bedding and opt for newspaper to line the bottom of the cage. The Daily Telegraph is best to keep your hog up to date on current affairs... 

Cage Accessories include:  

  • a large 12 inch silent spinner wheel. 
  • a litter tray filled with dust-free litter (paper-based Biocatolet is suitable)
  • a place for hedgie to hide away in the dark away from prying paws
  • Fleece blankets for bedding
  • a small water bowl
  • a dish for food
  • optional toys like tunnels, loo rolls, balls.
I made a wooden ledge for Peggy's cage to add more space for her and to make a dark nook for her to hide away and sleep in peace. The light wooden box is a chinchilla nesting box. Hedgehogs like to hide in small, tight spaces so this box provides that. The ledge also keeps her food and water away from her litter tray. Hedgehogs poo a lot but will usually confine their toileting to a designated area of their cage. I attached a carpet remnant to the underside of a wooden ladder (from a Pet Shop) for her to climb up. Hedgehogs do not have very good grip or balance so the 'posh red carpet' provides support for her little feet and more importantly reminds us of her regal status. 


What do Hedgies eat?

Hedgehogs have a simple diet. They are lactose intolerant so should not be given any milk. They are also not allowed to eat fish so sticking to chicken based cat-food is best. Peggy primarily eats dry cat biscuits: I use this Go Cat variety.  A fresh bowl of tap water is also essential in her cage. 

For a treat Hedgehogs can have a few cat treats- Peggy loves chicken 'Dreamies'.

or a few freeze-dried mealworms (the ones you give to wild birds)

Not this many! They are very fatty so must be rationed! 

You can give them live bugs from a pet store but they may perish in the cage if not eaten or escape into your home- neither outcomes I particularly want so I stick to the freeze-dried alternative! 

 Some hedgies have been known to like a treat of wet cat food or some scrambled egg made with water. Peggy is however very unadventurous and despite tempting her with these treat options she's always turned her snout up at them. 


Handling an African Pygmy Hedgehog

In order to create a bond with your pet, frequent handling is essential. When a hedgehog feels safe and calm they leave their spikes down- they can then be carefully stroked and are quite soft to the touch. They are nocturnal creatures so are more likely to want to come out and play during the evening. You can trick them into thinking its night time by handling them in a dark, quiet room! 

Hedgehogs are not robust and are not the most agile of creatures so if they fall or are dropped they will come to harm. It is recommended that children do not pick up domestic hedgehogs for this reason. Hedgehog spikes can become needle sharp if the hedgehog feels threatened (they sense other's fear too) and boy does it hurt! If your a little nervous it's best to scoop them up in their fleece so both of you are comfortable. 

Hedgehogs will instinctively curl up and make their prickles stand up on end if they sense something above them. In the wild this is a defence mechanism when prey flies overhead. Therefore it is important not to move your hand on top of them- even if you don't touch them they still sense the movement. Instead scoop them up from underneath; there is soft fur under their belly. It is best to use both hands for them to feel safe and supported. This also makes sure if they do curl up your fingers don't get caught and stuck in a ball of prickles (this is so painful!) 

Unlike your average pet rodent Hedgehogs will not happily walk on a never-ending hand path; they are bossy, independent creatures. They like to explore on their terms. Like all beings once you've woken up from a long slumber you need the loo, hedgehogs are the same. They also don't understand the social norms of discreet toileting and will most likely poo and wee on you. It's best to let them explore and run around a wipe-clean surface or litter tray away from their bed before you commit to handling them on your lap to avoid mucky messes!

Hedgehogs teeth are very small and pretty sharp. If they find a new smell that intrigues them they may give you a lick however be warned because a prolonged lick may follow with a bite or little nip. It's only really painful if they cling on which is rare if their used to being handled and you have clean hands. Try and avoid wearing hand cream when picking them up and sometimes nail varnish can trigger a licking/biting frenzy too.