There is no one way to house a hedgehog correctly, here we will discuss a few of the safest and most trialed methods.
A converted plastic tote
Using a plastic tote is an economical and hygienic way to provide caging to your hedgehog. Sufficient totes come in sizes 3.8-8 square feet in floor space. These are the same storage totes/ containers that can be found in the storage and housewares sections of major retailers. They are light weight, easily replaceable and can be disinfected with little trouble.
One of the challenges owners face when using a tote bin as a cage is attaching the heat source to it safely. If using a ceramic heat emitter, the cover to the tote can be cut so that only the frame, or part of the frame remains. Heat proof screen can then be applied to the empty space and the heat source applied on top. For extra security and to prevent the heat source from slipping, the gaps in between the screen can be cut and folded upward on each side of the heat lamp to secure it into place. Always plug the ceramic heat emitter lamp into a thermostat to regulate it's temperature and conduct testing to ensure ambient temperature of 75-80 degrees is maintained.
Heat pads can also be used in tote bins. If using a heat pad manufactured for reptile cages, you can plug it into a thermostat to keep the ambient temperature inside the bin about 75-80 degrees. These heat pads must be attached to the back of the cage on the OUTSIDE. Do not attach them under the cage or inside of the cage.
Run several days of temperature testing on the bin and pad to be sure the tote maintains proper temperature and does not over heat or damages the bin's integrity.
There are safer heat pads that can be used in totes in comparison to the reptile marketed ones. These are small mammal heating pads that have a built in thermostat. These are the safest method of using a heat mat/pad as they are designed to have contact with the animal. Even with these type of heat mats you will want to run tests on it to be sure ambient temperature maintains at 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If needed these type of mats can also be adhered to the outside of the cage as listed above.
Wire cages, like those sold for guinea pigs, can be used to house a hedgehog, With these cages a few simple modifications must be made to prevent the hedgehog from injuring it's self.
Along the inside of the cage, zip tie at least 6 inches of coroplast along all sides of the cage. The coroplast will form a solid barrier that will prevent the hedgehog from climbing up the bars and injuring it's self. If you have a difficult time obtaining coroplast, plastic folders can be cut to size and used in it's place.
When heating a Wire cage a ceramic heat emitter is recommended. Always set the ceramic heat emitter lamp up to a thermostat to prevent it from over or under heating.
Wooden cages can hold humidity, absorb urine and emit toxic gases. A wooden cage may look nice, but it is not recommended here. Wooden cages can also be difficult to clean.
The exception is a well constructed melamine enclosure.
There are many pvc cages readily available on the market. These types of enclosures are marketed for use of reptile keepers, but they can also be used as hedgehog cages. Most of them have built in heating units where you can plug in a ceramic heat emitter bulb. Attach the heat emitter plug to a thermostat and monitor ambient temperatures thoroughly before bringing home the hedgehog.
With PVC enclosures you may also choose to use a radiant heat panel instead of a ceramic heat emitter. These are plastic, rubber or foam like panels that you plug into a thermostat juts like other heat sources. Be sure to conduct ambient temperature tests before adding your hedgehog to the cage. PVC enclosures are relatively easy to disinfect and are fairly light weight.
Substrate is ground cover. Some hedgehog owners call substrate bedding. Every hedgehog's cage will need substrate to remain comfortable and hygienic.
When selecting a wood shaving to use, keep in mind that some woods can be harmful to hedgehogs. Cedar shavings may emit fumes from their naturally occurring oils. These fumes may harm a hedgehog's respiratory tract or cause symptoms of neurological abnormality.
Due to there not being enough formal research publications outlining the safety (or dangers) of cedar shavings for hedgehogs, it is a good choice to avoid using cedar.
Kiln dried pine shavings can be used as a substrate. Be aware that pine shavings and kiln dried pine shavings are two different products. Straight pine shavings may emit fumes similar to the cedar above. Kiln dried pine shavings are processed in a way that dries the oils from the wood, rendering them ore safe to use.
Aspen is a great wood shaving to use. It does cost slightly more than pine, but is worth the small investment.
If using wood shavings, be aware of external parasite risk. Bugs can hitch a ride in the bag of shavings and infect a hedgehog. The risk of parasite transmission can be reduced by heating the shavings at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or freezing it for 14 days.
Diatomacious Earth a.k.a. DE
Some sources advocate mixing a bit of DE into wood shavings prior to putting them in the hedgehog's cage to reduce the risk or parasite transmission. This practice can carry risks. DE is made of microscopically razor sharp particles that can cause tearing in an animal's airway. Breathing in DE dust can cause lung and mucus membrane damage.
Hedgehogs are active burrowers that will rummage about through the DE covered shavings. This will result in the hedgehog inhaling the DE powder and the DE powder floating in the air.
Fleece is a suitable substrate for hedgehogs. It is economical and can be used over and over again with little wear. Fleece can be purchased from most craft stores. Select a variety labeled "pill free" or "pill proof" to avoid fleece that pills easily. The little pieces of fleece that we call "pills" can get stuck in between hedgehog quills and cause irritation and infection.
After selecting your fleece, cut it to fit the bottom of the hedgehog's cage. Put a layer or two in the hedgehog's cage to form a comfortable ground cover.
Fleece liners are readily available online from various crafters. These can be used in place of the fleece that you cut yourself. When using fleece liners, be sure all stitching is secure and not likely to snag hedgehog feet.
Hedgehogs will burrow under fleece and push their fleece around the cage. If you're intent on having the fleece remain flat on the bottom of the cage, fleece liners are probably a better choice. attach Velcro to the fleece liners and cage bottom to secure it into place.
Keep a few sets of fleece to make cage cleaning easier. Switch out fleece at least once a week (2x a week is better) and disinfect. There are methods of disinfection listed on the hedgehog hygiene page.
Pine and paper pellets
Pellets, though economically priced, are not recommended. Pellets are made of compacted pine or paper particles. They provide a much greater surface area for bacterial and fungal growth. Pellets do not provide secure footing nor do they create a stable floor covering. Pellets roll around as a hedgehog walks on them, this can result in some serious injuries. Pellets also turn to powder when wet or compacted. This can result in a secret layer of mold, bacteria, and fungi brewing at the bottom of the hedgehog's cage.
Recycled paper bedding
Paper bedding such as care fresh are enjoyed by owners , they can be purchased in various colors and scents. However the exact reasons why these products are attractive are the same reasons why they shouldn't be used.
Dyed or scented products can cause severe reactions in hedgehogs including skin reactions, breathing issues and neurological abnormalities.
Some naturally processed paper bedding may be safe. Read all packaging to be sure no dyes, colors, or chemicals are used in the product. When using these products, be sure to either heat to 200 degrees for 20 minutes or freeze for 14 days before use. This practice will help reduce the risk or parasite transmission.
Bio active Enclosures
"Going bio" is a major topic of online discussion regarding small mammals. Bio active enclosures are living ecosystems created and maintained in a confined space (the cage). Due to the complexities involved with creating a bio active environment, it is nearly impossible to have success when owners attempt making one for a hedgehog.
Bio active enclosures harbor bacteria, fungi and mold. All things that can make a hedgehog and it's owners very sick.
In nature a complex balance of elements regulate the ecosystem. Rain water washes away debris and waste. The sun's ultraviolet rays ( that are a complete spectrum, which we've been unsuccessful in replicating via synthetic UV bulbs) keep bacterial and fungal growth in check. The wind keeps things ventilated.
In a small indoor enclosure, it is simply impossible to provide all of the elements needed to create a healthy bio active environment for a small mammal who produces an astronomical amount of waste.
Cohabitation is keeping two or more animals together in the same cage.
This is not recommend for hedgehogs unless it is in pairs of mother/daughter or sister/sister in which the pair has been together since birth ( or birth of the daughter).
Anyone who attempts cohabitation should provide the animals with a very large cage containing two wheels, hides and feeding stations.
Even when provided with ample space and resources, females housed together can fight. The owner must have an extra cage on hand and be prepared to separate the two animals at any time.
Seemingly happy cohabited hedgehogs have suffered illness as a direct result of the shared living arrangement. Such illness includes; physical injury, torn out eyes, and malnutrition from the resource possession of cage mates.
Two males should never be housed together. Males can mutilate each other's genitals and even kill one and other
In their natural environment hedgehogs are very active. Hedgehogs travel great distances in search of food, water, mates and for territorial maintenance and defense.
In Captivity, the cages we provide could never compare to the 2+miles wild hedgehogs travel each night.
This is why providing a wheel is very important. A hedgehog will expel it's energy and fill it's desire for movement by running on the wheel.
A solid bottomed 12 inch wheel will provide most hedgehogs with enough surface area to exercise comfortably. For obese or very large animals, a larger wheel may be required from a specialty pet product company.
Some animals run on their wheels for hours at a time. Others use wheels more sporadically and for shorter sessions. Both of these preferences are normal for pet hedgehogs.
A hedgehog who suddenly stops using it's wheel should be observed for injury or over grown toe nails.
It is important to remember that hedgehogs are most active at night and may not be witnessed exercising.
Hedgehogs tend to defecate while they walk and run. A hedgehog will defecate while on it's wheel. The feces will either get trampled as the wheel turns or flung across the cage.
It is important to keep wheels clean and disinfected. Some owners wash the wheel daily, every other day, or change out the wheel with a clean 2nd wheel as needed.
Properly disinfecting the wheel is very important.
Procedure for disinfecting wheels
1.) Scrub the wheel with dish soap and warm water to remove all debris.
4.) Wipe or spray the wheel down with a 1:9 bleach water solution.
5.) Allow the wheel to air dry.
6.) Put back in hedgehog's cage.
Rubber, plastic, and vinyl toys are easy to clean and rare to cause injury ,pending there are no sharp edges. Obtain toys that are large enough to not be swallowed or stuck in the mouth.
Toys can be placed sporadically throughout a hedgehog's cage to provide points of interest. Toys can be switched out for new ones occasionally. However, major changes in decor should be avoided. Major or multiple changes in environment ( including which toys are present) may result in the animal no longer recognizing it's territory. This can cause stress or self injury. With hedgehogs small gradual changes are best.
Toys can be cleaned by following the procedure for disinfecting wheels.
Some social media groups state that plastic, rubber and vinyl toys are unsafe. The claims state that toxic chemicals are within the toys that will poison the hedgehog. These claims are unfounded. Any toy marketed for child use within the USA will be safe for a hedgehog. It is important to remember that just about everything we provide to pet hedgehogs is not "natural". Cages are made of plastic and other materials that an animal would never come into contact with in the wild.
Hides/ Hide Houses
Hide Houses are domes or shaped domes made for small animal use. They provide a "safe space" within the animal's cage.
The best hide houses are those made of plastic. Plastic hides can be cleaned by following the procedure for disinfecting wheels.
An alternate type of hide is a snuggle sack. Snuggle sacks are fabric pouches sewn together while offering an opening. The animal can crawl into the opening and lay inside. Snuggle sacks provide feelings of security and safety to the hedgehog. Wash snuggle sacks in the same way you would fleece.
Some owners provide their hedgehogs with a fabric mint stick that is made for cats. The fabric is scented and flavored with Mint. Hedgehogs really seem to enjoy mint sticks. Some mint sticks have a layer of netting over them that should be removed to prevent teeth from getting stuck in it.