African Pygmy Hedgehogs are native to the region from Senegal west to Somalia and Kenya and south to Zambia. Other species, however, are sometimes incorrectly sold under the name A. Albiventris.
The little Hedgehog that has become the boom pet of the 90’s and the new millennium and the king of the mammalian exotics is the African Pigmy Hedgehog, also know as the white-bellied, four toed, East African, or dwarf Hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal members of a very primitive order of mammals called Insectivore. The order is thought to contain the earliest examples of placental mammals… mammals whose young are retained within the mothers uterus and fed via a placenta before birth.
There are about 14 species of Hedgehogs whose native habitats include Europe, Asia, and Africa. No species is native to Australia or the Americas.
These mammals are not related to either the echidna of Australia, which is monotreme or egg laying mammal, or to the porcupine, which is a rodent.
Adult Hedgehogs of all species range in size from 5 to 12 inches and weigh between 8 and 39 ounces, depending on the species. Their color ranges from white to dark brown, though most are agouti, qa mixture of cream, brown, and white banded spines. Their soft facial, chest, and underbelly fur ranges from white to dark brown. Verigated, albino, cream, and other colors and patterns are also now appearing in the pigmy hedgehog.
Unlike porcupines, hedgehogs do not release their spines when they are threatened. They defend themselves by curling up into a tight ball and and raising their spines in a criss-cross pattern. The spines of newly weaned youngsters are sharper than those of adults. Similar in appearance to hedgehogs are certain tenrecs of Madagascar; although these animals are not members of the hedgehog family Erinaceidae.
The adult pigmy hedgehog is generally from 6.5 to 9 inches in length, and weighs from 8 to 25 ounces, although between 11 and 16 ounces is the average. The soft fur is normally cream coloured or white. Various spinal color forms are now being bred. The pigmy has a documented life span of 7 years, though it may actually live longer under ideal conditions. The average pigmy hedgehog life span is from 4 to 6 years.
BREEDING AND PURCHASE AGE
Pigmy Hedgehogs are sexually mature at as early as 8 weeks of age but should not be bred until they are physically mature. 6 months is the minimum recommended age. The hedgehog’s gestation period is about 35 days. Infants are weaned between 3 and six weeks after birth. Infants should not be sold until they reach 8 weeks of age, when they have finally achieved total independence from their mother and are psychologically more able to adjust to a new habitat without excess stress or trauma. Most pet problems arise as a result of youngsters between 5 and 7 weeks of age being purchased.
TEMPERATURE…. Hedgehogs are thermo-sensitive, coping poorly with extremes of temperature. Their acceptable range is between 65 and 85 Degress F, although they prefer temperatures between 70 and 75 Degrees F. Below this outer range, the hedgehog will become torpid, eat less, and may estivate (enter short term hibernation). Hedgehogs exhibit similar behaviour at high temperatures. NEVER leave a hedgehog in an unventilated vehicle whose interior temperature can rise above 85 Degress F as the animal may die of suffocation or heat stress.
HOUSING… Hedgehogs should be given as much space as possible. A minimal cage should provide 180 square inches of floor space (15″ x 12″, for example). Such a space, of course, is purely for sleeping and assumes the animal is given liberal of out-of-cage exercise time. Otherwise, a mini habitat of at least 8 square feet should be provided. A nest box is essential and may be a gallon container with an entrance cut into it, a four inch diameter section of PVC pipe, or similar sized retreat.
Suggested floor coverings are commercially prepared wood cellulose and lining pellets, pine shavings, or wood pulp fibre. Avoid sawdust, straw, garden soil, and newspaper (unless the newspaper is under the shavings). Hedgehogs will appreciate a rock or log; they are capable climbers and very active animals. Avoid placing them in bright sunshine. They may be given garden exercise provided they are kept under strict supervision.
Hedgehogs are both insectivorous and carnivorous. A commercially manufactured Hedgehog pellet is best, as the pellets normally contain all the balanced nutrients that may not be available in a varied diet. In leiu of not having pellets, you may offer them any of the following : meal-worms, crickets, earthworms, and other invertebrates, beef, poultry (remove the skin), rabbit, and other low fat meat, either cooked or raw (if raw, it must be fresh), low fat cottage cheese, scrambled or raw eggs, and for a temporary measure only, feed dry or moist canned cat or dog food. Some vegetables or fruits may or may not be eaten. Varied foods are recommended if pellets are not available to ensure a balanced diet. Hedgehogs should be fed once or twice a day. If feeding once a day, evening is the best time. Remember, hedgehogs are often prone to obesity. Weigh adults occasionally to check for over-feeding. As is true with any animal, water MUST be available at all times. A shallow dish will work but it will get soiled easily and may be spilled often. A hamster water bottle is acceptable. BE SURE to replenish the water supply daily.
Hedgehogs are attracted to all strange smells and will lick themselves before creating a foam which is then deposited on their flanks and backs. This is normal and not a sign of ill-health or rabies. They have a very keen sense of smell. One’s hands should be washed carefully after handling food, etc. as the hedgehog will lick at the lingering odor thinking it is something good to eat. Pet owners often confuse this habit with biting.
Hedgehogs must be handled daily if they are to become tractable. Poor temperament is a feature of badly bred stock that has received little or no socializing when young. DO NOT purchase any hedgehog that cannot be readily handled or one that remains curled up in a tight ball. They should uncurl in less than a minute.
In the absence of specific treatment information, the hedgehog should be regarded as any other small mammal with respect to diagnosis and treatment. With the increasing popularity of the hedgehog, more veterinarians are learning how to take care of the delightful pets. They are normally very hardy animals and seldom require the services of a vet.
Once you lay eyes on one of these gorgeous little critters, you’ll have to have your own. Hedgehog’s are loveable and very friendly. They will steal your heart !