Hibernation for pygmy hedgehogs isn’t advised for many reasons and this can lead to much confusion for owners.
This is largely due to the fact that hedgehogs, in general, are known to naturally hibernate in the wild.
We have put together this easy to follow guide that clears up the confusion and helps you keep your hedgehog healthy and safe if they attempt hibernation in captivity.
We will answer your hedgehog hibernation questions including…
Why Is Hibernation Unhealthy For Pygmy Hedgehogs?
At first, it might seem a little odd to suggest that a pygmy hedgehog shouldn’t be allowed to hibernate because after all, they hibernate in the wild right?
Well, actually they don’t…
Veterinary experts such as Veteriankey states that African pygmy hedgehogs aren’t exposed to extreme cold or heat in the wild.
This means that they have virtually no need to hibernate like other hedgehogs such as the European hedgehog.
This brings us to another and even more important point.
The RSPCA suggests that hedgehogs weighing less than 500g will struggle to survive winter hibernation.
Below you can see the average weights of both the African pygmy and European hedgehog…
Average Weight Of European Vs African Pygmy Hedgehog
|African Pygmy||450 g|
From the table above, you can see that adult European hedgehogs can easily put on more than the 500g of weight that’s recommended for hibernation.
African pygmy hedgehogs, on the other hand, are generally under the minimum weight recommended for hibernation even when fully grown.
Why Is Weight Important to a Hibernating Hedgehog?
One of the reasons why weight is so important for hibernation is that it helps to keep the hedgehog warm and regulate their body temperature as they sleep.
Another reason is that the extra fat or weight they hold is used as fuel and they will slowly burn this to keep them fed and healthy.
Over the course of the hibernation, the hedgehog will slowly lose some weight, if they don’t go into hibernation with the recommended weight then they will have a big chance of not being able to support themselves throughout the process.
This means that they can suffer serious health complications and even death if the hibernation doesn’t proceed correctly.
Now let’s look at why pygmy hedgehogs attempt hibernation so you can stop this from happening…
Why Do Hedgehogs Attempt to Hibernate?
In the wild, hibernation is triggered in hedgehogs by 3 main factors which are a drop in temperature, a lack of food available and shortening of day time hours.
In captivity, there should be a constant supply of food and the daylight hours in your home should roughly remain the same so the main factor will usually be a drop in temperature.
Hedgehogs love a temperature of between 70º – 85ºF and this is backed up by the experts at VCA-Hospitals, who state these exact temperatures as optimal for hedgehogs.
As a general rule of thumb, if your hedgehog is exposed to a temperature of around 68°F or below for a sustained period then this could trigger a hibernation attempt.
The Correct Equipment to Prevent Hibernation Attempts
It’s highly important to use temperature regulation equipment to keep your hedgehog’s cage temperature from dropping below the recommended level.
If you are using a thermostat to regulate the temperature in the cage we recommend that you set it to a little higher than the 70°F mark as this will give you a little room for error if something goes wrong through the night for example.
You can find out the equipment we recommend to keep your hedgehog’s cage temperature regulated in this easy to follow guide here.
This 68°F rule isn’t set in stone though, as some hedgehogs will attempt hibernation at slightly lower or even higher temperatures.
For this reason, it’s important to monitor your hedgehogs the temperature of the room your hedgehog lives in regularly and check all the equipment you use for heating and temperature regulation.
It’s a good idea to have a handheld digital thermostat so you can check the temperatures manually against the readouts of your equipment.
Going this extra step will give you peace of mind that everything is working correctly and your hedgehog’s habitat is optimal for them to live in.
You also need to look for telltale signs in your hedgehog that can show they are going to attempt hibernation, which we will share with you now…
What Are The Signs Of a Hedgehog Attempting Hibernation?
As an owner, it’s important to know and understand in advance any signs your hedgehog could be giving off that could mean they are ready to attempt hibernation.
Hedgehogs can display most of these behaviours for many different reasons so just because they display one of these signs it doesn’t mean they are definitely trying to hibernate.
It does, however, mean that you should use your judgement and if you notice more signs then you will need to take action accordingly.
Take a look at the list below that shares the common signs that hedgehogs display when they are ready to hibernate…
- Acting Lethargic
- Decreased Appetite
- Drinking Less
- Feeling Cool
- Staying Curled Up Into a Ball
When hedgehogs are getting ready to hibernate they start to act lethargic. This is common with most hibernating animals and not just hedgehogs.
When an animal such as a hedgehog is hibernating, they need all the calories and fat stores they can to feed them and also keep them warm while they sleep through hibernation.
Once the hedgehog is thinking about going into hibernation, they understand that using these essential calories is not optimal so being lethargic helps to store the much-needed fat for hibernation.
It’s also common for them to be wobbly on their feet too. This can be a little confusing as hedgehogs can suffer from ‘wobbly hedgehog syndrome’ which isn’t related to hibernation.
Another tell-tale sign that your hedgehog is ready for hibernation is when they feel cool on their belly or under the chin.
The other signs such as decreased appetite and staying in a curled up ball are all things you need to look out for too.
How Can I Ensure My Hedgehog Won’t Hibernate?
It’s much easier to prevent hibernation than it is to reverse it and following the steps we outline below can make sure that your hedgehog will never feel like they need to attempt hibernation.
Take a look at our list of actionable steps below…
- Keep the cage temperature between 75° – 85°F
- Use high-quality thermostat and heating equipment to keep the cage temperature consistent
- Check the cage temperature daily with a hand-held digital thermometer
- Make sure your hedgehog has fresh daily food and water supply
- Have an alternative power and heating source in case of power cuts and emergencies
- Ensure there are no drafts from windows or outside doors near the cage
- Always allow your hedgehog plenty of bedding in the cage so they can sleep in a warm nest
What Can I Do If My Hedgehog Attempts to Hibernate?
If your hedgehog is fully or even partially hibernating then we would always advise that you seek the advice of a veterinarian immediately.
If your hedgehog is just sluggish and cold then it’s possible to sometimes reverse the hibernation attempt, although we would recommend that you first speak to your health care professional to get their thoughts.
To reverse a hibernation attempt, you will need to slowly heat up your hedgehog, this is important as heating them up too quickly can cause thermal shock.
Here are some effective ways that you can slowly increase the temperature of your hedgehog…
- Increase the cage temperature to around 78°F
- Cover the hedgehog with bedding to slowly increase their temperature
- Alternatively, put the hedgehog next to your skin and use your clothes as a blanket
What Should I NEVER Do If My Hedgehog Attempts to Hibernate?
It can be tempting to want to warm your hedgehog up as quickly as possible if they start to go into hibernation.
This is something you need to resist at all costs as it can cause something called thermal shock.
Thermal shock occurs when the body heats up too quickly and it can cause serious illness and even be fatal in hedgehogs.
You should avoid any kind of heating up method that is rapid, for example…
- Placing your hedgehog on a radiator
- Using a hairdryer to heat up your hedgehog
- Putting your hedgehog in hot or even warm water
- Using a heat pad to warm your hedgehog up
- Placing them next to a fire or any other artificial heat source
How Long Does It Take For a Hedgehog to Go Into Hibernation?
The time it takes a hedgehog to achieve a state of hibernation can vary depending on a number of factors.
With this being said, it’s likely that a hedgehog will fall into a state of hibernation in a matter of hours if the conditions are right.
This, however, will depend on factors such as how low the temperatures are in their environment as lower temperatures will speed up the process.
Should You Seek Advice From a Vet If Your Hedgehog Attempts to Hibernate?
We would always recommend getting the opinion of a qualified vet even if you managed to successfully reverse the hibernation attempt.
Sometimes hibernation can cause problems that only qualified professionals have the ability to recognise.
We understand that vet bills can mount up but it’s always better to be safe than sorry and hibernation can be fetal in hedgehogs.
So again, we would recommend getting your hedgie checked out by your vet even if everything looks ok.
Medical Disclaimer: Even though our article is largely based on the thoughts and opinions of vets and animal medical experts, Pocket pets forever are not medically qualified to diagnose or treat hedgehogs. None of the information in this article is meant to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian. If you feel your hedgehog is ill or their life could be in danger, please contact a veterinarian or medical expert immediately.