The hedgehogs commonly kept as pets in North America appear to by a mix of species, originally native to Africa. They are considered primarily insectivores (insects make up the largest part of their natural diet).
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.
Thanks to selective breeding, hedgehogs are now available in a huge array of color variations.
They are quite compact, reaching a size of around 5-8 inches in length.
Estimates of expected life span vary widely, anywhere from 3-8 years, although 4-6 years is probably most typical.
Fairly low maintenance pets, and while they don't mind handling once used to it they don't really seem to "crave" human interaction.
Choosing a Hedgehog
make sure young hedgehogs are handled regularly.
Getting a young hedgehog (6-8 weeks) is the best way to make sure your hedgehog will get used to being handled.
If possible, try to pick up the hedgehog to gauge its reaction - try to choose one that will allow itself to be picked up and maybe even turned on its back without rolling into a tight ball and staying there.
Look 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 diarrhea. Also make sure the hedgehog is in good body condition - neither too thin nor overweight (a good place to check is around the legs - watch out for rolls of fat as obesity is a common problem).
Males and females generally are equally good pets.
Plan on only one hedgehog to a cage. Most hedgehogs are perfectly happy to be kept alone and in fact often fight if kept with other hedgehogs
Allow a bare minimum of 2-3 square feet of floor space (bigger is better).
Many types of cages can be used - but always avoid wire floors and be cautious about the spacing of wire sided cages - the narrower the better.
Aquariums, plastic commercial cages or even modified plastic storage bins can be used. Clear plastic storage bins can be modified to allow adequate ventilation (a row of holes around the top of the bin and/or in the lid works okay).
Bedding: aspen shavings or newer alternatives to wood shavings can be used, but avoid cedar shavings (see Top Ten Alternative to Cedar Shavings for more information). Pine is probably okay, especially kiln dried, but there are alternatives available. Some people use indoor outdoor carpeting such as Astroturf (using a heat source to seal the edges to threads do not come loose) to line the cage.
Litter box: a small shallow pan with dust free cat litter can be provided and may become the hedgehogs primary bathroom area. Do not use clumping litter though.
House/Hide: a cardboard box or some other enclosed hiding place should be provided as a secure haven for your hedgehog.
Exercise: a wheel provides great exercise and helpful in preventing obesity. An open sided, solid surface wheel is necessary, and should be quite large (greater than 10 inches, at a minimum).
This is a controversial area in hedgehog care.
For many years, high quality cat food has been the recommended food of choice, supplemented and mealworms or crickets and other treats.
Commercial hedgehogs diets are now available, which are not ideal but are, for the most part, better formulated for hedgehogs than cat food (although some hedgehogs do not like them as much as cat food). These can still be difficult to find in pet stores, but are becoming more widely available.
In any case, a mixture or variety of foods is probably the best choice, for both health and preventing diet boredom.
Hedgehogs tend to love mealworms, and make a good occasional treat, but these should be fed nutritious foods such as fruit, vegetables and dog food before giving them to the hedgehog. Crickets can also be fed.
Small amounts of hardboiled egg, baby foods or fruit can be given as occasional treats. Treats should be fed in moderation only, however.