Hedgehogs: Adorable, But Not Good Pets


The most common species of hedgehog in the pet trade is the African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris). The CDC has been leading efforts to increase awareness of the host of health risks people are exposed to when dealing with exotic pets such as hedgehogs. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Not all animals are cute into adulthood, but hedgehogs are. These nocturnal little foragers are native to Europe, Asia, Africa and the internet, where you can find memes of them bundled into teacups and taking bubble baths. It's no wonder people want to keep hedgehogs as pets because they're arguably as cute as miniature horses, but here's the real question: Is welcoming a pet hedgehog into your life advisable?

Actually, back up. The first question should be: Is welcoming a pet hedgehog into your life legal?

Different countries have different laws about keeping hedgehogs, but in the United States you can legally own a pet hedgehog in all states except Georgia, Hawaii, California, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and five New York City boroughs. Even in these places, it might be legal to have them in your home with special wildlife permits.

Of the 17 species of hedgehog living on four continents, the most common species in the pet trade is the African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris). If you're living in a state or country where they are legal to keep, you can obtain one from a breeder or sometimes even find one at a flea market. But just because they're adorable and also legal doesn't mean they're the kind of pet you want, even if the hedgehog aesthetic really meshes with your personal Instagram brand. Here are five questions you need answers to in order to decide whether to hedgehog or not to hedgehog:

1. Are Hedgehogs Cuddly?

Hedgehogs are solitary creatures and generally only interact with each other in the wild during breeding season. That said, if you obtain your pet hedgehog when it's very young and handle it regularly, there's a chance it will become one of this world's rare affectionate hedgehogs.

"Like every pet, each one has a different personality," says Sydney Brehm, a veterinarian at Sweetwater Creek Animal Hospital in Lithia Springs, Georgia. "Many are not the biggest fans of being cuddled and prefer to explore their surroundings on their own."

No matter what its temperament, keep in mind, your pet hedgehog will have lots of stiff spines. Even though the spines are not tricked out with barbs or poisons, and they don't release once they've buried into your skin like a porcupine's quills, they're still sharp and there are lots of them. Hedgehogs are particularly pointy when they're rolled into a tight ball, which they often do when they're apprehensive or sleeping. So, if you're hoping to make your hedgehog into one of the snuggly ones, you've probably got a long, prickly row to hoe.

2. Will They Get Along With Other Pets?

Although hedgehogs are solitary, it's not a good idea to stick your pet hedgehog in a cage and ignore it. They are extremely active in the wild — they can climb, swim and often run several miles each night (regular hedgehog business hours). Since hedgehogs need to have time to dash around, contact with your other pets might be unavoidable, but it should be kept to a minimum.

"Hedgehogs do best caged alone," says Brehm. "When you have them out and about, they may touch noses with your cat or dog, or may stay rolled into a ball until the other loses interest or gets pricked on the nose a few times and gives up."

According to Brehm, a hedgehog can coexist with cats and dogs, but won't typically make friends with them, and it's a good idea to monitor any interaction between your pet hedgehog and another animal. It's also best to keep your hedgehog away from other small exotic pets, for the safety of both animals.

3. Do Hedgehogs Carry Diseases?

An average, healthy pet hedgehog will live between five and eight years, but they are prone to certain diseases, just like dogs and cats are prone to rabies and distemper. Hedgehogs have the potential to carry and transmit foot and mouth disease, salmonella, ringworm, and may carry various other microorganisms and viral infections, which is the reason they are outlawed in some places.

Just to be on the safe side, refrain from kissing your pet hedgehog, and defintely wash your hands after handling it.

4. What Do Hedgehogs Eat?

In the wild, hedgehogs root around in the undergrowth for all manner of small animals like insects, worms, centipedes and frogs (male hedgehogs have also been known to dine on baby hedgehogs if they find a nest of them). You can buy commercial hedgehog food, which, if you must own a hedgehog, is what you should feed it at home.

"It is OK to offer the periodic treat — non-starchy vegetables, fruit, even a bite of lean meat here and there," says Brehm. "Hedgehogs are prone to weight gain and obesity, which inherently leads to health problems, so always keep treats limited and always provide a flat bottom wheel for exercise."

5. Will Your Hedgehog Keep the Same Schedule as You?

Unless you're a real night owl, probably not. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and very active while most humans are asleep, so be ready for your pet hedgehog to be making lots of nighttime noises, and plan accordingly.

Hedgehogs have a few other very particular requirements to keep in mind, as well. "Because they are an exotic pet, their cage will require weekly maintenance, and the hedgehog itself will require frequent bathing and nail trims," says Brehm. "And last but not least, the temperature of your hedgehog's environment is very important. If the temperature drops too low, the hedgehog will attempt to hibernate and may not recover from the attempt [the hedgehog will not have the fat reserves in captivity that it would have in the wild, so could very easily starve to death]. Their ideal temperature is around 75 degrees F (24 degrees C). Having a plan to maintain the temperature of your hedgehog's enclosure will be very important to have in place before introducing one to your household."

So, the basic story on hedgehogs is that, yes, they are adorable, but, no, they do not make the best pets. The happiness of the animal should be the prime consideration in your decision to adopt one and, in this case, it's fairly safe to assume that the hedgehog will be happier in its own world than it will be in yours.