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Pygmy Hedgehogs

Prickly Pets: Pygmy Hedgehogs

At this years London Pet Show, we were lucky enough to meet some African Pygmy Hedgehogs.  If you haven’t seen these super cute little animals, you are in for a treat.  Bred as a cross between the Algerian and Four Toed hedgehogs, these tiny omnivores are a fairly recent addition to the exotic pet world.  As far as we can tell, these pets are pretty well hypoallergenic, so make a nice alternative to furry creatures for those with allergies.  The only variety of hedgehog which can be legally kept as a pet in the UK, they come in a range of shades, primarily brown, although we did see a tiny albino hedgehog at the show.

These are omnivores, surviving a diet of both meat and vegetable matter, and require warmth, security and a varied diet.  If you are considering one as a pet, there are some issues to consider:

Hedgehogs are mainly nocturnal.  For some people, this makes an ideal pet as they sleep while you are at work, and wake up in the evening to play.  They are very active at night, so will need to roam and forage, and will spend lots of time on an exercise wheel, which can be a little noisy

They may not be the ideal pet for children, as a frightened hedgehog will bite, and their prickles, while fairly soft, might be too uncomfortable for small hands.  They can also be timid and frightened by boisterous, noisy children

If you have other pets, an African Pygmy Hedgehog may not be right for you.  These animals prefer to be solitary, and are unlikely to get on well with a cat or dog who will probably see them as prey

If you do decide on a pet hedgehog:

Housing
As solitary creatures, you should only house one at a time.  Your hedgehog will require plenty of space – a cage is ideal but should provide a minimum of 4 square feet of floor space, and not be wire based which can damage feet.  Plastic indoor rabbit homes are a good bet as they are properly ventilated but not dangerous to feet.  Very large, ventilated tanks, a wooden cage or similar will also work.  A solid plastic exercise wheel should be fitted for extra activity.

Keep them away from drafts and direct sunlight, and check that your hedgehog cannot escape, as they may get lost in your home or damage your house.  Bedding needs to be kept fresh, be it pellet or shaving based, and it should be kept dry as hedgehogs can suffer with skin complaints in damp conditions.

Access to fresh bottled water is also a must.

Diet
Their omnivorous diet in the world is hard to pinpoint, but most breeders recommend a good brand of dry, meat based cat biscuits.  The brands you see in the supermarket are usually for wild hedgehogs, and would be too rich for the Pygmy breeds accustomed to indoor life.  Ask your breeder what the hedgehog has been weaned on so you can continue its diet and avoid any upsets.

Treats can be given, occasionally, of apples, broccoli, peppers, chicken or turkey, and many other fruits and vegetables.

Avoid: Citrus, nuts and raisins, pineapple, red or uncooked meats, fish, dairy and chocolate, all of which can be very unhealthy for your pet.  Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so avoid all dairy as it can kill your pet.

Health / Care
In the wild your hedgehog would be constantly roaming and exploring, so keep a variety of toys to keep him occupied.  Tunnels and tubes are great, although cardboard ones are not recommended as they can contain poisonous ink residues.  Balls, hideaways and little toys are available in good pet shops, and a (non threaded) blanket, such as a fleece will provide somewhere to hide, snuggle and play.

Allow your hedgehog some time to acclimatise to his new surroundings when he first comes home.  After that, start with minimal handling, say 15 minutes a day, to get him used to your scent and the contact, gradually building up until he becomes more comfortable.

Keep your home at a constant temperature, as hedgehogs will hibernate if it becomes to cold, and this will not be good for your pet.  Minimum temperature should be 21F.

Look for a vet who has experience in dealing with hedgehogs before you need one so that you are prepared.

Hedgehogs go through a stage called quilling during adolescence, which essentially means his quills will be shed and replaced, so you will likely find quills in his bedding.  It’s nothing to worry about but you may find your ‘hog is a bit sensitive at this time, so try to give him space.
 
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