Care

Mystified by What to Feed

This post is because I am generally wary of commercial animal food and I am in a position where I have the support and funds to join those pet owners and professionals who are exploring more species-appropriate diet. This post is not to make those comfortable feeding a cat-food based diet to feel uncomfortable and is not a criticism; I am gathering my thoughts and I’m currently following a cat-biscuit based diet while my hedgehog settles in.

There are many ways to feed an animal and the choice I make might not be right for you. And that’s okay =)

In 1990 white bellied hedgehogs were imported into the US pet trade from Nigeria en-masse which later triggered the 1994 African Pygmy Hedgehog pet boom. [Research originally from Hedgehogs of Asgard here: The African Pygmy Hedgehog Hybrid or Not?]. Twenty-odd (at the time of writing) years is not long enough for us to really know on what food our beloved pets will thrive on, especially given the limited research available on hedgehogs. Hedgehog diets and what is best to feed them is always evolving, and moving away from a cat-biscuit base which takes inspiration from wildlife rescues rehabilitating wild European hedgehogs who need to gain weight fast to be released in a short space of time.

We have kept exotic animals for over eight centuries, their care originally verging on cruel through our sheer lack of understanding (A History of Exotic Animals in the UK – Guardian Article) of their dietary and behavioural needs. Thankfully through time and legislation how we care for animals evolves, just look at the BARF diet and how raw feeding for cats and dogs has taken off and become commercialised over the past years. I feel like I have chosen to have a pet hedgehog as understanding of their dietary requirements is evolving. Which means finding people who want to stay safe in the status-quo which is working, and hearing ideas from those who think we can do more and we can do better and aren’t afraid to try.

I already feed my cat a complete frozen (thawed for serving) raw diet, and I’m in the privileged position of having enough support and spare cash to do the same with what my hedgehog eats and how she lives. Progress will be gentle

Current sources of inspiration for a non-cat biscuit based diet for my hedgehog are:

Basic and Care Guide Described Diets

RAW Diets

Raw diet feeders who combine blended BARF principals with the inclusion of feeding ‘Veg Chop’, including the result of bloodwork

Insects Overview

This is my inspiration and my thoughts. I’m still reading, learning and calculating and hope to update as I learn more and as my hedgehog grows.

To be continued…

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Care, Housing

Heating my Hedgehogs Vivarium

Still inspired by how easy to customise a C&C cage is to build I’d originally wanted to make the same for my African Pygmy Hedgehog. As I saw more and more hibernation attempts discussed on African Pygmy Hedgehog Facebook groups I grew less confident that I’d be able to safely maintain the correct temperature in a well ventilated C&C cage. What would have been a spacious and airy habitat was quickly becoming a correx and plexiglass cocoon to guard against the variable temperatures of my tenement living room.

I decided to copy what everybody else was doing successfully and use a vivarium.

Having had an under-cage heat pad fail previously for a guinea pig, I was nervous about the heating system. The woman who bred the hedgehog I was getting gave me links to what I would need from SwellReptiles and explained how each piece of equipment fit together – though there are a lot of good write ups from well meaning hog enthusiasts too.

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clockwise from top left: Ceramic Bulb Holder, Ceramic Heat Emitter bulb (150w), Pulse Thermostat and High/Low thermometer probe, wire grips.
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The bulb holder is connected to the – thermostat plug. And the thermostat plug is connected to the – power socket. Then the holder-and-probe go into the house.

Once I had everything in front of me it started to make sense.

The thermostat has a probe which is placed into the vivarium so it can measure the temperature in the vivarium and decide whether it needs to give electricity to the bulb or not to increase the temperature. The temperature is set on a dial on the front of the thermostat and two lights indicate that the thermostat has power and whether it’s currently powering the ceramic bulb or not.

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The probe and ceramic bulb are fed into the vivarium through a hole at the top of the vivarium above an air vent. 

Once we fed the wire for the ceramic bulb and temperature probe for the thermostat we put the lid onto the vivarium.

The High/Low thermometer probe is sitting at the other side of the vivarium, it’s currently reading a low 17°C with the heating equipment off and no central heating running. With the central heating on the vivarium will only reach 20°C showing the need for the heating equipment in my flat.

To install the light I fed enough cable into the vivarium so the ceramic bulb holder would reach the center of the vivarium roof but the manual off-switch will still be accessible outside the vivarium. Position found, we started to hammer the wire holders in to hold the bulb holder in place.

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I’m sure there might have been an easier and more eye-safe way to do this.

Et Voila! 

A perk of having my head inside the vivarium for so long while hammering the wire grips into place is we were able to hear how loud tapping on top of the vivarium is INSIDE the vivarium. So we moved the vivarium away from the television and added a blanket to make for a calmer home.

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Care

Hedgehog Basic Equipment

Housing – Heating is Important

I wanted Chai in the living room where we spend the majority of our time. This room is the most likely to be warm on a sunny day, but it also subject to the same temperature dips as any other tenement flat with a cheap clunky central heater. African Pygmy Hedgehogs need an environment which is maintained at 22-24°C, my original plan to make a C&C cage wasn’t going to work.

A 4ft Vivarium with a Ceramic Heat Emitter connected to a pulse thermostat felt like the best option for me to maintain the correct temperature. We’ve chosen a position which won’t have a lot of direct sunlight but I’ve also got a thermometer which will show the maximum and minimum vivarium temperature.

We live with three cats two of whom are very curious. This isn’t an essential for all but to prevent breakouts and escapes we picked up two vivarium wedges.

There are a lot of different substrates available for hedgehog owners to use, since she’ll be without a wheel/litter tray and I can’t store a bale of cardboard-based bedding we’ll be starting with Carefresh and experimenting with different options as a nesting material.

Furniture

I really liked the result from other owners painting the Trixie Wooden House for their hedgehogs and got one as a sleeping box.

For the kitchen we have three ceramic bowls: one for water, dry cat biscuit mix and for feeding perishable cooked food.

Hedgehogs forage far and wide looking for their food, which is something I can’t mimic in captivity as a pet. What I can (and you should too!) do is provide her with access to an at least 12″ wheel, I’ve chosen a UK provider of the Carolina Storm Wheel. Since hedgehogs walk on the pads of their feet the smooth surface of the wheel won’t hurt her pads and the circumference should mean she won’t bend her back too much.

Grooming/Other

It seems inevitable that all hedgehogs will need a bath, they aren’t tidy with their toilet and can develop ‘poop boots’ or mess their quills, but the use of soap (even for human babies) will dry out their skin and make them feel incredibly uncomfortable. As a wash I’ve chosen to use Oatmeal (porridge oats) infused in warm water – I already eat porridge and I’m happy to share. In case Chai develops dry skin,or if she starts to quill, we have Flaxseed oil to add to her food to help. Finally, to keep her nails at a comfortable length we have a set of baby nail clippers.

A Large Pod Pet Carrier will be the Hog-exclusive carriage for transport, we already have plastic pet carriers for the cats but having been evacuated from my flat a few years ago when a neighbouring flat became unstable I like to have a carrier for each animal – just in case! Unfortunately the width of the product is not the floor space so the SnuggleSafe Microwaveable Heatpad doesn’t fit comfortably.

Finally, though I’ll go into this in more detail in other posts we’re using modified Storage grids kept previously for a custom C&C cage.

 


Based on starter packs online, this seems to be the minimum housing equipment needed to set up a safe home for an African Pygmy Hedgehog in my situation.