Now to the fun part of hedgehog care: Playtime! If you get your hedgehog on a regular schedule, you’ll likely find him waiting for you at the cage door when playtime comes around. The nature of your play is going to depend a lot on the interests and personality of your particular animal, but in every case variety is key. Hedgehogs are intelligent and inquisitive animals that enjoy exploring new things.
You’ve got a lot of play area options to work with, but if you’d rather not buy an external structure—or if you have limited space—several areas of your home can be easily adapted. The simplest option is a standard bathtub. The sides are too tall and smooth for a hedgehog to climb up and out, so you don’t need to take any extra security measures aside from making sure the drain is firmly stoppered. You can use a pet gate or baby gate to close off a closet or other section of a room. If you can, find a gate with ½ inch or smaller gaps between the bars; if that’s not available, buy a sheet of smooth metal or plastic to cover it and prevent escape. Some owners will let their hedgehogs out to explore and play in an entire room, or even their entire apartment—in fact, free-roaming hedgehogs are not unheard of.
Any area that’s going to serve as a play space needs to be hedgie-proofed for safety. Hedgehogs aren’t known to chew on non-food items the way rodents do, though they will eat something if they think it’s food, and they will often lick strong-smelling items, either to determine edibility or to self-anoint with the odor. You should make sure nothing is accessible in the hedgehog’s play area that could be toxic if licked or eaten. The other behaviors you have to worry about during playtime are climbing and burrowing. Hedgehogs are accomplished climbers, but they aren’t always as good at getting back down. If you’re letting your hedgehog roam in a whole house or room, make sure he can’t climb his way into any dangerous situations. Since they burrow, you also have to be careful of gaps in walls and cabinetry. You should also make sure they can’t get under, inside, or behind any appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, etc) where they could get stuck, lost, or injured. Radiators and heating vents should also be covered or blocked off. Finally, you need to make sure there’s no way for the hedgehog to get outside through a window, doggie door, or other opening. Once they’re in the open, hedgehogs run surprisingly fast, and they could be gone before you have a chance to react.
It can be fun to take your hedgehog outside for some fresh air, so long as you follow some basic safety precautions. First of all, make sure the air temperature is within the acceptable range of 70°-90°F (and make sure to factor any kind of wind into that equation). You’ll mostly want to take them outside in the evening when they’d normally be awake. This will keep them from getting overheated by direct sunlight. It’s also not a good idea to take a hedgehog outside when it’s raining. They like a drier environment, and they’ll get cold if they get wet.
Any time your hedgehog is outside they should be in a secure, supervised area. You can use a rabbit hutch or move their playpen or cage outside. Whatever space you provide should include both shade and water. Remember that they burrow; the grass in your yard is not necessarily a secure barrier, and whatever insects or worms they happen upon while digging will probably be eaten. If you don’t want to worry about them digging, put a layer of something solid between the hedgehog and the grass. You could use a blanket, a sheet of pressed wood or acrylic, a canvas tarp—pretty much anything that’s non-toxic and can’t be burrowed through.
Be aware of all potential environmental hazards before you take your pet outside. Don’t put them on a lawn that’s been chemically treated. If your neighborhood has a lot of free-roaming cats (or other predators) a covered enclosure is necessary. The space should also be clean of other animals’ waste. Raccoon droppings can be especially bad for hedgehogs. Raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) is a parasite that’s transmitted through physical contact and can be contracted by hedgehogs. The eggs of this parasite can stay alive in the soil for years, so be especially cautious letting your pet burrow in areas where raccoons are common.
Most hedgehogs can learn how to run a maze in search of treats. You can build them one using blocks or set up a system of tunnels out of the plastic pieces they sell in the small animal section—just be sure to buy the ferret size; hedgehogs can get stuck in tubes designed for hamsters and gerbils. Aside from these products, most toys aimed at small animals aren’t the best for hedgehogs. Unlike other rodents, they don’t need to chew on wood to file down their teeth, and a lot of the toys designed for hamsters and gerbils are choking hazards if given to a hedgehog. You also shouldn’t use the clear plastic hamster balls or runaround balls. Since hedgehogs like to poop while they’re running these will get your pet pretty messy, and the ventilation slits in these products are also known to catch quills and toes.
If you want to get toys at the pet store, look for them in the cat and dog sections. Both balls and squeak toys usually appeal to hedgehogs. The general consensus among breeders is that you shouldn’t give hedgehogs straight catnip, but cat toys with catnip inside won’t harm a hedgehog—they’re not generally known for destroying toys and will be unlikely to eat any. The only cat toys you should avoid are the slitted hard plastic balls, as the hedgehog’s teeth and toes can get stuck in the gaps. From the dog section, balls and squeaky toys are both good options.
You can also use children’s toys and stuffed animals. Hedgehogs seem to greatly enjoy pushing toy cars around their playpen, and you can have some fun with kids’ construction toys (dumptrucks, backhoes, etc) by putting treats in the compartment and watching your hedgehog learn how to get to them. Online hedgehog forums are full of wonderful ideas for playthings. Even something as simple as a disposable paper bowl can be an engaging addition to a playpen. Just make sure anything you offer follows the same rules as the bedding and cage: it should be non-toxic, contain no cedar, pine, lead, or zinc, and have no stray threads or sharp edges.