Among the more popular questions is "what kind of cage should I use to house my hedgehog?" Well, to be honest, there are a wide variety of options, with some being more suitable than others. Obviously you can technically keep your hedgehog in just about anything. Look at us as human beings. We don't need a house, running water, electricity, or any of the other things we have become so accustomed to in our everyday lives in order to survive. We can be stuffed into concrete jail cells with hardly enough room to walk around and still manage to live for years and years. But is this really an ideal situation? Is it the kind of situation that would keep us feeling our best long into old age? Probably not. We were not created to live in confined spaces and neither was your hedgehog. This is why it is important to not only provide a cage with adequate space, but to also allow your hedgehog some time to explore the environment outside of their home. This can either be accomplished by using a play pen of some sort, or by means of supervised free roaming. Please consider how you would like to live if you were in the same situation as your hedgehog. First these are cages not suitable for hedgies.
Hamster cages, Rat cages, and some Guinea Pig cages - Time and time again I have people come to me stating they have purchased one of these and want to know if it will be okay for them to use it throughout their hedgehog's life. I honestly love questions and encourage all who contact me to ask them freely, but come on, please use some common sense. This is an animal that will grow to be about 6 inches in length. Most hamster cages are under 15 inches in length and even shorter in width. Although some are quite large, many Guinea Pig cages are too small as well, so please pay attention to measurements when purchasing. The exception to this is if you plan to house a very young hedgehog in one of these cages for a very short amount of time. If your hedgehog is small enough that it can fit through the bars of a larger rabbit cage, these smaller cages may be useful just until your hedgehog is large enough that it can no longer escape.
Glass Aquariums - These are unsuitable for many reasons, including poor ventilation which can lead to CO buildup, potential burn hazards when used with a heating source, and overall the width of most aquariums is not sufficient to accommodate appropriately sized necessities, such as a wheel.
Any cage with a wire bottom (including bird cages) - wire bottomed cages are absolutely ideal for rabbits. It helps keep to them clean, prevents burns to their feet caused by sitting in their urine, and helps offset a host of other health issues. But look at a rabbit's foot compared to that of a hedgehog. Rabbits have a long, broad back foot for resting and the bottom their feet is covered in an thick, ultra dense fur which prevents sores from forming. Even in this case, rabbits too need a resting mat of some sort in their cage, in order to give their feet a break now and then. Hedgehogs have little paws that look more like hands. The problem with wire cages is first, their feet, or portions of them, will often slip through the bars or grid. This is hazardous in a number of ways; one being it can lead to broken legs, should the hedgehog's foot get caught in one of the grid holes. Also, the constant rubbing and uneven pressure from the bars or grid on their paws can cause sores, as they do not have the same protective fur padding that rabbits do.
Solid Color Plastic Totes- Well how would you like it if you couldn't see the world around you? I am all for plastic totes as cages, but please make sure they are clear, see-through bins. Don't be a jerk.
Multi-level Cages - Hedgehogs are not like rats and hamsters. Unless you have a barrier preventing them from doing so, a Hedgehog will fall right off the edge of something without much thought. Although most short falls do no harm, they can potentially lead to injury. So unless your multi-level cage has barriers to prevent this, it is best to keep their habitat to a single story.
Now we will move on to some of the more suitable cage types.
Clear, Plastic Storage Totes- My personal favorite cage setup is a clear, plastic storage tote which has been modified to allow for adequate ventilation. This can be done be drilling holes in the sidewalls and either by removing a section of the lid, then replacing that section with screen, or by drilling many, larger holes there as well. We do sell these bins already modified with an attached water bottle in our shop, if you do not feel like dealing with the hassle of it yourself. Plastic storage bins are light and the easiest cage to keep clean. They also have an added advantage in the sense that hedgehogs are unable to climb the walls like they would in a wire cage, which can sometimes lead to injury. The only main drawback to using a plastic storage bin to house your hedgehog stems from the fact that hedgehogs need to be kept warm. Most breeders have an entire room dedicated to their hedgies and therefore use either a space heater, or a wall heater to heat the entire living area. However, for pet owners this really is not practical. I will get into the different types of heating sources in a different post, but what is most commonly used is something called a ceramic heat emitter. Ceramic heat emitters are essentially the same kind of heat lamp you would see when looking at a reptile setup, with the only real difference being that you do not use bulbs which produce light with hedgies. For more information on this, please see our post regarding heat sources. The problem with using a ceramic heat emitter over a plastic cage is that it becomes hot enough that I can melt the plastic. Therefore, if you plan to use this type of heat source with this kind of cage, you will want to keep the lid off and position the heat emitter so that it is not resting on the cage itself. This should be standard practice no matter which cage type you use, as you do not want your hedgehog to be burned by the bulb. You can ensure your lamp does not rest on the cage by either clipping it to a table or some other sturdy structure, or they do sell stands which were specifically designed for this purpose.
Wire Cages (plastic bottom) - Many of the plastic bottom wire cages available are intended for larger animals, such as rabbits and ferrets, and provide a sufficient amount of space for your hedgehog. They are not as easy to clean, as the entire top must be removed to do so, but if you only have one or two hedgies that would not be a huge deal. A quick note here is to make sure that you purchase a cage that has a top which does not rest on the floor. Urine and fecal matter will tend to gather around the bars, making cleaning more difficult. In addition, I have had some bad experiences with metal cages retaining a urine smell when the urine is allowed to get to the metal itself. The protective coating on the bars provides little protection from this in the longrun. As long as you avoid that downfall, these cages look much nicer than plastic bins and you do not have to worry about melting plastic when using a heat emitter. I have head stories of hedgies attempting to climb the bars, only to fall and break their leg when it became trapped in the bar spacing. I have not personally experienced this, but have heard stories from reputable people who claimed it has happened to them, so this should also be taken into consideration as a potential hazard.
C&C Cages- C&C cages are comprised of a series of C&C grids, generally held together with zip ties. In order to prevent climbing, you will need to line the inside of your cage with a thin, plastic sheeting called coroplast. From what I am told, this can be purchased at a variety of different home improvement stores, or through local sign makers. C&C cages are extremely easy to customize and allow you to fit the cage to your own living space. Keep in mind when building your cage that although hedgehogs are clumsy and therefore not meant to climb, it does not mean they do not try and often succeed to escape their cage, even without bars to use as leverage. Please make sure your cage is built high enough to prevent this from happening, especially if you have items they can stand on in the cage, such as huts.
When picking your cage, please ensure you keep your hedgehog's needs and natural tendencies in mind. Although they are only small animals, they have feelings just like any other living being. Inappropriate housing can lead to poor health, unwanted behaviors, injury, illness, and even death. Selecting the appropriate cage from the start can and will prevent many future environmentally associated complications.