Hedgehogs are one of the few mammal species that are classed as true hibernators. This incredible feat of evolution is an incredibly beneficial survival instinct. It helps hedgehogs survive the cold winter months when food is scarce. But what about hedgehogs kept as pets. Can, or should, they enter hibernation too? Lets’ find out!
So, do pet hedgehogs hibernate? Pet hedgehogs can hibernate if the temperature in their environment drops too low for too long. Still, you should not allow them to do this as it can be dangerous. The immune system of pet hedgehogs is not adapted to the extreme temperature fluctuations or food scarcity their wild counterparts have to overcome.
In the wild, hedgehogs experience life very differently throughout the year.
And as such, they are much more resilient to drastic changes. Particularly in response to the seasons.
A pet hedgehog, on the other hand, is simply not adapted to this type of lifestyle.
They can be kept at a consistent temperature, with food provided – year-round.
So as long as you keep your pet hedgehogs’ environment at a consistent temperature, there should be no need for your spiky companion to go into hibernation.
And when we look more closely at this reserved state – we soon see quite quickly why.
Many people believe hedgehogs go into a deep sleep during hibernation, but the truth is much more amazing; they actually go into a state known as ‘torpor.’
This involves lowering respiration rate, heart rate, body temperature, and metabolic rate to the bare minimum levels required for survival.
It’s a survival mechanism.
We don’t need to put our pet hedgehogs through this.
We want them to thrive, not just survive.
Nevertheless, let us now take a closer look at the exact temperature a hedgehog mat attempts to hibernate, the signs it is happening, and how to prevent it altogether!
If you have a pet hedgehog, this is going to be pretty important stuff.
It literally could mean life or death, so be sure to keep reading!
What Temperature Do Hedgehogs Hibernate?
Different species of hedgehogs will enter hibernation at different temperatures. This state can be triggered as high as 20°C (68°F), or as low as 2°C (35°F) depending on the typical environment the hedgehog is used to.
As a general rule, hedgehogs will go into hibernation during the winter months.
However, there is some variation in the temperature levels a hedgehog can tolerate before hibernation is triggered, depending on which country they originate.
It is important to note that temperature changes are not the only triggers for hibernation but are a factor alongside other variables, including the availability of food and decreased daylight hours.
For example, hedgehogs in the UK are usually triggered when temperatures drop below 18 degrees Celsius and go into full hibernation when temperatures are consistently low (around 8 degrees Celsius).
Comparatively, hedgehogs native to Finland can tolerate much lower temperatures before hibernating due to their naturally colder climate.
The most commonly kept pet hedgehog species, the African Pygmy hedgehog, originates from Africa, so it is much more vulnerable to low temperatures.
For this reason, it is recommended that these hedgehogs are kept in an environment with a stable temperature ranging from 23-25 degrees Celsius (approx. 73-77 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid going into a dangerous state of hibernation.
Pet African Pygmy hedgehogs are also smaller than their European counterparts, so they have fewer fat reserves to sustain them over a long hibernation period.
Interestingly, not all hedgehog species hibernate, even though most have the capacity to if needed.
Hedgehogs from temperate regions don’t tend to hibernate at all because temperatures and food availability are relatively constant, the African Pygmy hedgehog being one such species.
This is also fairly common among hedgehogs that live in urban areas as they feed on the leftover foods that humans throw away.
Hedgehogs from particularly hot, dry areas go into a different type of hibernation, known as aestivation, in times of drought or when it is simply too hot to move about.
The whole hibernation process is an amazing example of evolution that involves dramatically reducing body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and metabolism rate in order to conserve energy in times of need.
During hibernation, a hedgehog can lower its body temperature down to just ten degrees, and its heart rate slows down to less than ten beats per minute!
Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs do not usually hibernate continuously through the whole winter.
The cycle can sometimes be interrupted periodically by short spells of hotter weather, in which the hedgehog wakes and goes searching for food.
When the weather gets colder again, hedgehogs will go back into hibernation.
They have also been known to wake periodically for several days at a time, either to forage or to search for a different nest site.
Should I Let My Hedgehog Hibernate?
The general consensus is that you should not allow your pet hedgehog to hibernate – it can be extremely dangerous. The process is even dangerous for wild hedgehogs as it leaves them vulnerable to predators and has a huge effect on their organs and internal systems.
However, wild hedgehogs have had much more practice than pet hedgehogs and have evolved to perfect the skill for survival.
If you keep your pet hedgehogs’ enclosure at a suitable constant temperature, then your spiky companion should have no need to hibernate at all.
You also need to be wary of drafts, as a cold breeze can be enough to cause hibernation
It is important to state that the most commonly kept hedgehog species, the African Pygmy hedgehog, is not adapted to be able to endure hibernation as Africa is warm all year round.
So, any attempt to hibernate for this species is most likely going to end up as a medical emergency.
When the metabolic rate lowers during the hibernation process, the immune system takes a huge hit.
This can leave pet hedgehogs vulnerable to sickness and even death because their immune systems are not as robust as a wild hedgehogs’.
So, if you find your hedgehog attempting to hibernate, it is essential that you act quickly.
I should mention that hedgehogs can sleep for up to 18 hours a day (20 for juvenile hedgehogs), only waking in the evening to forage.
So, make sure you do not mistake sleeping for hibernating, as hedgehogs can get very grumpy if woken during their daily nap!
Signs Your Hedgehog Is Attempting To Hibernate
As we have already discussed, hibernation is particularly dangerous for pet hedgehogs, so how can you tell if yours is beginning this process?
There are a number of tell-tale signs, although it is important to note that many of these symptoms can be caused by other unrelated diseases.
So always seek the advice of an exotics vet if you are concerned.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of hibernation is your hedgehog curling up into a ball that you cannot get them out of.
Some other typical signs include:
- Loss of appetite
- Not drinking
- Slow, heavy breathing
You can also get an indication by feeling your hedgehogs’ stomach; if it feels cold, your pet is most likely entering a hibernation state.
Lower heart rate is another symptom that you can feel for if possible.
When active, a hedgehogs’ heart rate sits between 180 and 280 beats per minute, which reduces to 140-150 bpm when asleep.
A substantially lowered heart rate of 2-50 bpm will indicate hibernation has begun.
It is important to state that it isn’t necessary for your hedgehog to exhibit all these signs in order for you to take action.
You should be able to spot if your hedgehog is not behaving like normal and act as quickly as possible if you are worried.
The number one trigger for hibernation is a low environmental temperature, so the first thing you should do is warm your hedgehog up.
You can do this by raising the temperature in the enclosure or wrapping your hedgehog in a warm blanket and placing it against your chest.
Do not warm your hedgehog up too quickly, as this can cause thermal shock, where all the blood flows out from the vital organs to the skin.
This can be fatal, so slow and gentle is always best.
NEVER place your hedgehog close to a radiator, fire, or directly onto a heat pad as it is simply too much sudden heat for your spiky friend to cope with.
Closely monitor your hedgehog after a hibernation attempt, as hedgehogs can be prone to repeat the behavior, especially if they are elderly.
If your hedgehog has not revived within an hour, you should seek professional help from a vet.
In the majority of cases, hibernation is the main cause for concern with pet hedgehogs.
However, there are numerous other ailments that can show very similar symptoms.
The worst-case scenario would be Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS), which is a deadly degenerative and neurological condition with a very low survival rate.
Thought to be genetic, it affects up to 10% of pet African Pygmy hedgehogs due to their limited genetic diversity caused by breeding.
Other potential causes of these symptoms include tumors, urinary tract infections, and other neurological diseases.
Estivation is another possible cause for concern if you have raised the temperature too high in your hedgehog’s enclosure or on a particularly hot day.
Similar to hibernation, this process involves attempts to lower body temperature and conserve energy.
Symptoms include decreased activity levels, lethargy, spreading out flat, and panting.
On hot days you should always ensure that your hedgehog has access to a cool surface to rest on, such as a slate tile, and monitor the enclosure temperature closely.
How To Prevent Hibernation In Pet Hedgehogs
Successfully preventing hibernation attempts in hedgehogs is all about temperature control!
There are various temperature regulation and monitoring devices on the market, so you must ensure you invest in these if you plan to keep a pet hedgehog.
You can even buy thermometers that have a Bluetooth connection so you can keep a close eye on any temperature fluctuations, even if you are not at home.
You also need to make sure that your hedgehogs’ enclosure is placed in an area of your home that is draft-free, and get into the habit of monitoring the temperature regularly and adjusting where necessary.
Do not rely on your home thermostat as this will not accurately represent the temperature in your hedgehogs’ environment.
As a general guide, you should not allow the temperature to drop below 20 degrees Celsius (approx. 70 degrees Fahrenheit) or rise above 26 degrees Celsius (approx. 79 degrees Fahrenheit), as this is when issues can arise.
It is essential to try not to put the enclosure in an area that remains dark, as hedgehogs need a steady photoperiod in order to stay healthy; keeping as close as possible to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark is advised.
If this is not possible with natural daylight, you can add artificial light to the enclosure and set it on a timer, but do ensure it turns off at the end of the day!
Aside from the surrounding temperature, water access can also be an issue.
A hedgehog wet from a bath or from accidentally falling into cold water can be triggered to start hibernating, so only offer a shallow water bowl and dry your hedgehog off thoroughly after a bath.
In the colder winter months, you can add extra precautionary measures such as heat pads.
But do make sure they are wrapped properly so your hedgehog cannot burn itself.
Remember, a radical temperature increase can be just as problematic as a drop in temperature, as mentioned above.
Do ensure that you have contact details for a local exotics vet in case of an emergency and seek advice if you are concerned.
Pet hedgehogs can enter hibernation.
But should they? Definitely not.
In fact, a lot of pet hedgehogs would not make it there – or survive for long if they did.
While wild hedgehogs are known to enter this state, we need to remember that this is a survival mechanism.
One that pet hedgehogs are not equipped to handle.
So instead, keep your pet hedgehog at a stable, consistent, and appropriate temperature year-round.
Ensure they have adequate access to light and food, and this survival mechanism will not need to be ever experienced.