Keeping African Pygmy Hedgehogs

General

African Pygmy Hedgehogs make wonderful pets but like all animals, they have their own particular requirements to be healthy and happy. It is essential to understand their needs before acquiring an APH.

They are inquisitive friendly animals that are easy to handle. They can start out shy and reluctant to engage when they first arrive in their new home but with patience and regular handling, most will become comfortable with their owner, happy to be held. Life spans can vary widely, anywhere from 3-8 years with 4 or 5 years being typical.

They first became available around 20 years ago in the US, and around 5 or so years later in the UK. They are generally believed to have resulted from a cross between two wild species, the Algerian and the White Bellied hedgehog, although their exact origins are now known.

As a result of selective breeding, APHs are available in a range of colour variations. Their backs are covered with rows of short prickly spines and their bellies are covered with soft fur. When threatened, they roll in to a tight ball with just a mass of spines poking out. When relaxed, the spines lay almost flat.

Choose your pet with care. Look for a responsible breeder who is willing to allow you to handle the parents of your prospective pet. Check for bright eyes, clear nostrils and healthy looking skin, quills and fur. Watch out for flaky skin, missing quills, discharge around the eyes or nose or evidence of diarrhoea.

APHs are perfectly happy to be kept alone, and males and females generally make equally good pets. Health and temperament are the most important characteristics when selecting a pet.

APHs are domestic animals and will die if released into the wild - they have very different requirements to their European relatives. They are about a quarter of the size of wild hedgehogs, and do not carry fleas.

Feeding

African Pygmy hedgehogs need a high protein, low fat diet; a good quality chicken-flavoured, dry cat food is ideal. As commercial hedgehog foods are designed for wild hedgehogs which need a high fat diet, they should be avoided.

As a treat, APHs enjoy small portions of cooked chicken or turkey with the skin removed, and they love mealworms, fresh or dried. Some APH owners have reported that their pets also enjoy pork and minced beef but it must, must, must be very lean, and even then because of the fat content, should be a rare treat. Other APH owners have successfully fed their pets on live crickets and waxworms which is not surprising given that they are insectivores. As long as the diet remains low in fat and high in protein with treats to add variety, the APH should remain healthy and happy.

Many APHs will even eat vegetables and fruit including apple, tomato, peas, mashed potato and broccoli, but taste varies so you need to test to establish what your pet prefers. Some APHs will not simply not touch vegetables or vegetables which is unfortunate as they are a valuable source of vitamins. If this happens, combine the fruit and vegetables with some freshly cooked chicken and many should happily eat them. Another option, is to raise some mealworms fed on fresh fruit and vegetables.

There are certain foods you should never give to an APH. As they are lactose intolerant, avoid all diary. In addition avoid

  • nuts
  • avocados
  • onions
  • grapes, raisins, and sultanas
  • chocolate
  • fish
  • raw meat
  • egg yolk
  • canned or processed foods

An APH should always have clean water available. Water bottles can be a problem for APHs and there have been reports of them catching their tongues in the nozzle. Use a heavy ceramic bowl instead - lighter plastic bowls often end up being overturned.

Housing

African Pygmy Hedgehogs can be kept in a wide range of cages - they really aren't fussy - so they can be as happy in a wooden hutch as in a fancy expensive vivarium as long as the base is solid and not wire. A cage of around 1m in length is a good idea as it provides an APH with room to move around freely, although the bigger the better. The cage should be kept out of direct sunlight and away from draughts.

An APH needs a secure, dark hiding place to sleep in - the corner of the cage is not adequate. Several suitable structures are available for purchase. Ideal sleeping quarters should be around twice the size of the APH with a door just big enough for it to walk through.

It is dangerous for APHs to hibernate as they do not carry enough fat to survive a full hibernation. In order to prevent them going into hibernation they must be at kept around 21 ℃ (70-75 ℉) all year round. If they are kept in a centrally heated home, this is usually enough heat for African Pygmy hedgehogs.

APH cages need to be lined with suitable bedding. Dust-free wood shavings prepared for pets (not from your friendly neighbourhood carpenter) or shredded paper are both suitable as bedding. Bedding should not contain strong oils - for example, pine and cedar wood products may smell lovely but the natural oils in them can lead to severe respiratory problems. Some owners prefer fabric cage liners like fleece - it is important to ensure that there are no loose threads as hedgehogs can get trapped in the them. The same is true of artifical turf like astroturf - in the case of the latter, a heat source can be used to seal the edges and prevent threads from unravelling.

APHs are generally regarded as solitary animals because of the species from which they are believed to be bred, but several people have kept hedgehogs together successfully.

APHs love to walk long distances, covering up to 15 km in a single night. As no cage can be that large, an large, open-sided, solid exercise wheel is essential. Without it, they can become frustrated, overweight (they put on weight easily), and develop health problems like fatty liver and obesity. It is important that only solid wheels are provided as APHs can catch their feet in bars injuring themselves.

African Pygmy Hedgehogs are adventurous in nature and also enjoy exploring tunnels on any kind whether they are plastic or cardboard. Try small toys for cats and ferrets to see what stimulates your pet.

Cages need to be kept clean. A single APH should be cleaned out on average once a week. It helps if faeces are removed daily, and with care, an APH can be trained to defecate in the same place each time. Provide a small shallow pan with dust free cat litter which may become the hedgehog's primary bathroom area. Do not use clumping litter though. Not only should the bedding be regularly changed but the cage should be washed, preferably with a non-scented disinfectant as some hedgehogs react badly to strong scents.

Hedgehogs have a remarkable habit called "self-anointing" which can be somewhat startling the first time you see it. They will spread their saliva on themselves and roll in their faeces, and become noticeably pungent. It is ok to wash the hedgehog preferably using an unscented, children's shampoo or one designed for small animals.

Health

APHs can be prone to certain skin problems especially ringworm (a fungal skin infection) and mites. They are also prone to obesity, dental disease, and tumours. Some individuals may need regular claw clipping - this is easily done in the same manner as with guinea pigs.

APHs may carry Salmonella so strict hygiene is essential with regular disinfection of areas where they are kept.

APHs are relatively new to the world of pets. Unfortunately, this means that most vets know very little about them and it may be necessary to seek out a specialist vet familiar with exotic pets.

There are currently no vaccinations or preventative parasite treatments recommended for APHs although there is a growing body of knowledge among breeders and pet owners. When you spot a problem, it is worth researching their experiences to see what has and hasn't worked.

Breeding

It is recommended that a female hedgehog is at least 6 months of age before she is bred for the first time. Her body needs to develop fully to be able to produce and raise healthy offspring. A female that is too young to be bred can die leaving her babies orphaned, or produce weak, sickly offspring. Patience is important for the sake of the mother and the babies.

If a female is not bred before she is 18 months of age, it is possible has formed in a manner that makes it difficult or impossible for her to give birth. It is for this reason that a female of 18 months or older that has not had a litter before, should not be bred. A hedgehog should under NO circumstances be bred if it hasn't had at least 6 months of perfect health.

Carrying then raising babies takes a lot out of the female hedgehog. A feeding female will lose weight when feeding her young, and needs time to recover. It is thus recommended that a female hedgehog is not allowed to breed more than twice a year. Breeding a hedgehog more than twice a year weakens the health of the mother increases the chances of illness, even death. Furthermore, the more often a female is bred in the year, the weaker the offspring. In between pregnancies, females should be felt a healthy diet and their health carefully monitored.

Females like humans, each have their own characters. Some females simply do not make good mothers refusing to feed or raise their babies. They can even turn on their babies without provocation. A female that shows herself to be an inadequate mother should be retired immediately. A good mother should be retired between 2 and 3 years of age, or after 5 litters, whichever comes first.

A female hedgehog is usually pregnant for around 35 days, and litters range from 3 to 5 babies although there can be as few as one or as many as seven babies. Larger litters up to 11 have been reported, but this is exceptional.

A pregnant female needs her own space to 'nest'. The area needs to be warm, sheltered and quiet. In addition, she and her babies should not be distrubed for at least two weeks, preferably three weeks, or the mother will kill and eat them. There have been reports of mothers killing their babies up to 5 weeks of age. It is important to watch the mother and if she shows any signs of nerves or agitation, to not disturb her and the babies.

Young hedgehogs are weaned at around 6 weeks of age. If the babies are small, they can be given additional time but this must be done with care, as the males may impregnate their mother and sisters.

Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs

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