Substrates for hedgehogs should be dust-free in the base, soft on the paws and not sharp. Ideally, the ground cover should also be able to absorb moisture, so that the odor of feces and urine is eliminated as much as possible. There are quite a few types of ground cover available, but not everything is equally good for them.
Sawdust is perhaps the most well-known type of bedding material, as it is also widely used for rodents, chickens and even horses. Unfortunately, sawdust from most brands is quite dusty and therefore not suitable for the sensitive lungs of a hedgehog. However, there are brands that offer dust-free sawdust, because they use special extraction systems that suck up the fine dust.
The pressed pellets of paper do not seem very suitable at first, because paper itself does not absorb moisture and gets dirty very quickly. Nevertheless, paper pellets are a very good option as ground cover! They are dust-free and absorb a lot of moisture. They are not sharp on the legs, although they can feel a bit hard. If a hedgehog suffers from this, mixing with coco peat, hay or dust-free sawdust is a good solution.
Corn kernels seem like a fantastic solution to use as a ground cover for hedgehogs. Unfortunately, corn kernels are very sharp and can easily damage the eyelets if a hedgehog burrows into the ground cover. It can also get into the genitals and cause inflammation and when eaten it is not very healthy either. Corn kernels are therefore not suitable for hedgehogs as a ground cover.
Hay and straw
Hay could work well as a nesting material, but not as a stand-alone ground cover. Hay is indeed sharp, it also breaks very quickly and therefore does not damage the eyes. However, it does not absorb moisture and all faeces and urine therefore run to the bottom of the enclosure, where it can cause considerable bacterial growth. It is suitable as nesting material: it is nice and warm, they can build large nests with it and it is soft and dust-free. Unfortunately, straw is not suitable, because it is much harder and therefore easily damaged the eyes. Not as ground cover, but also not as nesting material.
Fleece is a ground cover that is popular with many hedgehog keepers. Still, it's not the best option. Fleece is indeed soft and dust-free and can be washed easily; it gets dirty very quickly. Moreover, the hedgehogs do not get any enrichment from it, because they cannot dig in the ground cover. Fleece is therefore better suited as nesting material or in a temporary stay or a transport box, but less suitable for a permanent stay.
Bath mats are made of a different material than fleece and absorb much more moisture. It is therefore, after fleece, an emerging fad to use bath mats as floor covering. A better option, but this material also gets dirty easily and moisture remains at the bottom of the mat, giving bacteria and viruses, but also fungi a good chance to grow. This soil is also better suited for temporary stays or in a transport box, but less suitable for a permanent stay.
Pressed wood grains come in many varieties, but they all have one thing right; they expand when they get wet. That can be very nice for a ground cover, but unfortunately it is known that hedgehogs sometimes eat this material. The wood pellets then expand in the stomach, with all the consequences that entails. As a result, wood pellets are not a suitable ground cover for hedgehogs.
Wood chips can come from fruit trees, from pine trees, or from oak trees; there is a lot of variety available. The chips are very hard and very sharp, so hedgehogs can suffer from their legs (which hardly make calluses by nature) or damage their eyes. It also does not absorb moisture and therefore gets dirty quickly. The finer varieties can also settle in genital orifices. The wood chips are therefore not suitable for hedgehogs.
The fluffy ground covers are very popular for hamsters and mice, especially as nesting material. Basically, cotton is also nice for hedgehogs. It is nice and soft, nice and warm and dust-free. It is only less suitable as a ground cover, because it is not stable for the food and water troughs and is therefore not practical. It would be fine as nesting material. Unfortunately, cotton does settle in the spines and then hangs, which can cause hedgehogs to get stuck. Cotton ground covers are therefore not suitable for hedgehogs.
Cocopeat is a ground cover made from the outside of coconuts. It absorbs a lot of moisture, is wonderfully soft and they can dig in it well. Helasa is very dusty in dry form and therefore not suitable, but if you keep the soil slightly moist, cocopeat is a solid ground cover. However, it is best to mange it with back-2-nature or sand, or to use it in a bioactive bedding.
Sand is a very natural product and the desert sand for reptiles on the market is specially made to be dust-free and the grains are ground rounded making them less sharp than regular sand. Play sand is also suitable, because the grains are also ground rounded. The first variant should not affect the sensitive skin of many reptiles and play sand is made for children and should not affect their sensitive skin. This makes it also suitable for hedgehogs. However, sand does not absorb moisture and can therefore quickly become dirty. It is therefore better to mix sand with, for example, coco peat or to use it in a bioactive ground cover.
Bioactive soil cover means a soil that is largely self-sustaining. Well, this is not entirely possible in mammals, because of their large amount of faeces. It is a well-known phenomenon in reptiles. For hedgehogs it means a mixture of cocopeat or fertilizer-free potting soil, sand, dried leaves, hay and sometimes bark pieces, moss or twigs. This mixture is supplemented with live small animals such as woodlice, springtails, rose beetle larvae, buffalo worms, mealworms, etc. that keep the soil clean. For they eat all the waste that rots; leftover meat, rotting fruit and vegetables, but also feces from the hedgehog. They convert this into smaller waste and their faeces are in turn digested by living plants in a bioactive enclosure. A challenging type of ground cover for the more experienced hedgehog keeper, but certainly not impossible! Read more about bioactive enclosures here.