Why You Should Think Twice Before Getting an African Pygmy Hedgehog

Written by Katie Downey
Updated: November 11, 2023
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Some pets, like kittens and puppies, are great pets. They don’t require as much as some pets do. Hedgehogs are the type of pet that has an extensive list of requirements that can be difficult for many people to accommodate. If the requirements are not met, chances are, the hedgehog will die. They are difficult little animals and may never warm up to you or want to be out doing their nightly routine with you in the room. Not every hedgehog is the same, though overall, they have the same basic needs, and those can get expensive. It’s best to think twice before getting an African pygmy hedgehog, for both of your sakes.

African Pygmy Hedgehog

animals that estivate: four-toed hedgehog

African pygmy hedgehogs are adorable and difficult animals.

©HildaWeges/Shutterstock.com

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These small, prickly mammals are carnivores with certain food requirements. They are notoriously grouchy and sleep most of their lives. Many pet stores sell hedgehogs but keep them in an environment that is very stressful and unhealthy for them. Let’s take a look at some of the difficult requirements for keeping these small animals happy and healthy. After that, you will be able to make a slightly better-informed decision on whether the pet is for you. They are also illegal to keep in some places, so check to make sure they are legal in your state.

Exotic Animal Veterinarian Care

Studio shot of pet Hedgehog  runing on the white table with an orange stethoscope. Pet care concept.

If you think a regular vet is expensive, wait until you see the bill from an exotic animal vet!

©RozochkaIvn/Shutterstock.com

One of the most important parts of owning a hedgehog is making sure you have an emergency vet and an exotic animal vet on speed dial. Hedgehogs have a slew of medical issues because they have been bred to be pets and have lost a lot of their natural qualities and health. The little prickly friends are plagued with serious dental issues and come with the potential to develop several types of cancer. It is an unfortunate fate that many fall victim to at a premature age.

It is important to check them for health issues regularly. It’s also very important to check their teeth, which can be difficult. Checking them for masses on their bodies can also be extremely difficult since they tend to curl up in a defensive ball of sharp spikes anytime you try to do so.

Some Common Illnesses

  • Wobbley hedgehog syndrome is commonly found in hedgehogs under two years old. It is a debilitating and paralyzing disease that ends in death. It is unknown what causes it, and there isn’t much that can be done.
  • Dental disease is very common in African pygmy hedgehogs due to an improper diet, genetics, and age. These little guys get all the nasty dental problems that humans do, and it isn’t easy repairing the issues once they begin. Add regular dental cleanings and teeth brushing to your to-do list. Dental appointments are very expensive, but without them, your hedgehog can die from dental infections that turn into blood infections.
  • Cancer is another disease that kills many hedgehogs of varying ages and sex. They can get cancer anywhere on their bodies, though the usual places include organs, mammary glands, nasal cavity, reproductive organs, and the stomach.
  • Hedgehog metabolic bone disease is another terrible illness that can take your hedgehog from being healthy to being on death’s doorstep. Without the proper ratio of calcium and phosphorus in their diet, they can have weak bones that fracture and cause painful issues. It is imperative to do plenty of research on the ratio of vitamins and minerals in the hedgehog blends you make. This often entails purchasing numerous bags of high-end cat food and blending them.

Cost

Gray Kitten Biting Money

Hedgehogs are expensive to purchase, take care of and maintain.

©Casey Elise Christopher/Shutterstock.com

As we’ve already discussed, vet care and health maintenance will be costly. The hedgehog will also cost several hundred dollars and should never be purchased from a pet store. Only highly reviewed breeders have quality hedgehogs that have been handled and are healthy. You will be able to meet the parents and see plenty of hedgehogs from which you can choose.

The enclosure you will need for your exotic pet is going to be expensive. There are different ways to go about a hedgehog enclosure, but they will all require paper bedding near the wheel, a food dish, a water dish (bottles can break their delicate teeth), appropriate enrichment items, and lots of blankets for bedding. Keep in mind that you will be cleaning the paper bedding out weekly, and the blankets need to be cleaned and then washed often so the hedgehog doesn’t stay wrapped up in its own excrement. The whole thing, plus the hedgehog, will run you close to $1,000.

Food is also not cheap and must be mixed with the right minerals, vitamins, protein, and fat levels, which can be difficult in the beginning. If you buy the smallest bag of three high-end cat foods, it will cost approximately $20 a bag. Then add in the live black soldier fly larvae you will need to keep stocked, and those will cost $20 – 30 every couple of weeks. They also enjoy dried, crunchy black soldier fly larvae and other insects. They will cost $20 – 40 every month or two. Add on another $150 every month or two for diet.

Always Need a Heat Source

Ceramic IR lamp On Gray

Ceramic heat emitters are a must for every hedgehog.

©stock-enjoy/Shutterstock.com

African pygmy hedgehogs are native to Africa, where the temps are different than we are used to. They are commonly found in eastern, western, and central Africa in the grasslands. Every night, the small creatures roam for miles, looking for insects to eat. It is so important that their enclosure be large and that they have an appropriate wheel to safely run on.

The hedgehog needs to always have a heat source while they are doing everything except running on their wheel. A ceramic heat emitter is the best option and is cost-effective. These are extremely flammable and not safe around children or animals. They also get extremely hot so be sure to keep them away from anything that can melt or that is flammable. Another option for bedding is a warming pad that only warms when the hedgehog is lying on it. They make these that are safe for raising chicks.

Always Needing Air Conditioning in the Summer

The air conditioning and heating control panel for the apartment and office is located on a white wall

Hedgehogs can overheat very easily and cannot self-cool.

©voronaman/Shutterstock.com

Just as it is important to keep your hedgehog warm and around 75 – 78 degrees, it is also important that the temperature never goes above 80 – 85 degrees. They need a constant temperature of 75 – 78 degrees, which isn’t easy and can be costly. If your power goes out, you must have emergency supplies on hand to keep your hedgehog from becoming too hot or cold.

If they do become too cold, they will try to hibernate and will die if they do so. Their fat storage is not equipped for hibernation and they will starve. This is one of many reasons these critters should be left wild to roam and live freely.

Need Regular Baths and Toenails Clipped

A hedgehog taking a bath, getting scrubbed with a toothbrush

It may look adorable, but it isn’t generally that way.

©Jenn Huls/Shutterstock.com

There are plenty of adorable videos online of hedgehogs getting baths. It looks cute but doesn’t exactly go that way 99% of the time. They are not fond of water or baths. Chances are your hedgehog will do everything possible to get out. They need to be bathed with extra sensitive soap and you will need a soft toothbrush to scrub their quills.

Boys tend to make a mess of their fur and quills when they have “boy time” and get the goo all over themselves. They also like to anoint themselves by licking new smells (generally something gross) and creating a foaming paste in their mouths with it and proceeding to spit the foam on their quills. Cutting toenails is nerve-racking and can end in cutting too far and they may bite even if you don’t.

Large Living Space

breeding facility for rodent hamster hedgehog mouse

Make sure to get the appropriate type of no-gap wheel with a fully open side.

©Carmelka/iStock via Getty Images

As we have already discussed, it is very important to give your friend plenty of running and playing space. They can travel up to 10 miles at night and need plenty of enrichment and a fantastic, smooth operating and very large 12-inch wheel.

Appropriate Food and Water

Black soldier fly larva

Black soldier fly larva is a hedgehog’s most required food.

©MOs810 / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

You will need to rid yourself of any squeamishness because you will be handling plenty of creepy crawlies for your hedgehog to eat. They primarily eat insects in the wild and to be healthy, they must do so in captivity as well. Black soldier fly larva is an excellent source of protein and everything they need to remain healthy. It’s tough to decide on how many to purchase since your hedgehog will eat as many as you give them. Keep in mind they are in the larva form and will go into the pupae stage and then emerge as black soldier flies.

They also enjoy an occasional wax or mealworm, though they aren’t the best choice for food and can cause issues. Some other worms are acceptable, but make sure to do plenty of research in advance.

Lack of Bonding

Woman holding cute hedgehog on sofa at home, closeup

This may be the extent to which your prickly friend will bond with you.

©Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock.com

Your hedgehog may grow to tolerate you but you must be able to understand that a hedgehog will not bond with you like a cat or dog. They will never be happy to be picked up and don’t care for humans at all. They are solitary animals that prefer to sleep nearly 20 – 22 hours a day and do not like being disturbed. Most would be perfectly happy to spend their lifetime alone.

You may be able to have one who unrolls and will take treats from your hand. They also have very poor eyesight and depend on smell to guide them through life. They will not recognize you generally but may become used to your smell. The hedgehog might become comfortable enough to come out and run on a wheel and play where you can watch them. Some hedgehogs never get there and want to be left alone.

Nocturnal

Hedgehogs do not like to be woken during the daytime and are very grumpy about it.

©Alma, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

If you get up early and go to sleep early, you might only briefly get to say hi to your hedgehog before calling in a night. They tend to be the most active near sunset and will nap throughout the night while taking turns between running, eating, and napping.

Hedgehogs are very grumpy during the day if they wake up. They are always rather grumpy and don’t mind expressing their feelings by hissing and grumbling. Some may bite if disturbed or if you try to pick them up. Their quills are very irritating to most people’s skin.

Make sure to do plenty of research on hedgehogs before adopting one. African pygmy hedgehogs are one type of animal that can be a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking pet.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © luamduan/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

Katie Downey is a writer for A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, arachnids and insects. Katie has been writing and researching animals for more than a decade. Katie worked in animal rescue and rehabilitation with handicapped cats and farm animals for many years. As a resident of North Carolina, Katie enjoys exploring nature with her son, educating others on the positive role that insects and spiders play in the ecosystem and raising jumping spiders.

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