Hedgehogs & Hibernation
Hibernation season is upon us - but don't worry, we've got you covered! Follow these tips to keep your pet hedgehog healthy, warm and awake this winter.
Hibernation Is Deadly For Pet Hedgehogs
It's that time of year again, when the weather gets colder and we all pack on a few extra winter pounds. For wild animals, this means finding a cozy spot to curl up and sleep through the cold winter months. But for pet hedgehogs, hibernation is not an option. In this article, we'll explain why pet hedgehogs can't hibernate and provide some tips on how to prevent any hibernation attempts by your quilly friend.
Why Can't Pet Hedgehogs Hibernate?
Domesticated Pet Hedgehogs are different than Wild European Hedgehogs, even though they both belong to the same family, Erinaceidae. They are much smaller in size, among other key differences. All hedgehogs are naturally wired to hibernate when the weather outside becomes cold and snowy. Wild hedgehogs hibernate in order to survive the winter months in their natural habitat. During hibernation, their body temperature and metabolism drop significantly in order to conserve energy. This process is crucial for wild hedgehogs, who would otherwise not be able to find enough food to last them through the winter.
However, pet hedgehogs cannot hibernate because their metabolism does not allow it.
In fact, allowing a pet hedgehog to enter into hibernation (torpor) can be dangerous. Due to their small size, hedgehogs are susceptible to health problems when their body temperature drops too low. This can lead to dehydration, organ damage, and even death. Pet hedgehogs also have a higher risk of developing pneumonia while in hibernation. For these reasons, it's crucial that you do everything you can to prevent your pet hedgehog from a hibernation attempt!
There are several signs that a hedgehog is preparing for hibernation including decreased activity levels, increased sleeping, lack of appetite/thirst, and shedding quills. If you are unsure about anything or if you have any concerns about your hedgie's health please contact a professional!
How to Prevent Hibernation In Hedgehogs
Pet hedgehogs require a warm environment
Hedgehogs need temperatures of around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit - to survive. Most homes are not warm enough to meet a pet hedgehog's needs during winter months. Even if your thermostat is set to 75 degrees, the temperature of the floor / air is often much colder. That is why every cage should have a thermometer in it! In addition to ceramic heat emitters, I suggest having a heating pad or a microwaveable heating disk that can provide extra warmth for your hedgehog. Read more about heating your hedgehog's cage here.
Give your hedgehog plenty of exercise.
Exercise is essential for preventing hibernation in pet hedgehogs. Ensure your hedgehog has a suitable wheel in their cage at all times. Another good way to tire out your hedgie is to let it explore and run around inside a heated room in your home for at least 30 minutes a day. Be sure to "hedgie-proof" the room beforehand, and supervised closely the entire time, as hedgehogs are notorious escape artists!
Feed your hedgehog a high-quality diet
Monitor food and water intake closely. A common sign of hibernation is decreased appetite and thirst. You can also feed your hedgie treats like cooked meats such as organic chicken or turkey (without the skin)!
Proper light cycles for hedgehogs
Make sure your hedgehog's cage gets enough sunlight as the days get shorter. A lack of light can trigger a hibernation attempt. African pygmy hedgehogs require 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness every day. This can be provided by natural sunlight or artificial light, such as from a lamp. It's important to make sure that the light is not too bright, as this can be harmful to their eyes. It is also important to make sure that your hedgehog has a place where it can hide from the light if it wants to. This will help them feel more comfortable and less stressed. A small box or even a paper bag with some holes cut out for ventilation will work well.
Take your hedgehog to the vet
If your hedgehog seems sluggish, tired, or has lost its appetite, this can quickly turn into an emergency situation. Please reach out to your veterinarian as soon as possible, as time is of the essence. The first thing you want to do is place the hedgehog on your chest and cover with warm blankets or towels from the dryer to slowly raise its body temperature. Your body heat will slowly warm them up. Do not place your hedgehog in water or try to warm them up too quickly. Rapidly heating them up is not good either.
Hibernation attempts in pet hedgehogs
If your hedgehog has attempted hibernation, it is best to be seen by your veterinarian. It is crucial that you bump the temperature of the cage up, as they are likely to attempt hibernation again. You also need to be aware that because metabolic rate drops significantly during a hibernation attempt, this can result in a damaged immune system and even a shortened lifespan. Hedgehogs are prone to respiratory infections, which can occur after getting too cold. So monitor your hedgehog's behavior carefully for the next 1-2 weeks if they have attempted hibernation.
If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to us in the comments! We hope you and your hedgehog both stay cozy and toasty warm this holiday season!
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