Hedgehogs tend to be very nervous by nature and do not enjoy nature's best eyesight. Hedgehogs rely primarily on sense of smell. Their sense of hearing is a distant second, and their vision is way down the list. In fact, vision is generally used mostly as a source of warnings of danger. Hearing serves both purposes -- tracking interesting sounds, or warning them of dangers, and smell is usually used for finding things they are used to.
Most hedgehogs prefer quiet environments and may react with fright at loud noises. They prefer dimmed lighting to bright sunlight or room lights.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and are active in the evenings.
Hedgehogs have historically been considered solitary creatures, that do not get along well with others, so there is no problem with having only a single hedgehog as a pet.
Some breeders keep at least females together in groups, and in some cases even males. In any case, keeping same sex groups together (though groups of females do better than groups of males, who still seem to be a bit more territorial) can tend to be just fine.
Kept together, hedgehogs will often curl up together to sleep, and if one is quite young, it might treat an older one as if it were its parent, and follow it around.
One of factors that helps in keeping groups of hedgehogs together is to provide adequate space. If things are too crowded, you can usually count on fights.
Hedgehogs that have been kept in groups, may have a tendency to become depressed if separated.
Keeping a male within vision, or scent range of a mother with hoglets (even if in separate enclosures) can result in the babies being eaten. If you do want more than one hedgehog, be sure you provide plenty of privacy for each.
Of course, opposite sex pairs are a definite no-no unless you want babies.
Although hedgehogs are being bred commercially, their behavior is that of a non domesticated animal. While young hedgies do not mind being held, many adults resist handling and struggle to be let loose. Adult females tend to allow handling more than adult males. Many individuals do not interact with humans, no matter how much handling they received when they were young.
In choosing a pet hedgehog, it is best to start young. About 6-8 weeks old (just after having been weaned). Hedgehogs are completely independent by this stage, and adapt to new owners much more readily when young. At this age, hedgies should be quite small, still -- about 2 or 5 cm long. Older hedgies are also fine, but may take a bit more time to get used to you, or if from a pet store, they may not have been played with and socialized for some time.
Look for bright clear eyes, and a well rounded body. Some hedgies do have a leaner, straighter body shape, but this is usually not a good sign in a young hedgehog. Hedgehogs should be energetic and inquisitive.
Check the paws and toes to make sure they all look good and the hedgie is able to get around just fine. If possible, you should also check the tummy for any problems, sores, or just to double check the sex.
If you are choosing a pet hedgehog during the day, despite of the time and lighting (in that hedgehogs are nocturnal), the best hedgehogs will wake up and come out to play readily, exploring and sniffing your hands without balling up or snuffing too much. Some snuffling is to be expected, but the quills should stay pretty smoothed down once your potential new little friend wakes up. Balling up, snuffling too much or being too afraid are not good signs. Of course, biting (not the tasting, gentle nibble type) is an instant black mark.
Hedgehogs rarely bite, but they might "puff up," and adult males may hiss. When a hedgehog does bite, it may be the animal's way of testing the world around him/her, so it can learn what is and what isn't food. It then may begin hyper salivating and create a foam, which is then spit onto itself. The process is called "anting" or "anointing."
Another reason for biting may be because it wants to be left alone or is feeling a bit stressed (this often occurs just after arriving at a new home -- don't be discouraged if it happens). Your hedgie is going to be nervous and upset over the change to a new home. Hedgies don't like change, and rely mostly on sense of smell to know their way around. Don't be surprised if your hedgie gets a bit withdrawn for a while. It takes time for a hedgie to adjust to a new home.
If a hedgehog bites, don't pull back, that would hurt more. Instead, push towards the animal. This causes the hedgehog discomfort and it will let go.
When you first get a hedgehog as a pet, it is important that your new friend come to identify your smell with that of a friend. Because of this reliance on sense of smell, if you are constantly changing perfumes, or sometimes use strongly scented items, you are going to have much more difficulty than normal, but by no means is it an impossible task.
The best way to socialize your hedgie is to spend as much time as you reasonably can (without
over stressing the hedgehog) and gently hold or play with him. A few minutes each day is far better than hours once a week. Hedgehogs that are thoroughly familiar with their human friends tend to be a lot friendlier.
Hedgehogs tend to be quite nervous in their temperament, and at first will generally duck their head down, accompanied by rapid snuffling or snorting. This presents a very prickly forehead to any possible enemies. The more used to you (and awake) a hedgehog is, the less they will duck down and snuffle, and the more their quills will be flat.
Properly handled, from shortly after birth, pet hedgehogs are very friendly, playful animals that will keep their quills smoothed down, and enjoy being with people. Once socialized with you, your hedgehog will be like this any time you want to play (at least after it has had time to wake up, if you decide to play during hedgie's naptime).
Most hedgehogs, do not like to be patted on their quills. Try gently holding your hedgie, and letting it uncurl in your hands. Let it explore around your hands and arms, and it will eventually start to become comfortable around you as it realizes that you are safe. Eventually, you can get to the point of petting most hedgehogs along the back, and some even like to be scratched in amongst their spines, but, this level of trust can take a while to develop.
To a hedgehog, you are very large, and cast a huge shadow. To pick up a hedgehog, move slowly. Think of yourself being picked up by something the size of a small skyscraper! Do your best to be non threatening. Let the animal sniff your bare hand. With one hand at each side of him, then bring your hands gently together to cup him. Once the animal knows you, unless really upset, he/she will end up stepping up on your hands as they come together. Once on your hands, you can transfer your little friend to your or onto your chest.
Never grasp a hedgehog in a way that could allow any of your fingers to be caught in the middle should he decide to roll into a ball.
If you cannot spend as much quality time as you'd like with your hedgehog, another way to acquaint them with your scent is to wear an old T-shirt for two days, then put it in their cage. They will nest under it, and your scent will become ‘homey’ to them, not threatening. Be careful that there are no loose loops of thread on the shirt (or hairs) that hedgie feet can get caught in and check on the hedgehog daily, but otherwise this idea will help acquaint your new friend with your smell, and settle him into his new home.
It seems a favorite trick of some hedgehogs to relieve themselves just after you pick them up and start to play. Of course your hedgie is not mistaking you for a litter box, nor is he making a social commentary on you -- basically, he just can't help himself. This particular ‘habit’ is far more common in young hedgehogs who still don't have as much control over their bodily functions as they will have later on. It also appears that in hedgehogs, there is usually a need to eliminate shortly after waking up. For this reason, keep some tissues or paper towels handy -- it's going to happen at times, no matter what! The other thing that can help is when you first wake up your little friend, give him a minute or two back in his cage to try and do his business before you really take him out to play.
If your new pet is allowed to run in the house, it will tend to hide in corners or under furniture. Many hedgehogs dig in carpets or in houseplant dirt, if accessible, and will forage for spiders and insects.
Play with your new friend as often and as much as you want, keeping in mind that your new hedgie will likely tire quickly, especially if young.