Owning a pet can be quite special. By bringing an animal into their life, a person is signing up for a lifetime of love and joy, but with that comes plenty of responsibility for the animal’s welfare.
It is possible to keep a pet hedgehog outside but this depends on the climate in the area you live. If you live in a cool climate with cold winters then you absolutely cannot keep the hedgehog outside as it may start hibernating. But if you live in a warmer area, with very mild winters, then it may be possible for your pet hedgehog to live outside, at least for part of the year.
Although hedgehogs make great pets, caring for an animal that has to be kept in a cage inside your home isn’t for everybody. If you are someone who would rather not have a pet indoors, and are thinking of keeping a hedgehog as a pet, then you should consider the following.
Can you keep your hedgehog outside?
By far the biggest thing hedgehog owners need to take into account, when it comes to deciding if they can keep their pet hedgehogs in a cage outdoors, is the climate and, in particular, the minimum and maximum temperature that will be experienced.
Wild hedgehogs have developed a survival mechanism that allows them to survive when the weather is cold and there is little food around. This involves the hedgehog going into hibernation.
When hedgehogs hibernate they slow their body’s metabolism and heart rate down to such a low level that they can effectively sleep for months on end without waking or needing to eat or drink. This way they have a better chance of living through the cold lean months that would otherwise mean they starved to death.
But hibernation doesn’t mean a hedgehog is safe. Because their metabolism slows down so much they are susceptible to dehydration, hypothermia, infections and also starvation if it is cold for too long. Consequently, many hedgehogs in the wild still die during hibernation.
For this reason, pet hedgehogs should never be left at a temperature low enough to trigger their metabolism to start to hibernate as it can be bad for their health and they can easily die. Pet hedgehogs do not build up as much fat reserves as wild hedgehogs do so are less able to survive in hibernation.
Just as low temperatures can cause a hedgehog to start to hibernate, high temperatures can also be very dangerous for the health of hedgehogs. If a hedgehog’s temperature rises too much then they can overheat and suffer from heatstroke. This can be fatal so they can die, quite easily actually.
A temperature above 85ºF (30ºC) can be enough to start to trigger overheating, particularly if they are somewhere with very little ventilation.
Can you keep your hedgehog outside for part of the year?
If you are in a warm part of the world then, in theory, you could consider keeping your hedgehog outdoors during the summer.
But there are some things to consider first:
- Make sure that they will never be in direct sunlight as the temperature can become very high very quickly. This is particularly true as they are likely to be sleeping when the sun is out so will be in their sleeping quarters. There will be less ventilation in there so the temperature can climb to dangerous levels easily.
- They should be under some form of shelter as if there is heavy rainfall everything will become waterlogged in the cage which won’t be good for the hedgehog. Although rain may not actually harm the hedgehog, it could reduce its body temperature significantly if the rain is persistent. Keeping them under shelter should also help to prevent the sun from falling directly onto the cage as they should be in shade.
- Will they be safe? If they are outside then you obviously cannot keep an eye on them so easily. So would it be possible for another animal to try to get at the hedgehog such as a cat, dog or some form of wild animal if there are any where you live? Could a person enter your yard and steal the hedgehog?
These are all things to consider before placing the hedgehogs habitat outdoors, even for a few days.
Can you take a pet hedgehog outside occasionally?
There is a big difference between keeping your hedgehog outside and just taking them outside for a short while, perhaps to play with them and let them get some exercise.
If you are wanting to take your hedgehog outside, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Firstly, you are going to want to check the weather. Make sure that the temperature is well within the limits that a hedgehog is comfortable. You should also make sure that the weather is fairly mild. You don’t want your hedgehog to get caught in the wind or rain.
You need to ensure that the hedgehog is safe and particularly that it cannot escape. If a hedgehog escapes while inside your home then you have a pretty good chance of finding them again. But if they escape while in your yard then it may prove impossible to get them back as they can move quickly and can get through very tight spaces, particularly pygmy hedgehogs.
Finally, and most importantly, if you are allowing them to run on your lawn then make sure that no one has put any treatments on the grass. Things such as pesticides, weed killer, and grass feed all hold the potential of being toxic to animals, hedgehogs included.
If you know for certain that no treatments have been put on your lawn, and the weather is nice, feel free to let your little hedgehog explore! BUT – always stay with them unless they are in a secure enclosure.
What temperature do hedgehogs hibernate?
The temperature that will start hedgehogs going into hibernation varies depending on where they originally come from. An African pygmy hedgehog will go into hibernation at a higher temperature than one from a colder climate, for example.
The established rule of thumb is that pet hedgehogs may start to go into hibernation when the temperature starts to drop below 68ºF (20ºC) so they should never be allowed to get colder than that. That really isn’t very cold – in fact, it would be considered a relatively warm day in some northern parts. In some of the colder areas, a wild hedgehog, such as the European hedgehog, can keep active until the temperature gets significantly lower than that.
So if you live in an area where the temperature drops below 68ºF, even just at night, you should not keep your hedgehog outside year-round. Let’s face it, there aren’t that many places where temperatures never drop below 68ºF so frankly the best advice would be – don’t keep your hedgehog outside all year round.
How to tell if your hedgehog is starting to hibernate
If the temperature wherever you have been keeping your hedgehog has dropped below 68 degrees Fahrenheit then you may notice that his/her behavior has changed. They may become sluggish and lethargic. They may not be eating and could almost look wobbly when they move, if they are moving at all. They may even start to shiver and stay rolled up in a ball.
Of course, if they aren’t moving, then it is possible they could just be sleeping. So pick them up gently to see if they wake up as they would do normally.
Feel the temperature of their body, ideally underneath amongst their fur. Do they feel cool to the touch? You should know how warm your hedgehog feels normally when you pick them up so it should be obvious if they are significantly cooler than normal.
What to do if a hedgehog attempts to hibernate
Although it may seem counterintuitive, the one thing you shouldn’t do if your hedgehog starts to hibernate (know as attempted hibernation) is to try and warm it up too quickly as this can be very dangerous and can send them into shock.
So do not put it in a warm water bath or use some other means to increase its body heat quickly such as a hair dryer, a heat pad turned right up or putting them in front of your fire.
They need to be warmed up slowly and gently. The most recommended way to do this is to basically give him or her a cuddle. Place the hedgehog as close to your body as possible, perhaps even next to your skin, and then gently cover it with a blanket. This way your body heat will slowly warm it up. Ideally you should do this for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, this will be enough to get your hedgehog back to normal. However, if after this time, perhaps as long as an hour, the hedgehog is not active and back to normal but is still unresponsive then it is time to contact your hedgehog vet. This is a critical situation so even if it is out of hours, even at night, then you need to do this immediately otherwise you risk your hedgehog dying.
On balance it would not be a good idea to keep pet hedgehogs outside as trying to ensure that they never experience temperatures outside the range of roughly 70ºF to 83ºF would be almost impossible. The only way to reliably monitor their environment is to keep them indoors.