Though they may look like rodents, to get a better sense of their care and personality you can think of hedgehogs more like very small cats. They need a diet heavy in protein and light on grains—in fact, keepers will often feed them dry cat food as the bulk of their diet. Hedgehogs take readily to litter box training and are generally clean animals. Being nocturnal, hedgehogs will be most active between dusk and dawn—roughly 7pm to 7am—and are excellent pets for people with busy schedules, content to hang out on their own most of the time. Hedgehogs will get stressed out and cranky if you try to wake them up during the daytime, and if you want a pet you can play with 24/7, a hedgehog is not for you. People who work during the day often find the hedgehog’s nocturnal habits work perfectly with their busy schedules. The pet will want to eat and play around the time you’re getting home, and should still be awake when you’re getting ready the next morning.
Unlike other small animals, hedgehogs produce no noticeable odors. Since their teeth don’t grow throughout their life like a hamster’s they won’t chew on things so aggressively. They’re independent and intelligent animals, and while they can form strong bonds with their keepers and be very affectionate, they do so on their own terms and appreciate a good amount of solitude to balance the interaction.
Of course, hedgehogs aren’t exactly like cats. The main difference is their environment. The hedgehogs sold as pets come from a hot, arid climate, and they need an ambient temperature between 70° and 90°F to stay healthy. They’re also very active, with a territory of up to 1000 feet in the wild, and require a relatively large enclosure along with regular play and exercise time outside their cage. One advantage they have over larger pets is that they don’t shed as much fur (though they do occasionally shed quills), and they don’t trigger most pet allergies. People who are allergic to hedgehogs are typically allergic to the animal’s saliva, meaning this allergy will only be triggered by handling the animal, not by simply sharing their space. In general, they’re a lower maintenance pet than a cat or a dog, but that doesn’t mean you can just stick the cage in the corner and forget it’s there. Hedgehogs that don’t get daily attention from their humans have a tendency to turn mean and anti-social. They can be wary of loud noises or aggressive attention, and thrive under the care of a patient and gentle keeper. Hedgehogs don’t require any initial shots or immunizations, and while it is possible to spay a female “hedgie” it’s a stressful procedure that’s generally not done unless there’s a reproductive health issue.
Hedgehogs weren’t bred and sold in large numbers until the last quarter of the 20th century. Stores and veterinarians classify them as exotic pets and are not as familiar with their care and physiology as with those of more common animals. You may have some difficulty finding a vet nearby who’s willing to treat your pet hedgehog. Since they are a more esoteric pet, you’ll need to do more research into products before going to the pet store. There aren’t many products labeled for hedgehog use, and the things that are aren’t necessarily the best; your hedgehog’s supplies will be a mix of those designed for rabbits, chinchillas, cats, and even reptiles. The trick is figuring out which things to get in each section. The recent introduction of the hedgehog captive breeding program also means they’re closer to wild animals than most of the pets you can find at the store. The first wild-caught hedgehogs to be sold as pets could only be handled with gloves because they constantly had their quills raised and would hiss and bite at anyone who came near. Modern pet hedgehogs are bred to be more sociable, but there are still some captive-bred individuals that don’t care to be handled much by humans. Because of this, it’s very important to meet the individual hedgehog you plan to adopt before making your decision.
While hedgehog ownership is legal in the US and Canada on a federal level, there are some states, provinces, and cities that have banned ownership. As of the writing of this blog, it is illegal to own a hedgehog in California, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and parts of British Columbia, Ontario, and Virginia. Georgia allows licensed hedgehog breeders but not private pet ownership. Arizona doesn’t explicitly outlaw hedgehogs, but the housing requirements to obtain a permit are difficult for even most zoos to meet, and for practical purposes you can consider them illegal. Other states require you to obtain a permit before purchasing an animal, including Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Wyoming. If you’re caught with an illegal pet you at least get a fine and may face jail time, and the animal will be taken away—sometimes to be moved out of state, more often to be euthanized. Even if you’re not caught, no veterinarian in your state will be willing to see your animal if it’s illegal, meaning a long journey if problems should arise.
Since these laws can change, you should check your area’s policy regarding hedgehog ownership before buying an animal. Don’t assume hedgehogs are legal just because you find them at the pet store. National pet store chains can sometimes inadvertently send animals to stores that shouldn’t be selling them.
Hedgehogs in the wild have a life expectancy of only 18-24 months, but hedgehogs in captivity live an average of 4-6 years and have been known to reach the age of 10 if cared for well. A lot of people see this as a positive over other small pets, but it does mean you have to plan a bit further into your future than with a rodent like a hamster. Make sure you’ll still want the pet—and be able to care for it effectively—for at least six years.
The hedgehog itself will likely be the most expensive part of your initial investment. A single baby hedgehog will cost anywhere from $125-$350, depending on the color and gender. Females tend to cost more than males of the same color, since females are more in demand among breeders and are less likely to be born in the first place. The cage, toys, and other set-up supplies are going to vary widely in cost depending on the style and complexity of your setup, but you should plan on spending somewhere between $100 and $200. You should also plan on spending around $50 on an initial vet visit soon after bringing your pet home. Adding it all up, the up-front investment will be in the neighborhood of $300.
Ongoing costs of hedgehog care are relatively minimal. Depending on which brand you buy, you’ll probably spend around $15-$25 per month on dry kibble. Aside from that, there are a lot of “ifs” involved in ongoing expenses. If you use recycled paper or wood shavings for bedding, you’ll need to replace them at least once a month. These beddings typically cost between $10 and $25 per bag, though you’ll likely only need 3-4 bags per year (depending on the messiness level of your hedgie). If you use a litter box, you’ll need to buy litter ($10-$25 per bag), though you won’t need to use much. The only major expense associated with hedgehog ownership is the potential for high vet bills as the pet ages. Older hedgehogs are prone to both kidney disease and cancer, the treatment for which can cost over a thousand dollars.