Tenrec Care Information
To learn more about tenrecs, we have answered the frequently asked questions on this page. Just click on the question you are interested in learning the answer to and you will be taken to the appropriate section of this page. Don't see your question listed? Use our contact page or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to have your question answered and potentially added to this page.
What is a tenrec?
Tenrecs are small mammals that are native to Madagascar and other portions of Africa. There are 34 known species of tenrec, of which, two resemble hedgehogs in their appearance – the Greater Hedgehog Tenrec and the Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec. However, tenrecs and hedgehogs are completely unrelated. The closest relatives to tenrecs are actually elephants, aardvarks, and sea cows (through a common ancestor). The use of the word “hedgehog” in the name can be confusing.
The only species of tenrec currently available in the US is the Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec. At this time, there are estimated to be only about 200 tenrecs in the US, most of which are owned by zoos or breeders. They were not imported in large quantities like the African Pygmy Hedgehogs, and due to their short breeding season, their numbers remain low.
Like hedgehogs, tenrecs do have quills but they are less sharp and tend to stay laid down. Even when the quills are put up, they feel more like a toothbrush or a hairbrush and do not typically hurt when touched/handled. This typically happens when startled or when first woken up. They are also able to completely ball up like a hedgehog, but rarely do so. Instead, they choose to use their teeth as a defense mechanism and will “bite and grind” when stressed. This is very uncommon in socialized tenrecs, but can happen in a new home or during periods of transition.
Unlike hedgehogs, tenrecs are very good climbers due to their grasping feet and their longer nails. They are able to climb most surfaces and can often support their whole body with a single foot. Even smooth surfaces, such as a wooden log, can be easily climbed. They are also much less temperature sensitive than hedgehogs and will actually hibernate or go through torpor during the winter.
What kind of cage do I need for my tenrec?
Tenrecs are best kept in cages that have very small bar spacing or solid walls. They are very adept at climbing and can squeeze themselves through very small openings. Bar spacing at or above 1" will provide a quick escape for a tenrec, so most Guinea Pig and Chinchilla cages cannot be used without modifications.
For a wire cage, the bottom must be solid and the bar spacing should be as small as possible. The Critter Nation cage is an excellent example of an appropriate wire cage (not to be confused with the Ferret Nation cage, which would not be appropriate for a tenrec). The bar spacing for the Critter Nation cage is just 1/2", allowing your tenrec to be able to climb, but not slip through the bars. The inner dimensions of the Critter Nation cage are approximately 24” by 36”, so this cage also provides adequate living space.
For a solid walled cage, there are 2 main options: a vivarium or a modified Sterlilte bin. While vivariums are popular in the UK, they are hard to find pre-manufactured in the US, so one would need to be handmade with appropriate materials. There are many sites on the internet with information on creating a vivarium. A modified Sterilite bin is a great alternative to a vivarium and can be created with minimal tools. A bin style cage must be used with a lid to ensure that the tenrec does not escape, so the modifications to the bin must include changes for ventilation. Since tenrecs are capable of squeezing themselves, drilled airholes are not the best choice. Instead, a large hole should be cut into the lid of the bin and then covered with a mesh material (such as plastic canvas, screening, or animal mesh). The mesh material must be attached in such a way that there are no gaps for the tenrec to slip out of. Modifications should also be made to vivariums and bin cages to allow for climbing toys to be attached to the walls.
What types of items should I place in my tenrec's cage?
Bedding – There are many options for bedding to be used in your tenrec’s cage: aspen or pine shavings, paper-based bedding,
mulch, or fleece/fabric cage liners. With wood shavings, cedar must be avoided as its oils are toxic to small animals.
Pine shavings must be kiln-dried in order to cure out its toxic oils, but most brands of pine shavings for animals are
kiln-dried. Examples of paper-based bedding are CareFresh, Kaytee Clean & Cozy, and Vitakraft Fresh World.
Of the bedding options, fleece/fabric liners are the most economical as they can be washed and reused. However,
tenrecs do enjoy burrowing, so small fleece strips of blanket should be provided as well.
Wheel – A wheel is an absolute requirement for a tenrec as it provides the main source of exercise. There are 2 types of wheels
that are appropriate for a tenrec and if the cage space allows, both should be provided.
A solid running wheel at least 9” in diameter and with an open face provides a tenrec with a true running wheel. We use
and recommend the Carolina Express Wheel available on Etsy. These wheels are super easy to clean, are completely
silent, and come in a variety of colors to match any cage décor.
Tenrecs are also able to use a wire wheel due to their grasping hands/feet. They tend to use this type of wheel as a
climbing toy, rather than as a running wheel. Many will climb on the back or outer portion of the wheel, appearing to climb
in place. Again, these wheels should be at least 9” in diameter and should have an open face. Petco carries an appropriate
wire wheel for tenrecs.
Climbing Objects – Since tenrecs are semi-arboreal, they love to climb and should be provided with a variety of climbing objects.
Wooden logs that are typically meant for reptiles are a great option to provide a rough climbing surface. These
items have been cured and are animal safe. Additional wood items include ladders, bending log bridges, and
more. Tenrecs are also great at climbing fabric items, such as those that would be used for sugar gliders, rats,
and other small animals. They enjoy fleece ropes, vines, bridges, hammocks, hanging bags, and other fabric
items. Many of the items we sell for hedgehogs are also appropriate for tenrecs, however we are working on
expanding our tenrec-specific items.
Hideaway(s) –Small plastic igloos, PVC tubes, cardboard tubes, wooden houses, fabric cubes/bags, and small boxes are just a few
of the available hideaways that are appropriate for tenrecs. We recommend providing at least 2 types of hiding areas
for your tenrec. Make sure all hideaways can be cleaned and sanitized as needed.
Food/Water Dishes – Tenrecs drink from water dishes, not water bottles. A dish of water should be available at all times, along with
dishes for kibble/cat food and insects. An optional dish may be provided for treats as necessary. We
recommend using the 3” ceramic dishes made for small animals. They are heavy enough not to be tipped over
or moved, are the appropriate size for your tenrec to eat/drink from, and are easily cleaned and sanitized.
What should I feed my tenrec?
Insects – In the wild, tenrecs are almost exclusively insectivorous. They will eat a small amount of fruits or meats if they encounter
it. As such, it is recommended that tenrecs are fed live insects as a large part of their diet in captivity as well. While
offering insects daily is ideal, they should be provided 3-4 times a week at a minimum. Insects should be live, not
freeze-dried or canned.
Tenrecs will eat a wide variety of insects and should be provided with several kinds to imitate their diet in the wild. Only
feeder insects should be fed, never wild-caught, which can have parasites or be covered with pesticides and other
toxins. Feeder insects can be purchased at pet stores (such asP etco or PetSmart) or online from reputable sources
(such as Rainbow Mealworms).
Appropriate insects include mealworms, superworms, waxworms, butterworms, phoenix worms, calci-worms, hornworms,
silkworms, crickets, and dubia roaches. Tenrecs can consume full-grown insects that are quite large in comparison to the
size of their body.
A standard “meal size” for tenrecs would be 6 to 8 full size superworms, or the equivalent of other, smaller insects.
Kibble/Cat Food – Tenrecs should have constant access to a high protein and high fat kitten food. The kibble should be small
pieces as tenrecs have small mouths/teeth. We recommend Royal Canin BabyCat or Blue Buffalo Healthy Living
Chicken & Brown Rice (adult formula). Most tenrecs will prefer to eat live insects and other protein sources, but
will graze on the kibble occasionally.
Treats – Small amounts of fruits, vegetables, cooked eggs or meat, wet cat food, and baby foods can be offered occasionally as
treats. Our tenrecs love the Gerber Baby Chicken sticks and Royal Canin Wet BabyCat Loaf.
How do I clean my tenrec? What about the nails?
Tenrecs do not need a traditional water/soap bath. They groom themselves and will clean themselves with sand when provided with a sand bath. Using a small container that is large enough for them to move around or a bucket with a hole cut in the side, place a thin layer of chinchilla sand or other fine-grain sand made for animals. The sand bath can be left in the cage or can be offered to your tenrec at least twice a month (weekly is typical). Word of warning: if you choose to leave the sand bath in the case, your tenrec may choose to use it as a toilet.
In regards to nails, tenrecs need longer nails than hedgehogs in order to allow them to climb and grasp on to objects easily. If provided with enough climbing objects in a variety of textures, the nails tend to stay at an appropriate length. However, it may be necessary to clip the tip of the nail should it start to curl around. This is more common during the winter months, when your tenrec is in torpor and is thus not as actively climbing.
At what temperature does my tenrec need to be kept?
In general, tenrecs are much less temperature sensitive than hedgehogs. We do recommend keeping a thermometer in the cage at all times so that you can accurately monitor the temperature. During the spring and summer, their cages can be kept at normal room temperature or a little bit above. This is easily achieved by locating their cage in an area where the A/C in your home can be turned down or off (closing the vent works great). If your house is below 72 F, it may be necessary to provide a secondary heating source, such as a CHE (ceramic heat emitter) setup or a small space heater. During the fall and winter months, when your tenrec is in torpor, the cage can be kept cooler than during the summer months.
Care should be taken to avoid large temperature drops, especially during the summer months. A large drop can trigger torpor/hibernation, which should be avoided.
Does my tenrec need/want a cagemate?
Tenrecs are considered to be a solitary animal and do not need company from another tenrec. However, females can usually cohabitate without any issues, either with another female or with a male. Two males cannot be housed together as they are territorial and will fight. Care should be taken if allowing a male and female to share a cage as it will likely result in babies during the next breeding season.
While tenrecs are solitary, they do enjoy regular interaction from their human owners. They are capable of bonding with their owners and make excellent companions, just “hanging out” on a daily basis. Our tenrecs enjoy being carried around in a cuddle sack or bonding bag, and will often fall asleep while we are watching TV, sewing, or reading a book.
Can I litter train my tenrec?
Typically, tenrecs will pick a specific corner or area of their enclosure in which to do their business. This makes cleaning the cage much easier. If you are interested in attempting to litter train your tenrec, it is best to let them pick the spot in the cage where they choose to go and then place a small litter pan in that area. You may need to place a piece of feces in the litter to give them the idea, but they usually catch on pretty quickly. For the most part, tenrecs do not use the bathroom while being handled, unless they are removed from their cage for a lengthy amount of time and are unable to hold it any longer. Their desire to use a specific area will usually prevent them from going on you.
What is torpor?
Torpor, also called hibernation, is a natural part of a tenrec’s life cycle, lasting approximately 4 to 6 months during the winter. Torpor typically starts around Sept/Oct and ends around Feb/March (in the northern hemisphere). As with other animals that hibernate, torpor is triggered by a decrease in temperature and the change in the amount of daily light. However, tenrecs in captivity that are kept at a constant temperature and on a light cycle will still experience torpor.
During torpor, tenrecs will become much less active and will decrease the amount of food that they are eating as their metabolism slows. They will be very sleepy and slow moving, even during handling and when they are woken up. They will eat as little as 1 mealworm every couple of days. Additionally, their body temperature will drop causing them to feel cool to the touch, especially on their stomachs. This can be concerning for new owners, especially those that are accustomed to caring for African Pygmy Hedgehogs.
During torpor, you do not need to decrease or eliminate handling your tenrec. While your tenrec may become more active after being out for a while and being warmed by your body heat, he/she will quickly return to their sleepy state. During handling, you may be able to entice your tenrec to eat a mealworm or two.
It is best not to discourage your tenrec from experiencing torpor as it is unknown what kind of negative impact this can have on their health and life expectancy. The exception to this is for young tenrecs during their first winter: they may not experience torpor, or may have a decreased duration or intensity when compared to adult tenrecs.