Breed profile: Information on African pygmy hedgehogs

Breed profile: Information on African pygmy hedgehogs


  • Hedgehogs are insect eating mammals.
  • Hedgehogs are from Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand. They do not exist in the wild in North America, many people keep them as domesticated pets.
  • All hedgehogs are small and spiky.
  • Hedgehogs have very smooth quills like a brush. This makes them look more like a loveable pet than a dangerous predator.
  • The African Pygmy Hedgehog is also known as the four-toed hedgehog and is the smallest out of all the hedgehogs, so it is a great companion.

Behaviour and temperament

One of the many attractions of having this type of hedgehog as a pet is; they are quiet, entertaining and low maintenance. If you have a 9-5 job, they make great pets for you as they are nocturnal. Hedgehogs do not like human affection, although many are already hand trained so will be used to you picking them up when needed.

Even if the African hedgehog has been hand-tamed they will still need some time to get used to you. This means that they may curl up into a small spikey ball when you try to pick them up. If you are patient, you can cradle the hedgehog in its ball in your hand allowing them to unroll and start exploring and when they realise that you will not cause them any harm they will start to explore more and lay their spines flat.

With African hedgehogs, like many other species, they have a self-anointing habit which can make people feel uneasy the first time they see it. They do this to get rid of certain unfamiliar smells and if they don’t do this, the hedgehog can get itself into a bit of a fluster. No one really knows why hedgehogs do this, some say it is to relieve stress whilst others say it can be a form of protection.

Housing an African pygmy hedgehog

If you have more than one hedgehog, they should be housed separately as they like to fight each other.

If you have a more active hedgehog, they will need more room to explore, this is a minimum of 2 to 3 square feet. The bigger the space the better for your pet! It’s best to avoid cages with wire floors and wide spaces, as they may try and squeeze through it. An alternative is to use a large aquarium or plastic storage box with air holes in so that the hedgehog can wander around.

Shavings or recycled paper make a great bedding, you will need to avoid cedar shavings as the toxins can be harmful to small mammals. It maybe good to think about an indoor and outdoor enclosure, using carpet of fleece to line the bottom of the cage instead of using the loose shavings. Remember, if choosing to use carpet or fleece, make sure there are no loose ends that your pet can get tangled on.

Hedgehogs need a small litter tray to act as their primary toilet area. We suggest a cat’s litter tray so that the hedgehog can climb in and out. You will also need somewhere for your hedgehog to hide/sleep, you could use something like a small carboard box.

As African pygmy hedgehogs like to exercise you could provide a running wheel, this needs to be wider than the ‘normal’ exercise wheel as they need more room so they can steady themselves. Wild hedgehogs travel long distances daily so when kept in captivity they need to be able to exercise a lot.

Food and water

Hedgehogs need a balanced diet so mix mealworms, crickets and other small insects with high quality cat food that is grain free. You can now buy high quality hedgehog food that provides all the nutrients that your pet needs.

These hedgehogs love mealworms but when you are using them as a snack make sure they are still fed a healthy balanced diet. There is a process called gut loading which operates off the saying ‘you are what you eat’ so we can’t stress strongly enough to make sure your pet is getting the correct nutrition.

In the wild, hedgehogs love chasing and catching crickets, this can also provide mental stimulation for captive hedgehogs. You can also feed them hard boiled eggs, baby food and fruit, but this needs to be given in moderate amounts.

Make sure there is a water bottle with a metal tip or bowl for your hedgehog to drink out of.

Common health problems

Obesity is common in captive hedgehogs as owners feed them too many inadequate foods, leading to problems walking and running. Other common issues are skin and ear mites, this can be avoided by cleaning the enclosure regularly. Respiratory infections may also occur due to drafty living spaces so it’s best to ensure that your pet is kept somewhere draft free.

There is a generic condition known as Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) which causes progressive paralysis and basically looks like your hedgehogs back end is wobbly.

Finally, this particular species has very prominent eyes and can often get things stuck which may irritate. If you see your hedgehog holding its eyes or holding the eyelid closed, then call your vet to get further advice.

Purchasing your African pygmy hedgehog

Always research and see if there is a breeder local to you, they will be able to advise on temperament and will have been handled from a young age. Try and get a hedgehog aged around 6-8 weeks so that you can grow a close bond as it grows older.

You need to select a hedgehog you connect with and that is most open with you, meaning it doesn’t curl up in a ball when you handle it. They often turn over on to its back if they are comfortable with you. Male and female both make good companions so it shouldn’t matter what sex you pick.

When collecting the hedgehog make sure their eyes are bright, they have clear nostrils, healthy skin and should not be missing any quills. Also make sure that the hedgehog is not too thin or to heavy and not showing signs of diarrhoea.

British Pet Insurance Services offers a range of exotic pet cover levels, insuring; lizards, snakes, tortoises, parrots, birds of prey and small mammals. With up to £5,000 vet fees and a range of optional extras, select the level of cover to suit your needs.

Get a quote today