• Environmental Enrichment

    There is always much emphasis put on improving the quality of life of animals that are kept in captive environments, whether in zoos, parks, or a pet environment. In the wild, our hedgehogs are used to ranging over a wide area, and experiencing many types of mental stimulation. In captivity, even in the nicest caging set up, there is still no comparison to wild experiences. Therefore, it is up to human caregivers to provide pet hedgehogs with a variety of experiences to prevent boredom and to stimulate activity.

    Probably one of the most important sources of entertainment for a hedgehog would be a solid surface exercise wheel. It is important for a hedgehog wheel to be of suitable size for comfortable running of a hedgehog, usually 12-15 inches in diameter. Since hedgehogs are not used to carefully placing their feet on their running surfaces, it is very important to have a solid running surface to prevent severe injuries to the legs that can occur from a hedgehog stepping through the bars on the more commonly seen rodent style wheels. For owner's comfort, it would be a good idea to look for quiet operation and easy cleaning. Some wheels are made with a plastic bucket for a running surface, and with skate board wheels for the axle assembly.

    Closely following the hedgehog wheel in popularity is probably the very most inexpensive toy that can be offered to a hedgehog, a plain cardboard tube from the center of a roll of toilet paper. Referred to as "tubing" by many hedgehog owners, hedgehogs seem to enjoy shoving their head into the end of a toilet paper tube and thrashing about wildly. It doesn't appear to be very enjoyable for a hedgehog, and many people witnessing it for the first time will promptly "rescue" a hedgehog from a toilet paper tube. However, when the tube is removed from the hedgehog's head, they often respond with a very irritated look, a huffle, and immediately shoving their head back into the toilet paper tube to continue thrashing about. There have been very few cases of a hedgehog actually getting a tube stuck, but if this is a concern for you, you can try running a slit lengthwise down the tube, though this usually ends up with the tube being completely shunned by some of my more determined tubers. Another variation on this theme with the same usage but a little nicer appearance would be a craft foam tube, made by sealing 2 edges of a rectangle of craft foam to make a tp sized tube.

    Many hedgehog owners also provide plastic cat balls with bells as toys for their hedgehogs. Some hedgehogs ignore them completely, while others enjoy shoving or carrying them around for long periods of time. When offered in conjunction with a tp tube, some coordinated hedgehogs will place the tube on their head, and then scoop the ball up in the other end of the tube, which apparently makes a very satisfying sound, though it can be particularly distracting with several hedgehogs tube-balling in the middle of the night. Other variations would be to hang a ball from the roof of the cage, allowing the hedgehog to bump into and swing the ball during their cage activities. There have also been a few hedgehogs reported to actually retrieve a ball that is rolled on the floor during out of cage time.

    Small stuffed animals, such as the McDonald's teeny beanies also make fun toys for hedgehogs. Very few hedgehogs are likely to chew on a toy, making these usually a safe object. These stuffed animals may be shoved, carried, or treated like a companion or offspring. There have been cases reported where a hedgehog would carry their stuffed toy from sleeping area to food dish to water to wheel or litter pan.

    Some hedgehogs seem to enjoy playing with small plastic toy cars or trucks, such as the kind sold for sandbox play. These must always be closely examined for loose parts or sharp angles. One highly recommended vehicle would be a plastic dump truck. These toys may be pushed, rolled, climbed on, or otherwise manipulated.

    As you can see, there are no set rules for hedgehog toys. In order to consider something for a toy, you need to ask the following questions. Can it be climbed on, carried, shoved, or otherwise manipulated? Does it have any sharp edges? Any loose threads? Easily removed small parts that can be swallowed? If not, then you may have a potential toy for your hedgehog. As long as it is judged to be safe, then everything else is up to your particular hedgehog. Not all hedgehogs enjoy the same things. Have fun!

    Photo courtesy of terrapinhedgehogs.com