There are many different opinions on wheel covers and whether or not they are safe and cleanly. Personally, I love wheel covers. I've heard so many times over that wheel covers are dangerous, cause urine burn, snagged nails, etc. Usually I see these things in hedgehog Facebook groups that are run by people that aren't breeders and have never tried out a wheel cover for themselves. I have been using covers for years with many hedgehogs and would like to share my experience with them.
Lets start with whether or not they are cleanly. Wheel covers will wick away urine while the hedgehog is running and their feces will ball up and roll off the wheel. That sentence alone should answer that question. I find that wheel covers are much cleanlier than a wheel without one.
If you've ever owned a hedgehog, you've seen what a non-covered wheel looks like after a whole night of running. Its not a pretty sight! Wheels without covers will be caked with urine and feces. Some of the urine will run off while the wheel is turning but since the feces just gets trampled all over the wheel, most of the urine does too and it becomes a muddy mess. When they run for hours in their own poop and urine, the feces starts to cake onto the hedgehogs feet (often adorably referred to as poop boots).
When wheels have fleece covers, the moisture is absorbed and wicked away from the hedgehogs feet. Yes, eventually a wheel cover will get saturated in urine. That's when its time to throw it in the wash! If you don't clean your covers regularly, of course it could cause urine burn. Urine burn can also happen from cages that aren't cleaned regularly. It's important to any animals health to keep their living space clean. I recommend cleaning cages at least weekly. I wash all of my covers every 5-7 days. Some hedgehogs are messier than others and a cover may need to be washed more often. I have NEVER had a case of urine burned feet, because I wash my covers when they are dirty.
As for the feces, it almost never sticks to the wheel cover because the urine is wicked away and the cover wont be wet like a non-covered wheel. Poop boots can still happen but definitely not as frequently.
The other issue I see discussed are that wheel covers can cause snagged nails and are therefor dangerous. This one boggles my mind because most consider fleece bedding a safe option. Hedgehogs run around their cages as well, so why would fleece only be dangerous when on a wheel cover? Wheel covers are literally made with the same fleeces used as bedding which are blizzard and anti-pill fleeces.
I've been using wheel covers for about 4-5 years and have never had a snagged nail. I don't doubt that a snagged nail could happen if the hedgehogs nails aren't trimmed regularly, but the same goes for fleece bedding.
Lastly my favorite thing I hear, "Wheel covers are for lazy people. Just wash your wheel!". My wheel cleaning day consists of removing the covers and shaking them out (because I use pine shavings for bedding, which sticks to the fleece), putting them in the washer on a double rinse cycle, shake out the clean wheel covers into the washing machine to remove the remaining shavings, throw them in the dryer, vacuum the shaving out of the washing machine, wash the actual wheels with hot soapy water, then add a clean wheel cover to the clean wheel.
If I didn't use wheel covers, I would soak the wheels and wipe the feces away with a scrub sponge. Which of course is also hard work, gross and not fun to do, but its definitely not quicker or easier than the ritual that I do every week.
Do I think wheel covers are better than a non-covered wheel? Absolutely not.
Do I think its cleanlier to have wheel covers? Absolutely.
Do I think that everyone needs to use a wheel cover? Definitely not.
Do wheel covers cause urine burn? Nope, not if they cages are cleaned properly.
Do wheel covers cause snagged nails? Not if they are trimmed regularly.
It all comes down to preference! Personally, the cleaner feet is the winner for me!
There are many cage options but the safest cage for a hedgehog is a sterilite bin/tote. Simply because they cannot climb the sides or get their legs stuck like they could if they were in a cage with bars.
One question we get asked a lot is if they can use the lid of a tote cage. Some people like to use the lids to protect their hedgehog from other pets or for placing the heat lamp more securely. Lids can absolutely be used, but they must be altered to provide proper ventilation.
There are a few different ways to alter a lid and a few people have very generously allowed me to use their photos as examples so that you can see the different ways to make your lid.
This cage was done by cutting the entire center out of the lid and replacing it with hardware cloth. The hardware cloth is zip tied to the remaining lid frame. Depending on which wheel you have and the height of your tote cage, you may need to leave a section of lid open for the wheel to fit. This Carolina Storm Bucket Wheel fits perfectly in this tote.
This cage is similar to the first cage but has a spot cut out for the wheel to fit. This cage was created using the following tools:
These cages were done using wire storage cube grids. The middle section of the lid was cut out and the grids were zip tied onto the remaining lid. Notice the photo on the left has cut out a section for the wheel to fit. It still offers protection from cats but it leaves just enough room for the wheel to fit through.
These are just a few examples of altered lids but it gives you a good idea of how it can be done.
Hedgehog mites might sound scary but they aren't that uncommon. Good news though, they are easily prevented and/or treated!
What are mites?
Mites are tiny little arachnids that infest hedgehogs and damage their skin and quills.
Possible symptoms of mites:
If your hedgehog has one of these symptoms, dont stress out. Hedgehogs commonly have dry skin, so not every itch is a sign of mites. Baby hedgehogs go through stages of quilling, they lose their smaller baby quills and larger adult quills push through the skin. As you may imagine, quilling is extremely irritating. Quilling is another cause of both itching/scratching and also shedding quills.
How do hedgehogs get mites?
Hedgehogs can get mites from most beddings (including shavings, paper bedding and pellets) and also from other infected hedgehogs.
I think my hedgehog has mites:
If you suspect your hedgehog may have mites, you should seek treatment from a knowledgable exotics veterinarian. Usually mites are diagnosed by taking a skin scrape and putting the slide under a microscope. If the infestation is bad enough, sometimes the mites can be seen with the naked eye.
Treatment of mites:
Most breeders and veterinarians will treat an infested hedgehog with Revolution. Revolution is very easy to apply on the hedgehogs back and will last 30 days. Most hedgehogs are successfully treated with one dose of revolution but more severe infestations may require a second dose.
Some veterinarians may suggest Ivermectin. ONLY TOPICAL Ivermectin should be used. Ivermectin can be easily overdosed which makes the injections very dangerous. Which is why I personally recommend Revolution.
How can I help prevent mites?
Freeze all unopened bedding for 48 hours in a chest freezer. Alternatively or in addition, you can buy food grade diatomaceous earth and sprinkle it in their bedding.
Can my other pets get mites?
These mites are hedgehog specific. This means only hedgehogs can get them and they cannot spread to other animals like your dogs and cats.
Thats it! So if you suspect your hedgehog may have mites, dont freak out! Just seek a knowledgable veterinarian to get a diagnosis and treat accordingly.
'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 127 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.
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
A spacious cage option. All ramps need to be removed. Cage needs to be lined with coroplast to cover all bars. The lamp is usually secured to the frame of a shelf.
Wooden Cages & Hutches
I don't recommend these wooden cages, mostly because it takes a lot of effort to make them safe and sanitary.
While these cages are more 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
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. These cages can be altered by removing any ramps and platforms and by covering the bars with coroplast to prevent climbing.
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.