Hedgehog parenting: Tips on raising a happy and healthy hedgehog for first-time hedgehog parents
Taking care of a dog or a cat is a huge responsibility, and not everyone has the time and money for that. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to have a companion to get through the difficult times, especially now that all of us are stuck at home with FMCO/PPN restrictions. If you’re looking for a pet that isn’t too high maintenance but can still bring joy to your life, consider getting a hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are relatively easy animals to take care of, but there are a couple of things you should consider before getting one. As a proud hedgehog dad myself, I’m here to give you some tips on how to make sure your hedgehog leads a happy and comfortable life.
You might think that getting more than one hedgehog is a good idea since yours could feel a little lonely. But hedgehogs are actually solitary animals and don’t like being around other animals unless it’s breeding season. In fact, having more than one hedgehog can lead to conflicts between them.
To ensure that your hedgehog is living comfortably, there are a couple of things you should consider. Hedgehogs have hypersensitive hearing, so make sure you have a quiet and cozy spot in your home that wouldn’t disturb it. A bigger cage would also be preferred (at least 60cmx90cm), since hedgehogs are really active animals—especially at night—and love to roam around their cage.
Things that you should include in your hedgehog’s cage include bedding, a plastic tube (for tubing), heavy water and food bowls (they can be quite chaotic and make a mess if the bowls aren’t heavy enough), a hiding spot or hut for them to sleep in, an exercise wheel, and a litter box. If you like to keep your living spaces cold, you might want to also consider getting an external heat source. Hedgehogs are used to the tropical climate, so they prefer a warm environment ranging from 24 to 29 degree Celcius.
Do keep in mind that each of these items come in various options, so be sure to pick those that will be better for your hedgehog. The most suitable bedding to use is shredded paper, recycled pellet (or a similarly absorbable material), wood shavings (aspen and pine), and soft fabric (make sure there aren’t loops where its nails can get caught). Try to avoid using corncobs, dusty shavings or cedar shavings as bedding, since they can cause respiratory problems and allergies. Picking out the right litter is also important: Try to stick to dust-free litter that prevents odour and has great absorbency.
Remember that hedgehogs are susceptible to skin irritations, especially when a cage is dirty. So, make sure to clean the cage once a week, or at least once every two weeks. You can also try to potty train your hedgehog by picking up its poop and placing it in the litter box every day. This will help keep the cage cleaner and prevent your hedgehog from pooping close to its food.
Hedgehogs are actually quite the foodie and would eat anything you put in front of them, which is why it is essential for you to know what foods you should feed them. In the wild, hedgehogs are categorised as insectivores, which explains their high protein and low-fat diet. They are also relatively inexpensive to feed due to their size. Usually, one and a half tablespoons of food are enough to last them the whole night.
As mentioned, a healthy hedgehog diet is high in protein and low in fat. Most hedgehog owners will use dry cat food—that has over 20 per cent protein, and between 5 to 15 per cent fat—as their primary food. If you do decide to give your hedgehog treats, you can choose from the following: Insects (mealworms, crickets, and waxworms), cooked meats (chicken, salmon, and tuna), cooked vegetables, and fruits. However, try not to give them treats too often (three to four times a week at most), especially fruits because they’re high in sugar.
Although hedgehogs can eat most things, there are some foods that can cause health complications. Like most Asians, hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so try not to feed them dairy. Also, no nuts and seeds. Other fruits and vegetables they should avoid include grapes, citrus fruits, avocados, tomatoes, pineapples, onions, and garlic. Make sure to always check (online or with a vet) before feeding your hedgehog something other than its main food.
Bonding is one of the most important things you should be doing as a hedgehog owner. It takes a lot of patience at first, especially if your hedgehog isn’t tame—trust me, it took a while for Pablo to warm up to me. When you first get your hedgehog, give it some time to get accustomed to its new environment. After a couple of days, you can start handling your hedgehog. This step may seem intimidating at first since a hedgehog’s defense mechanism is to ball up and hiss, but don’t let this discourage you.
To properly hold your hedgehog, always scoop it up from under, if you’re not comfortable doing this with your bare hands, you can use a worn T-shirt so it gets used to your scent. Try to do this as often as you can. The more you handle your hedgehog, the more it will be accustomed to human interaction. You can even just hang about while it roams around on the floor, which is what I usually do. Also, try leaving a worn shirt in its cage so it associates your scent with safety. Do note that hedgehogs are nocturnal, so try to only handle them at night.
To prevent your hedgehog from getting skin irritations and mites, you’ll have to bathe it once every month. You’ll also have to trim its nails when they get too long to prevent them from hurting themselves. Here are some of the things you’ll need: Tear-free baby shampoo, a soft toothbrush, a small bucket, a towel, and a set of nail clippers.
Step 1: Fill your bucket with warm water (not too hot and not too cold), just enough to wet its belly.
Step 2: Place your hedgehog into the bucket and let it get used to the water.
Step 3: Use a cup to pour water over the spines of your hedgehog, making sure to not get water in its ears or face.
Step 4: Squeeze some shampoo onto the toothbrush and start brushing in the same direction as its spines. Don’t forget to wash their soft underbelly with shampoo too!
Step 5: After you’re done brushing, it’s time to rinse all the shampoo off. Pour out the dirty water in the bucket and fill it up again with clean, warm water. Then, use the cup to rinse its body.
Step 6: Reach in for one of your hedgehog’s legs and keep it still. Use the nail clipper to trim only the white parts. Repeat the process for all the other legs.
Step 7: Use a towel to wrap up your hedgehog into a burrito after trimming its nails. Try to get it as dry as possible.
Just like any other pet, you should bring your hedgehog to the vet to check on its health the first time you get it. To be safe, visit the vet twice every year for a check-up to make sure your hedgehog is healthy. Look out for changes in behavior or habits as these may suggest that your hedgehog is sick.
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