Care of your hedgehog

Hedgehogs are comparatively low-maintenance animals. While they can adapt to owners with irregular days, they do best on a consistent schedule, especially with regards to light and feeding. Your daily care routine should start with a thorough inspection of the hedgehog’s cage. Scoop any waste out of the litter box and wipe any visible mess off of cage walls and furnishings. Next, tend to his food. Check the dry food; if it’s soiled, you should throw away any leftover dry food, but if it’s clean you can keep it in the dish and refill it to the appropriate level. Give your hedgehog any wet food you want to offer him (or you can give him treats at playtime, if you’d prefer). Re-fill the water, and if it’s in a bottle, check the tip to make sure there’s liquid coming out. If you’re using a cage liner, change it if there’s any visible waste or other messes. Other beddings should be spot-cleaned. 

Weekly tasks 

You should thoroughly clean the hedgehog’s cage once a week. Unless something’s especially filthy, soap and water should work fine. Items that need a thorough disinfecting can be washed in a 10% bleach solution, then rinsed until no smell of bleach remains on the item. Remove all the furnishings from the cage and wash them. This includes the hide box, exercise wheel, and food and water dishes. If you’re using a water bottle, empty it completely and wash it inside and out. Mold and algae can grow in a poorly-maintained water bottle, which could make your hedgehog sick or taint the taste of the water and make them not want to drink. If you use cage liners, make sure they get washed. You should also empty the litter box, wash it, and re-fill it with fresh litter once a week.

Monthly tasks 

If you’re using disposable bedding, it should be fully replaced once a month. Most people find it easiest to remember when they clean the cage if they set up some kind of consistent schedule (e.g. bedding is replaced during a month’s first weekly cleaning). You should also weigh your hedgehog once a month and record that information in a ledger so you can keep track of changes. Again, most people find it easiest to do this on the same day as bedding is replaced.

You’ll also want to give your hedgehog a bath about once a month (unless your pet is especially messy, in which case you’ll want to do it every couple of weeks). You can bathe your hedgehog in the bathroom sink or bathtub. Some keepers like using the kitchen sink if it’s got a spray attachment; if you do this, you should buy a secondary container (like a plastic dish tub) to bathe the hedgehog in, and disinfect the sink thoroughly with bleach after the bath.

To bathe your hedgehog, you’ll need cat shampoo, a cup (or spray attachment), and a toothbrush. You’ll also want to have a towel standing by to dry him off with when he’s done. Fill the sink or tub with one inch of warm water and mix in a couple drops of cat shampoo. Thoroughly wet the hog using the cup or the sprayer, then gently scrub his quills with the toothbrush, starting at the back and working toward the front. Be careful not to get any soapy water in his eyes. To wash his belly, reach underneath him and gently massage the fur with your fingers. Do to the same to his legs and paws. Don’t flip the hedgehog over! This will freak him out and he might ball up or thrash around, getting soapy water in his face and generally stressing him out. Once he’s been scrubbed, take the hedgehog out of the sink or tub and drain it then refill it with another inch of clean, warm water and rinse the hog. When that’s done, you can gently towel him dry. Make sure the hedgehog’s completely dry before returning him to his enclosure.

You should also check your hedgehog’s toenails while you’re bathing him. A hedgehog’s nails should not curl back under his paws; if they do, it’s time for a trim. If he’s got hard materials to walk on they might never need trimmed, or you might only need to get certain nails. Each nail has a small pink line running down its center. This is the quick, and it will hurt and bleed if you cut it. The clear white part of the nail is completely nerveless and if you’re careful not to hit the quick, trimming the nails will cause the hedgehog no pain. Use a pair of cat claw trimmers and take off just a little at a time. Hedgehogs can get antsy during the trimming process and if he starts to squirm let him take a break or you risk injury—either to him with the clippers, or to your finger when he gets fed up and bites you. If you have to trim more than a couple nails, you’ll probably have to do it over a couple days. If you do hit the quick, don’t panic. Apply some styptic powder (or other absorbent powder, like corn starch or flour) to the wound until it stops bleeding, then rinse and dry the nail and keep an eye out for infection. If you’re hesitant to trim the nails yourself, a vet can do it for you.

Training and discipline

When we talk about training a hedgehog, it’s in a different sense than, say, training a dog. You can think of hedgehogs more as you would a neighborhood cat. It will recognize you as a source of food and care and you can form a very affectionate bond, but you shouldn’t expect it to perform tricks on demand or come to you each time you call. You’re not teaching the animal; more, you’re suggesting an activity that is amenable to both you and the hedgie, and if it chooses to it will perform this task in exchange for some reward. The hedgehog’s reward for using the litter box is a clean environment. Since this is something most hedgehogs seek, they take readily to the training. Working with the hedgehog’s instincts will yield the best results. Be patient with the animal, giving them some time to chill out if they show frustration by hissing or raising quills.

Reward works much better than punishment when it comes to training or disciplining a hedgehog. If you strike or yell at a hedgehog, it will only make them view you as a threat. They’ll be wary of your presence and less likely to be social in general. If you’re training your pet to run a maze, put a treat at the end to entice him. If you’re socializing him to new people, offer treats for major milestones, like the first time he relaxes in a stranger’s lap.  The deterrent methods listed earlier for dealing with habitual biting are the main exception to this, and even in that case should be paired with a reward to reinforce good behavior, such as a treat following a play session with no biting incidents.