African Pygmy Hedgehog

Atelerix albiventris

African pygmy hedgehogs, also called four-toed hedgehogs, are common natives of many African countries. These small mammals are nocturnal and energetic. When threatened, this hedgehog curls into a tight ball and contracts its muscles to make the sharp quills stand erect. Unlike porcupines, African pygmy hedgehogs do not release their quills.

Virtually all domesticated hedgehogs are captive-bred and descended from the African pygmy hedgehog or a close relative such as the white-bellied hedgehog or North African hedgehog. Hedgehogs are bred for specific color morphs and temperament. In captivity, they typically live four to six years, weigh 6 to 20 ounces, and reach 12 inches in length.

Did You Know?

Unlike porcupines, African pygmy hedgehogs do not release their quills the way porcupines do, but they will attempt to stab the predator.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

Wild populations of African pygmy hedgehogs are not believed to be at risk due to their wide native geographic range and stable numbers. They breed well in captivity, so harvesting from the wild is not necessary for the pet trade. Primarily due to concerns about introduction and spread of diseases, the importation of wild-caught African pygmy hedgehogs to the U.S. was banned in 1991.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a pet African pygmy hedgehog, ensure that it is captive-bred from domesticated animals. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable, USDA-licensed breeder to ensure that you are not buying an illegally wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Some Cause for Concern

It is unknown whether African pygmy hedgehogs could become established anywhere in the U.S. However, because they pose a potential threat to native wildlife and livestock through the introduction and spread of diseases (e.g., foot and mouth disease), owning African pygmy hedgehogs is illegal or requires special permits in several U.S. cities and states and some parts of Canada.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

African pygmy hedgehogs are naturally solitary so they need a secure container where they feel safe to sleep and hide. They also need an exercise wheel to ensure that they get enough exercise. African pygmy hedgehogs are prone to respiratory infections so room air temperature should be kept at 75°F to 85°F. Owners should also clean the hedgehogs’ enclosure frequently (daily is optimal), to reduce the risk of skin diseases.

Captive African pygmy hedgehogs are prone to obesity due to overeating or inactivity. Providing a balanced diet is challenging but necessary to keep your hedgehog healthy. Some specially blended commercial hedgehog feeds are available. Owners are encouraged to visually examine their pets weekly, and to schedule annual or biannual veterinary examinations, especially dental check-ups. Because these hedgehogs curl up when frightened, most veterinary exams require the use of sedation.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a pet hedgehog, be sure to research its specific care requirements (web-based sources of information include the International Hedgehog Association’s page: Talk to your veterinarian about proper diet and how to maintain a healthy weight for your pet. Because these animals can be carriers of disease (see Health Threat), purchase them only from a reputable pet store or breeder. Be sure that it is legal to own a hedgehog in your city and/or state of residence.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Significant Cause for Concern

African pygmy hedgehogs are known to carry diseases that can affect humans and other household pets. They can harbor Salmonella without symptoms, which may be dangerous especially to small children and immunocompromised individuals.  They may also carry ringworm, transmissible to humans and domestic pets. Although it is rare, captive hedgehogs have been diagnosed with several vector-borne diseases, foot and mouth disease, and internal parasites which may affect other animals or humans.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before purchasing a non-traditional pet, ensure the animal was captive bred vs. wild caught. Be sure to ask if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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