Bedding for a hedgehog serves multiple purposes. It gives the animal traction and protects their feet from the hard surface of the cage floor. It also absorbs the animal’s waste and any spilled food and water. Finally, it serves as nesting material, and you’ll find your hedgehog will like to mound it up inside his hide box burrow down inside of it (if you use a bedding that allows them to do so). There’s a wide variety of bedding options on the market and a few equally attractive do it yourself options that are worth considering.
First, we should talk about which things make inadequate beddings. Products made of corn cob can cause problems with hedgehogs, especially males, who have been known to get pieces of the bedding stuck in their prepuce. These beddings also tend to rot and mildew when wet, causing unpleasant odors and promoting bacterial growth inside the cage. You should also avoid any bedding made of cedar or pine shavings. Cedar contains Plicatic Acid, an aromatic and potentially toxic substance that has been known to trigger allergies in humans and small animals alike and could damage the hedgehog’s skin, respiratory system, and liver. Other pines get their great scents from similar abietic acids. Just like with people, some hedgehogs are going to be more sensitive to these compounds than others. Some breeders use cedar shaving beddings with no issue, but there’s no telling how your individual hedgehog will react. There’re so many other great options available that it’s just not worth the risk. If you’re going the cage liner route, avoid thin, plush fabrics like vellux. This material is soft but not very durable and a hedgehog’s natural tendency to burrow will destroy the liner quickly.
Fleece or flannel cage liners are excellent bedding options. You can buy them pre-made from breeders and hobbyists online. Measure the interior of your cage and buy one that’s flush against the edges; commercial cages come in a standard range of sizes and you should be able to find a liner that fits with little searching. Look for one that’s got two layers of fleece with some kind of padding in the center, and make sure there are no frayed edges or stray threads that the hedgehog’s feet could get caught in. If you go with a cage liner you should put a paper towel or piece of newspaper underneath it. As opposed to other beddings that are valued for their absorbency, fleece makes an excellent liner because it’s hydrophobic—it can’t hold more than 1% of its mass in water, meaning urine flows right through it and won’t pool or cause wet spots in the liner.
If your hedgehog is not litter box trained, you’ll need to change the liner every day; if he is, you’ll still have to change it 2-3 times per week. Even a litter box trained hedgehog will release waste while he’s running on his wheel, so pay special attention to this area of the liner when deciding whether it’s time to change it.
If you use cage liners, you need to have a minimum of two (one to put in the cage while the other is being cleaned). If the pet’s not litter trained and you don’t want to have to wash a cage liner every day, you could get a set of 8 liners—a fresh one for each day, plus one to keep in the cage while you wash the rest. This makes cage liners a larger initial investment, but since they’re washable and reusable they’ll be cheaper in the long term. Cage liners are comfortable and sanitary, but they don’t allow the hedgehog to burrow. If you notice your pet trying to burrow underneath the liner, you could put a few scraps of fleece in for him to dig under, or some shredded newspaper or recycled paper that can serve as nesting materials in the hide box.
Sold in the small animal section of most pet stores, recycled paper bedding is a great option for a hedgehog environment. It’s soft, absorbent, and promotes a hedgehog’s natural burrowing activity. The light color of most of these beddings makes it easy to see changes in your pet’s urine or stool, allowing early detection of developing health issues. Fill the bottom of the cage to a depth of at least three inches. You can spot-clean recycled paper bedding reasonably well and should do so daily, replacing all the bedding on a monthly basis.
The main disadvantage of recycled paper beddings is the cost ($20-$30 for a 25-liter bag). If you’ve got more time than money, you could make your own recycled paper bedding at home out of junk mail and scrap paper. Remove any glossy pages or non-paper components (plastic or glue from envelopes, staples from magazines, etc) then tear the paper sheets in half and soak in a large container of lukewarm water. Use your fingers to swirl the paper scraps around, tearing them into smaller chunks as you go until the water is too gray to see your hands. Drain your paper and repeat the process four or five times then rinse the paper until squeezing a chunk of pulp makes clear water run out. Form the pulp into baseball-sized chunks, break them into small scraps, and allow them to dry. It’s a time-consuming process but it’s eco-friendly and cost-effective, and can be a fun project to do with small children if they want to be a part of the hedgehog’s care.
Shavings of woods other than cedar or pine can be a good bedding choice for hedgehogs. Aspen is the most popular choice and what you’ll likely find in your local pet shop. Like recycled paper, wood shaving offers the advantage of being relatively soft and encouraging natural burrowing behavior. Also like recycled paper, you should fill the bottom of the tank to a depth of at least three inches, spot cleaning daily and fully replacing at least once a month.
While many breeders and keepers use aspen shavings as bedding, it does have some disadvantages. Though aspen hasn’t been implicated in respiratory or liver issues like cedar has, certain individuals—human and hedgie alike—are more prone to skin allergies than others and may have a reaction from any wood-based bedding. If your hedgehog is scratching or biting itself more frequently than normal, consider changing his bedding material. Some people also avoid wood shavings because of the sharp edges of the wood, which do open up the potential for a hedgehog to poke himself in the eye or give himself splinters when he’s navigating his cage. Most hedgehogs won’t have this problem—they frequently contend with organic debris in the wild—but if your pet falls off his wheel a lot or seems especially injury-prone, you may want to go with a softer, smoother bedding.
While not as soft as recycled paper, pellet-form commercial beddings are arguably the most absorbent item on this list and are used very effectively by many keepers and breeders. This may be your best bedding option if you have one of the rare hedgehogs who refuses to use a litter box. Though pellets are heavier than recycled paper, your hedgehog should still be able to burrow comfortably; like the above options you should fill the bottom of the cage to a depth of three inches to allow this. Unlike recycled paper or wood, pelleted beddings aren’t going to provide good nesting material. On the plus side, most pelleted beddings are compostable and flushable in the quantities you’ll be removing in your daily spot-cleaning, making disposal easier, and they’re generally a very eco-friendly option.
You want to pick a room for your hedgehog where he can get daily attention and observation from his humans without being disturbed during his normal sleeping hours by excessive noise or vibrations. For most people this will be an easy requirement to satisfy, since the hedgehog’s normal sleeping hours will coincide with the time you’re away at work or school. A home office, den, or family room could all be ideal places for your new pet.
Children may want to keep the hedgehog in their bedroom, but this is a generally a bad idea. Depending on the child’s age, you run the risk of the hedgehog being forgotten. While most bedrooms are nice and quiet during the day, the more time your hedgehog spends smelling and hearing people around him, the more comfortable he’ll be interacting with them. Also remember that hedgehogs are by nature nocturnal, and will likely be up all night searching for food and running around his cage. There is no such thing as a silent exercise wheel—a fact that you’ll become painfully aware of every night if you plan on sleeping just a few feet from a hedgehog’s cage.
Once you’ve narrowed down the room where your hedgehog will live, you should be equally careful about where you position it. Keep the cage away from any windows, which can cause problems on both ends of the temperature spectrum—the glass amplifies sunlight and may heat the cage too much, while drafts can make the cage too cool. Also avoid putting the cage in front of heating vents or air conditioners—anywhere there might be a significant amount of air movement. If you’re not sure whether an area is drafty or not, light a candle and hold it in the space where your cage is going to be. If the flame flickers, the area is drafty and unsuitable for your hedgehog cage; if the flame is relatively still, the area will work.