THE RESIDENTIAL PAGE
MAKING a HEDGEHOG FEEL at HOME SAFELY
In modern captivity, where and how do hedgehogs prefer to live? In the
"wilderness" (of which there is precious little left), I s'pose we
aren't called "hedgehogs" for nothing. Hogging out in the hedges or the
hedgerows. If any of you have seen the hedgerows of western Europe, you
know what an impenetrable barrier a hedgerow can be (and an ideal hideout for
the likes of us). In a hedgerow we can burrow away to our heart's content and be safe
from all sorts of predators, two legged, four legged, and the big editions of
those with feathers. So we like a private place to hide out comfortably,
not unlike a human city dweller with six different kinds of locks on the
We hedgehogs held
captive in North America were all born here, in captivity. Almost all of
our ancestors came from northern Nigeria, western Benin, and southern Niger, all
African countries near the Equator. The roundup of our ancestors began in
the human year 1991. These wild populations of hedgehogs were, as we are
told, overpopulating in their native lands and many were starving. They
were gathered up and sold at the Nigerian port city of Lagos and flown on Air
Nigeria to New York City and to Miami, where they were sold into the wholesale
pet trade. Human exporters say that about 80,000 of our ancestors arrived
in the "New World" that way, from 1991 until 1994. In 1994, the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stopped live animal imports from African
countries due to the possibility of the importation of animal-borne diseases
(which really had nothing to do with us hedgehogs). As long as immigrant
hedgehogs arrived from Nigeria, there was no money to be made by humans in
breeding hedgehogs in north America. All of that changed in 1994 when the
immigration doors closed - but that is another story.
So how do we like "captivity?" Could be worse. Most of us are very
much creatures of habit, so we get comfortable with familiar surroundings.
It is said that in the wild our brethren only live an average of two years, due
to having to deal with sharp changes in weather, a lack of food sources, fatal
illnesses, predators, and the modern bane of the hedgehog - the motorized
vehicle. So, if length of life here on earth is considered "good," I guess
we have it better than our wild cousins.
Although creatures of habit,
most of us are endlessly curious. We like to root around and explore new
places - at least for a time before heading home. Sometimes this gets us
in trouble in a modern captive environment. Because we are insectivores
and not rodents, there is a major difference between us and our rodent buddies -
unlike rodents, our teeth do not grow continuously. Rodents must be
constantly gnawing on stuff to keep their ever-growing teeth under control.
With us, our teeth stay put. Running around the house, therefore, is a
little less dicey than if, say, we were a rat or a beaver. For them, their
need to gnaw all the time might get them electrocuted or executed by irate
humans. With us, we just root around exploring every inch of the terrain.
Now every once in a while that indoor free-range exploration gets us in trouble.
There have been tales of some of the more adventurous of us getting up inside of
clothes washers, refrigerators (where there are gears and pulleys) or into the
back of kitchen cabinets where there is no room to turn around or get out.
Our human caretakers have developed a term for preventing this sort of
exploratory mishap - they call it "hedgieproofing a room."
Outdoor life for the captive African hedgehog in North America can be fun but,
as with anything else, has its dangers. The obvious dangers, such as
predators, means that hedgehogs should never by left outdoors by themselves lest
they be assaulted from the ground (dogs, foxes, etc.) or the air (eagles, owls,
hawks). They can also take off (you'd be very surprised at how hast a
hedgehog can run when she puts her mind to it) and fall into outdoor hazards
(pits and pools), zip under fences, or even run out into traffic. Then
there are unseen hazards, such as residual chemicals (insecticides, herbicides,
etc.) and the insects that may have dined on these chemicals. One of the
major health problems for European wild hedgehogs is eating slugs who have
ingested these poisons.
MODERN CONDO LIFE
Aside from indoor and outdoor
free-ranging, what sort of captive environment is acceptable to us? Well,
we'd like some room to get around, hide out, and get some exercise. Modern
humans have become fairly comfortable with modest apartments, I guess that's the
same with us. Where in the wild our foraging for food and romance (not
necessarily in that order) provided all the exercise we needed, in modern day
captivity, a good exercise wheel (with the necessary solid or small mesh running
surface) is enjoyed by most of us and is not unlike the exercise machines modern
humans use at so-called "health clubs." We do not do very well on those
exercise wheels with rungs that are designed for rodents, for we are nowhere
near as sure footed as they and we can easily break a leg trying to negotiate
one of those things.
FLOOR - BEDDING
Many of our
human caretakers provide "bedding" for us, which may be anything from ground up
or chipped wood (cedar, pine, aspen), to recycled newspaper products, to
shredded newspaper, to other particulate materials such as "corncob" or other
things. These sort of materials seem to satisfy our burrowing nature, but
many of these materials have dangers - and some are downright potentially fatal.
Cedar, although its fragrance is pleasant to many humans, contains aromatic
chemicals that may cause illness and death for hedgehogs. Some forms of
pine bedding are also toxic to us. Although there are many who would argue
that other forms of particulate are harmless and/or are even preferred by us,
here at our Rescue, we are hearing none of that. Here we use no
particulate bedding as described above for several reasons that we think are
1. Some particulate
bedding, such as cedar and some types of pine, are toxic to us (see above).
2. Particulate bedding, particularly from wood products (for example,
aspen tends to have long, thin slivers) may become impaled or imbedded in
private parts (especially males), ears, eyes, noses, or mouths, causing injuries
Regardless of the manufacturing process, particulate bedding continually
produces dust which may affect upper respiratory areas and cause breathing
4. Despite an
even sterile manufacturing process and a very clean store where it is purchased,
where particulate bedding is stored in transit, such as in trucks and
warehouses, subjects these materials to invasion by such things as mites, which
may cause serious health problems for us.
5. Although particulate bedding may present a more aesthetic appearance to
humans due to the lack of having to look at deposits of poop and pee (doesn't
bother us in the least), there is a definite downside to poop/pee camouflage.
Our lives, compared to human longevity here on this earth, are sped up by about
12 to one. So, when we become ill, our illnesses tend to progress about 12
times faster than the average human. In a hedgehog, some of the very best
ways to spot when something is wrong in the health department are rapid changes
in weight, off color urine, and poop that is not "normal." In the poop
department that means poop that is runny, gelatinous, any shade of green, black
and tarry, very pale, or bloody. With particulate bedding, these poop/pee
observations are seriously obscured.
6. Particulate bedding is messy and adheres to just about everything.
7. Particulate bedding is non-recyclable and must be discarded. It
takes up storage space as well.
8. Particulate bedding is expensive for the bedding itself and for the
time and gasoline it takes to go and get it.
So, what is an acceptable alternative to particulate bedding? Here we use
exclusively textiles: Triple layer cage liners (corduroy on the outside
with a fleece core - water absorbent but not waterproof), small fleece blankets,
hedgiebags (a textile pocket that a hedgehog can hide in), pigloos (a small
plastic igloo-like house), and hollowed out half logs. The cages liners
can be made by someone skilled in sewing or can be purchased from several makers
via the Internet. Our liners are made by Sherry Songhurst and her friends
and can be seen on her website at
course, setting up an acceptable hedgehog "condo" is important for their
emotional and physical well being, but permitting regular "free range"
exploration time is important, too. Just be sure that the free range place
is safe. I remember that whenever our human caretaker forgot to put an
exercise wheel in our condo (imagine that!), one of my roommates, Angel, would
just resolve to escape and go find herself a wheel. At that time seven of
us lived together in what the humans called a "bathroom." There was a
"kiddie gate" at the door to keep us inside. Well, that kiddie gate did
not phase Angel in the least and it was amazing to see her go straight up the
thing and over the top. Quite a feat, when you think of it, since none of
us have opposable thumbs. She'd forage around and find a wheel and run on
it to her heart's content. However, when she got tired, she would do a
very dangerous thing. She would crawl up inside of a queen sized
hide-a-bed sofa and sack out! The first time that happened, our caretaker
searched for her high and low. He finally opened up the hide-a-bed and
Angel unceremoniously fell out onto the carpet none the worse for wear.
Fortunately, she hid in a place where the moving machinery of the hide-a-bed did
not crush her to death or seriously injure her.
TEMPERATURE is CRUCIAL
The immigrant hedgehogs that arrived on North American shores were of the two
species of hedgehogs that have traditionally lived close to the Equator in
Africa. Well, so what? Seems that over 20 million years of living
near the Equator, we lost our ability to generate and retain the different kind
of body fat (called "brown fat") needed to hibernate through the winter.
So, immigrating to North America - which, for those of you that are
geographically challenged, is a long way from the Equator - placed us at great
risk of dying from exposure to low temperatures. To maintain our health
and keep us from trying to hibernate (which we will unsuccessfully try to do if
it gets too cold), we need an environmental temperature kept at 72 degrees
Fahrenheit or higher. Here at the Rescue, the Hedgiehouse temperature is
kept at 74 to 76 degrees, and it is usually 78 degrees in the Dispensary.
Since the Hedgiehouse is a detached building, all sorts of alarms are set to go
off in the main building if the Hedgiehouse temperature falls below 68 degrees.
Because of the importance of a warm temperature for our health, caretakers need
to have emergency plans in case of a power outage or some other cause of a loss
of environmental warmth. Here, our contingency plan calls for the use of
motor vehicles and small emergency clear plastic containers (with air holes!) to
temporarily house us in a compact space in one of the cars or the Rescue truck,
until power (and heat) is restored. Of course, this plan will not work if
the motor vehicles do not have enough fuel to run for a long time, especially if
we are snowed in! We got to test out this plan when we were evacuated as
the Hayman Wildfire was closing in on us, as we had to "get out of Dodge" in the
middle of the night (even though it was June, temperatures were in the low 40s
here at 9,500 feet elevation).
THE FOOD BOWL
Around here we're pretty particular about food bowls. We're not convinced
that countries permitting their workers to be paid starvation wages would
suddenly become conscientious when it came to selecting materials and processes
for animal food bowls. It seems to me that in those situations, cheap
pottery firing processes and mass production just may result in the leaching of
toxic heavy metals from the bowl into our food and water. We already have
enough problems with such maladies as cancer and multiple sclerosis without
having to worry about lead poisoning too. Since most of us weigh just
about one pound, it does not take a lot of lead or other heavy metal to get us
sick! SO! Here at the Rescue we use only good old reliable Pyrex
food dishes and smaller specialty dishes made only in countries that have high
standards for production.
We use two types of standard
Pyrex food bowls, the eight ounce clear oval number 328 and the ten ounce "milk
glass" white oval number 700. The model 700 usually has a colored outside
surface. The eight ounce bowls are used for condos housing single
hedgehogs and the ten ounce bowls used for colonies of two hedgehogs or more.
Lower profile specialty dishes are used in special situations where a hedgehog
is disabled but still able to eat on her/his own. Below is a photo of all
The Pyrex food bowls, in addition to being safe from leaching chemicals, have a
few other advantages, too. They are generally too small afford a hedgehog
the opportunity to "hog" the bowl of food by laying in it (although occasionally
one will try). The low, oval shape discourages tipping or upset. Now
for the downside (there always IS a downside). Pyrex does not make these
bowls any more. They quit making them back around 1999 or so, right when
we were deciding to use them (ain't it always the way). So, once we found
that out, we went running around buying up all we could from ever-depleting
shelf stocks. When we could not find any more in supermarkets, we hit
Corningware stores in outlet malls. But then those stocks dried up.
But, hope is not lost. They are usually available on eBay - just type in
"Pyrex oval" and there are usually some on sale there (but watch out for high
THE WATER SOURCE
We have been experimenting around with water sources for hedgehogs now for over
nine years. We've settled on something that works very well for us - the
PetMate 2.8 liter gravity feed waterer. We discounted using water bottles
at the outset, for several reasons. Besides the fact that hedgehogs do not
use water bottles in nature, it is difficult to get water from these water
bottle tubes. Also, if a water bottle dispensing metal tube becomes
dysfunctional, the struggle to get water when none will be forthcoming can cause
mouth injury or a broken tooth or two. Of course, the bottles were
designed for rodents, so to them a broken tooth is not a real big problem, since
their teeth continue to grow (hence their need to constantly gnaw).
However, we insectivores do not have constantly growing teeth, so once one of
our teeth is gone - it's gone for good.
We have tried water bowls (same Pyrex dishes we use for food, above) but they
were easily contaminated with food or poop and easily spilled. Then we
discovered the gravity feed waterer, and we experimented with several of those,
including the ones for small lizards (tipped over too easily - hedgehogs are not
as dainty as small lizards) and the plastic adapters for Mason jars. We
think the Mason jar adaptor thingy might work if they made one for a wide mouth
Mason jar, but the Mason jar rig is too unstable using the narrow mouth
adaptors. We finally settled on the PetMate 2.8 liter gravity feed waterer
The waterer has a 10" long by 6.3" wide footprint and is nine inches tall.
To avoid contamination of the water, we always place the waterer in a corner of
the condo so only one side is available to the hedgehog for drinking (but still,
some hedgehogs manage to deposit food and/or poop in the water. The
waterers are sold with four different base colors (the water tanks are all
opaque white) - light gray ("granite")(pictured above), tan ("speckled dove"),
dark purple, and dark blue ("planet blue"). I think the purple and gray
ones have been discontinued. It is important to specify one of the lighter
colors (gray or tan) because the darker colors hide contamination. Our
rescue caretaker (Standing Bear) called the manufacturer (Doskocil, Inc.) to ask
why they even made the dark colored bases and he was told that it was a
"marketing" decision. Go figure.
The waterers can occasionally be found in chain stores like PetsMart and Petco,
but usually they are the items with the dark colored bases for about $8.00.
We have found that the best place to buy them is on the Internet at Revival
Animal Health -
http://www.revivalanimal.com. At their web site just type "waterer" in
the dialog box or enter their stock number 40-073. The cost is very
reasonable at $4.49 each. I would recommend ordering in person using their
toll free number and specifying the tan ("speckled dove") base, since they have
both the light and dark colored bases in stock.
We only fill the waterer about 1/3d full because the waterers will be changed
out before a hedgehog can drink all of the water in it and 1/3d full provides
enough weight so that the waterer cannot be tipped over. Over time, the
inside of the water reservoir may become contaminated with various things,
depending upon the water and the environment. In warmer climates, algae
may form. Here we have a little iron in our water and so over time a
ferrous (brown) precipitate forms on the inside of the waterer tank. This
is easily cleaned by storing the waterer tank filled with white vinegar for
several days (those of you with one hedgehog would need a minimum of two
waterers - here we have about fifty of them).
Pictured below is a disabled hedgehog drinking from his waterer. Also in
the photo he has spread around his Select Diet food on the liner and a low
profile bowl of soft food is to the left (Gerber rice cereal with honey added).
This little fellow is Boots, who lost both of his rear legs to gangrene when he
entered the Rescue in July, 2004. Most recently (March, 2006), he has lost
a great deal of mobility but is still able to get around.
PetMate makes other gravity feed waterers also, including items called "bistro"
and "cafe" waterers. We have tried all of them and the one described above
seems to be the best suited in terms of ease of care, effectiveness, and cost.
The "cafe" waterers, although they may look a little more attractive have too
many parts that are hard to clean and are more unwieldy.
For captive hedgehogs, who are accustomed to foraging about for food and romance
(not necessarily in that order) covering four to seven miles per night, a good
exercise wheel is essential. Unfortunately, most small animal exercise
wheels are designed for sure-footed rodents. These rodent wheels may be
hazardous to the more clumsy hedgehog, who may break a leg trying to run on a
wheel with open rungs as the running surface. Over the years, hedgehog
caretakers have come to realize this and have developed wheels with solid
running surfaces to accommodate their less than graceful gait. Some
hedgehog wheels, including the earliest ones, have been made of metal. We
have found that these have not been particularly stable and were a little
hazardous in that injuries (small lacerations) could occur. One brand,
called the Wodent Wheel, had a solid wall on one side of the wheel and circular
entry/exit ports on the other side. We found this wheel particularly
difficult to clean. And cleaning is a big part of wheel maintenance, since
many, if not most hedgehogs poop and pee on the run, leaving their wheel with
Around 1998, Jennifer Young of California (the same pioneer that founded the
International Hedgehog Registry) developed a hedgehog wheel known as the "bucket
wheel." It was an exercise wheel made of PVC pipes and the bottom of a
five gallon industrial bucket. We were fortunate to purchase a good number
of Jennifer's wheels early on (she no longer makes them) because although many
folks have followed her in the making of bucket wheels, we feel that hers were
still the best - for several reasons. First, it is interesting to note
that five gallon industrial plastic buckets come in differing thicknesses of
plastic, the most common thicknesses being from .060 mil to .090 mil. The
thicker the better - because it makes the wheel much more stable. The
thinner plastic tends to warp and vibrate when running. Jennifer's wheels
were always .090 mil. Second, Jennifer's wheels used a double stanchion
support that converged at the axle, providing for a more stable wheel.
Third, the cut surface of the wheel was smoothed out so no rough edges could
abrade hedgehog legs as they entered and exited the wheel. Finally,
although others have also creatively adopted the use of an inline roller skate
wheel and bearing to allow the wheel to move, Jennifer's wheels used plastic
harnesses (see photographs below) to attach the roller skate wheel to the bucket
which eliminated rust and the cracking of the plastic found in using metal
screws (which are universally used in the bucket wheels of today). Three
photographs of the Jennifer Young wheel follow:
The above wheels have been in continuous service here at the Rescue for as long
as seven years now. Many folks using bucket wheels often complain about
the inline skate bearings rusting and failing, a condition that we have not
experienced here. I think the reason we have not had this problem is
because we do not immerse and soak the wheels when cleaning them, but rather
clean them in a few minutes using the spray attachment in the sink and a small
brush, and either drying the wheel or setting it aside to dry (so the bearings
never sit soaking in water).
We use bucket wheels for smaller hedgehogs because we feel that they are not
stable enough to support the greater weight of the more substantial pogs.
Our rule of thumb is generally to use bucket wheels for hedgehogs up to about
350 grams. For larger hedgehogs, we have long used The Decker Wheel
Pioneered by Curt Decker of British Columbia, The Decker Wheel provided
stability that the bucket wheel did not and therefore was better suited to more
substantial hedgehogs. Unfortunately, Curt no longer makes his wheels, but
several new designs have been under development since last September that
promise impressive advances in wheel technology (at the moment these new designs
are classified SECRET by the Hedgehog Training and Materiel Testing Command).
The Decker Wheels came in several sizes - ten inch, twelve inch, fourteen inch,
and sixteen inch. Here at the Rescue, we have used the ten, twelve, and
fourteen inch sizes. The most common size is the ten inch, which can
accommodate most hedgehogs, followed by the twelve inch, which can handle even
the largest hedgehog. The fourteen inch size (of which we only have one)
is too large for our condos in the Hedgiehouse and must be used in a open-top
The Decker wheels have wooden platforms and a wooden stanchion on both sides
that attach to small axles which are affixed to crossbeams. The crossbeams
attach to embroidery hoops which hold in place the running surface, which is
made of plastic mesh. Unlike the bucket wheels, the plastic mesh allows
pee to drain through and poop to be pummeled through the mesh and not remain in
toto on the running surface. The wheels are very stable and surprisingly
easy to clean once you get the hang of it. Some Decker Wheels are pictured
Nine year old Decker ten inch wheel:
Twelve inch Decker Wheel in a Hedgiehouse condo:
Sweetie (IHR No. 3130), at the time blind and five and a half years of age,
tools along on her ten inch Decker wheel:
Sweetie, retiring after a hard run, leaves poop behind for the caretaker to
Silverbelle (IHR No. 42) running on a Decker twelve inch wheel outside:
Naturally, with lots of hedgehogs using lots of wheels over a long period of
time, there has to be a place for maintenance and repair. Here's the Wheel
Depot Facility of the Hedgehog Training and Materiel Testing Command
The NEW wheels are currently being tested by MILPOGTMATCOM and the prospects
look very good that these will be THE wheels of the future. More to come
when the project has been declassified.
Usually, we assign Decker Wheels based upon hedgehog weight. Twelve inch
wheels are usually used when a hedgehog weighs over 500 grams. If the
hedgehogs in a colony (two to six hedgehogs living together), the Decker Wheel
size is determined by the weight of the heaviest hedgehog in the colony.
Smaller hedgehogs can easily run on the larger wheels, as little Silverbelle
(seldom weighing over 300 grams) demonstrates above.
One final thing I'd like to say about environment and our preferences and
habits. Back when our rescue was located in Fort Collins, Colorado, we had
a back yard that had a lawn. There was also a cement patio level with the
lawn. Our caretaker had taken four of the boys out to the lawn for a romp
in the green stuff. On the patio he laid some towels and put four hollowed
out logs on the towels. The boys foraged around on the lawn for between 45
minutes and an hour. All four, at different times, eventually waddled up
on the patio and settled in under a log. The interesting thing was that
each one went to HIS own log (the log he had in his condo). They made no
mistakes and didn't fool around, but went straight inside his very own log
(remember our keen sense of smell - we can smell things six inches underground!)
Warm regards, Little Flash Akwekon, IHR No. 932, Senior Hedgehog at the Rescue
from February, 1998 until February, 2002.
The Sponsors Page Sign