'Im seeing so many posts from breeders and pet owners about the use of chicken brooders as a heat source. It really kills me to see people recommending them and felt the need to explain why I personally do not recommend them.
Hedgehogs need their ambient temperature to be between 72-80 degrees. Ideally, I like to keep mine at 75-80 degrees. Hedgehogs in captivity cannot hibernate properly. If a pet hedgehog's ambient temp (meaning their air temperature) gets below the recommended range, they can attempt hibernation. If a hibernation attempt is left untreated, it will be fatal to your hedgehog. This is why we require certain heat sources to keep our prickly pets toasty and warm.
I have a Brinsea Ecoglow brand chick brooder. Its not a cheapo brand, its one of the top brands of chicken brooders. I have the Brinsea 20, which means its suitable for up to 20 chicks. I have used it with chicks and had great success. The way the brooder works is that the chicks crawl under the brooder and push their backs against the heat plate to warm up. Chicks need to move to the heat source when they are chilly so that they can warm up. While it may minimally heat up the ambient temperature directly under the heat plate, it definitely doesn't heat up the ambient temp of the entire cage, and therefor would be useless for use with a hedgehog. A hedgehog wont stay directly under the brooder at all times. They are nocturnal and will roam their cage and run on their wheel most of the night which makes a brooder an unsuitable heat source for a hedgehog.
I think every breeder can agree that a reptile heating pad can cause severe burns on hedgehogs and aren't recommended. When using a heating pad with a hedgehog, it will not warm the ambient temperature enough. When the hedgehog gets cold, it will retreat to the heating pad and wont move until its completely warm, which can result in serious burns. If the ambient temperature of the entire cage is kept at the appropriate temperature, the hedgehog wont need to retreat to an area to warm up, which means it wont ever attempt hibernation. The same goes for a chicken brooder. A chicken brooder works the same way as a heating pad, the animal must be touching the brooder to get warm.
A heating pad like the zoo med under the tank heater (popular, well known brand) gets approximately 105-110 degrees. As stated above, heat pads can cause severe burns in hedgehogs. They can also cause severe burns in snakes if there isn't a thermostat to regulate the temperature, but hedgehogs need AMBIENT temperature.
I did my own little test and brought in my Brinsea chick brooder to test the temperature difference of the brooder vs a heating pad (reminder that a heating pad is known to cause burns in hedgehogs). If I hold my hand against the brooder plate, it eventually gets too hot for my hand to comfortably stand the heat. Using a infrared thermometer, my brooder is at 119.4 degrees which is significantly higher in temp than a heating pad, which is known to cause burns.
Since brooders do not raise the ambient temperature of the whole cage (like a ceramic heat emitter or an entire room that is heated to the appropriate temperature) they are not a sufficient heat source for a hedgehog. When you also add in the fact that these brooders get quite a bit hotter than a heating pad, its quite obvious that these are dangerous and should only be used for their intended purpose- chickens.
The only heat sources that are safe for a hedgehog is a ceramic heat emitter hooked to a thermostat set to the required temperature or to heat an entire room with a space heater with a digital thermostat.
I understand that heat emitters can seem like a fire risk. They do get hot to the touch! That's why its extremely important that emitters be secured in place and be plugged into a thermostat. Rooms heated with space heaters can be equally dangerous if not properly used. That doesn't make a brooder an appropriate heat source for a hedgehog.
Hedgehog's are insectivores/opportunistic omnivores. Its important that feeder insects be part of their diet in addition to their kibble. Insects with an exoskeleton like crickets, roaches and mealworms, contain Chitin. Chitin (pronounced ki-tin), is a fiber found in arthropod exoskeletons. Chitin is extremely important in a hedgehog's diet as it aids in digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
Next up, the Ca:P ratio. Ca:P ratio is simply the amount of calcium compared to phosphorus. Why is this important? When the phosphorus is too high, it interferes with how the calcium is absorbed and can even lead to the animal being deprived of calcium.
Some bugs, such as mealworms have a Ca:P ratio of 1:17. Since the phosphorus in mealworms is so high in comparison to the calcium, they should not be fed daily or in large amounts.
Hedgehogs lack a cecum which aids in digesting plant matter. Since hedgehogs don't have a cecum, they don't fully benefit from the nutrients of the vegetables and fruit they are eating. Fruits and vegetables can be fed as a treat but only in very small amounts. So how do we get those important nutrients from the fruits and vegetables to our hedgehogs? Through feeder bugs!
Gut loading is a term used to describe feeding nutrient rich vegetables and fruits to feeder bugs prior to feeding them to your hedgehog. Gut loading bugs 24 hours prior to feeding them to your hog, allows the bugs to absorb all the nutrients from the plants. By feeding gut loaded bugs to your hedgehog, you are providing them with nutrients that they wouldn't be able to absorb on their own.
Putting it simply, bugs are important to feed and some bugs are better than others.
Let's start with black soldier fly larva (also called phoenix worms and calci-worms). These larva are naturally packed with calcium, hence the nickname calci-worm. These bugs are so naturally filled with nutrients that they don't need to be gut loaded. With a Ca/P ratio of 2.5:1 combined with the fact that these bugs are so nutritious, makes these one of the healthiest feeder bugs.
Mealworms are one of the most popular feeder bugs because they are so easy to raise at home, but this doesn't make them the best bug to feed. As stated above, mealworms are quite the opposite in regards to black soldier fly larva. They do contain chitin, and that's good, but because their Ca:P ratio is 1:17, these bugs can actually deprive the hedgehog of calcium if they are fed in large amounts all the time. This shouldn't make you think that they cant be fed, hedgehogs love them, just feed a few mealies per week.
I'm running out of time to finish this post, but it's something to consider when choosing feeder bugs and the amounts to feed. Variety is also extremely important, we want our hedgehogs to get as much nutrients as possible. Make sure you switch up the bugs every now and then. My hedgehogs LOVE roaches and horn worms! As well as pinky mice, whole prey foods are an excellent source of calcium!
African pygmy hedgehogs need to be kept at a temperature of 75-80 degrees. When the winter months come along, there are some things to consider to make sure your hedgehog stays warm. If a hedgehog gets too chilly, it will attempt hibernation. Pet hedgehogs are not equipped to hibernate, a hibernation attempt can lead to death.
1. The first thing to consider is the cage type. Midwest cages are quite long and may need multiple heat sources. Barred cages are open and don't hold heat well. Monitor temperature with multiple thermometers throughout the cage. You may need to bump up the temperature of the heat source.
I prefer plastic tote cages, they hold heat pretty well.
2. Dont keep the cage on the floor. The floor can be cold and drafty. Try putting the cage on a stand or dresser.
3. Keep your cage against an inner wall and away from the windows. Exterior walls and windows are drafty.
If you notice your hedgehog being lethargic, walking with a wobble and/or has a cold belly, this is likely a hibernation attempt. Warm your hedgehog by placing them on your bare chest or belly.
Do not warm your hedgehog in a bath, the quick temperature change could lead to shock.
Once your hedgehog is warmed up, you will need to figure out how to keep your setup warmer and less drafty. If your hedgehog does not improve within 30 minutes, a visit with the veterinarian is needed.
Quills or spines? All quills are a form of spine. Confusing, I know. A spine is a word for any hard, pointed, appendage on an animal. For example sea urchins, lizards, fish and hedgehogs can all have spines. The word "quill" is more specific. It describes the type of spine that you are referring to. For example, a porcupine quill.
I've acquired some quills of the North American porcupine, African porcupine and the African pygmy hedgehog and wanted to share some differences between the three.
From left to right: African pygmy hedgehog quills, North American porcupine quills, African porcupine quills
All Quills are modified hairs that are made from keratin, the same thing that our fingernails are made from! Hedgehogs have very durable quills that are difficult to break. The quills are all relatively the same length, under 1". Their quills are not easily released, instead they are anchored into the skin with a bulbous follicle. When threatened the hedgehog uses its quills by completely balling up to protect their soft underbelly. Hedgehogs are also quite resilient to falls, thanks to their quills!
North American porcupine
Contrary to popular belief, porcupine quills are not poisonous and porcupines cannot shoot their quills. American porcupine quills are 1-3" in length, loosely rooted, easily released and tipped with barbs that get stuck into the skin of their predators. Each individual quill has up to 800 backward facing barbs that act like hooks. The quills are extremely sharp and pierce through skin with only the smallest amount of force. The barbs make it incredibly difficult for the quills to be removed. American porcupine quills lie flat along the back. When threatened, the porcupine will raise its quills to protect themselves from the attacker.
Barbs on the tip of an American porcupine quill
African porcupines are much larger than American porcupines. They have quills of various lengths, ranging from 1-13" long. The quills are hollow and can break without much force. Their quills are also loosely rooted and easily released, but unlike American porcupines, their quills are smooth and unbarbed. When threatened by a predator, the African porcupine will run backwards and ram the attacker with the short, thick spines on its rear.
African porcupine quills
There's a few things to consider when choosing the right cage for your hedgehog. You'll want a cage that is the appropriate size, can be sanitized and is safe for your hedgehog. Bars, platforms and ramps can cause injury and should be avoided. I've taken some popular cage options and broke them down into pros and cons.
I always recommend totes for cages. I find that the 105-106 qt totes from Walmart and Home Depot work the best for us. They are by far the safest cages for your hedgehog.
Midwest Guinea Pig Habitat
The midwest cages are another option if you want something other than a tote. These work great with fleece!
C&C cages can be made with grid storage cubes and coroplast. These are also great cages for people that prefer fleece bedding. Coroplast will need to be 8-10" tall.
Critter Nation Cage
These cages aren't my favorite, but that's just a personal preference. Many people use them and like them. All ramps and platforms need to be removed. Both sections (For a double, singles can be purchased too) need to be lined with coroplast to create two cages. you will need to figure out a way to secure the lamp.
Wooden Cages & Hutches
I don't always recommend these wooden cages, mostly because it takes a lot of effort to make them safe and sanitary. I'm on the fence when it comes to wooden cages.
While these cages are the most appealing to look at, wood is near impossible to sanitize. The the urine will soak into the wood and harvest bacteria. There are several ways to seal the wood but it will take some time and patience. Use a water based polyurethane to seal the wood. The cage will need to air out until there is no odor from the sealant.
Alternatively, you could line the whole inside of the hutch with coroplast without the risk of using the polyurethane.
You would also need to install a light socket that is rated for the wattage and can withstand the heat from the heat emitter.
Plastic and Wire Cages
I dont recommend these types of cages because they have bars. Hedgehogs are climbers and they can injure themselves on the bars. There have been cases of hedgehogs getting their heads stuck between bars, broken legs, bruising and injuries from falls. There are several different varieties of these cages available. Some also have platforms and ramps which are not suitable for a hedgehog. Hedgehogs have poor eyesight and aren't the most graceful creatures on earth.
Aquariums and terrariums
I do NOT recommend tanks of any kind. Tanks are designed to hold water/humidity and have poor ventilation, both of which will cause respiratory illness in hedgehogs. The cons definitely outweigh the pros on tanks.