“Oh you’re the photographer with the hedgehog! What’s that like?” I get this a lot. Not complaining, I adore talking about Bramble to anyone willing to listen, and I totally understand the intrigue. But I always try my best to give a well-rounded account of my experience. She is wonderful and loveable but there’s also a lot of negative aspects of keeping an African pygmy hedgehog as a pet. So if you’re thinking about it, here’s my best advice and list of pros and cons after 4½ years’ experience.
African pygmy hedgehogs are, if socialised properly, very sweet and curious animals. She’ll happily snuggle into my or Nathaniel’s arms to sleep; or explore our home and annoint whenever she comes across something new. It’s a joy to watch her be a happy hedgehog. As long as she’s in a good mood (which is 95% of the time), Bramble’s muscles will be relaxed so her quills lay flat.
Relative to other household pets, pygmy hedgehogs do not need as much human contact. They don’t mind but also don’t need us. This independence comes with an important caveat: throughout her entire adolescence, I made sure she was playing with myself, Nathaniel or a friend (when we were away) every single day for at least 30 minutes. Without this socialisation stage, she wouldn’t tolerate us handling her as an adult now.
Bramble is fully-grown and only weighs 370g so doesn’t eat much. The recommended food for pygmy hedgehogs is good quality chicken-based dried cat kibble that is high in protein and low in fat. Pro-tip: a recipe developed for indoor cats means their poop won’t smell as bad! Bramble only eats 5-10 pieces of Purina Go Cat a day and stops after she’s full… a lesson I’ve yet to learn. As a treat, we also give her freeze-dried (and occasionally live) mealworms.
As long as they’re not in pain or highly distressed, pygmy hedgehogs make minimal noise which makes them apartment-friendly. At night Bramble can run for 5 miles so it’s important to invest in a sturdy silent wheel. With the doors of the room closed, this won’t bother anyone.
Pygmy hedgehogs can be litter-trained. We keep a tray of cat litter beneath her wheel, away from her food/water and sleeping areas. Like cats, they keep themselves clean and do not smell at all. We have only ever bathed Bramble twice in 4½ years, and those were oatmeal baths to soothe her dry skin. Aside from that, shallow foot baths for poop-y paws will suffice.
Native to Africa, pygmy hedgehogs don’t have enough body fat to hibernate through the European winter, and will die if they do. Therefore it’s crucial to keep Bramble’s cage at a minimum temperature of 23°C at all times. We keep an energy-efficient heater with a built-in thermostat directly underneath her cage.
Obviously hedgehogs’ quills are designed to hurt predators. If she’s in a bad mood, Bramble resembles a packed pin cushion with the sharp ends facing out. This usually only lasts for a minute when we first wake her up, but touching her during this time would be painful. When she meets someone new, she might also give their finger a bite. This isn’t an act of aggression, rather a test to see if this new thing is food, but her bite is strong enough to draw blood.
Although Bramble is a very well socialised and happy hedgehog, I can’t claim that she has any emotional attachment to us. Even though we try our best to give her a full life, I describe the reciprocal as… tolerance. If you’re looking for an affectionate pet, choose a lap dog instead!
I know fellow pet owners of other animals will also empathise with this one. Pygmy hedgehogs need their nails trimmed roughly every two weeks. Oh how Bramble will squirm and fidget if it’s me… but Nathaniel is the ultimate Hedgehog Whisperer. So thankful that she’ll stay perfectly for him (evidence here).
We recently had an awful experience with Bramble and, sadly, she had to have a part of her paw amputated. Luckily the only ‘exotic animal’ vet in London that takes private appointments is around an hour away (CJ Hall). I imagine it’d be a lot further for many hedgehog owners. Unfortunately pygmy hedgehogs are prone to cancer, and up to 10% develop Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome which sounds deceptively jolly but is an awful degenerative neurological disease. Before you buy one, make sure you have the financial and logistic means to care for your hedgehog responsibly. Also do your research to find a reputable breeder to minimise the risk of WHS.
I hope my honest advice has been helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any other questions about African pygmy hedgehogs. You can follow along with Bramble’s adventures over on Instagram.