Hedgehogs are amazing wild animals. They are small mammals, with an amazing sense of smell, covered in spines and able to curl their heads and legs completely inside their body, becoming a protective ball should they feel threatened. Over the last few years hedgehogs have become increasingly popular as pets, but do they make good pets?
Hedgehogs are wild animals
The first point to note is that all hedgehogs are wild animals. The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is a native species in the UK, also present in many parts of Europe. In the UK this is a protected wild species and it is illegal to keep it as a pet.
The African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) also known as the ‘four toed hedgehog’, is a wild hedgehog native to many parts of Africa. Since the 1990s, this species has been bred in captivity for the pet trade. And as a result has become increasingly popular as a pet in some countries.
In the UK it is currently legal to keep this species of hedgehog as a pet, but should you?
Hedgehogs have complex needs
As wild animals that are not domesticated, despite being bred in captivity for a number of years, these animals have very specific husbandry and environmental needs. They are certainly not suitable for a beginner, and their care requires a great deal of knowledge and preparation.
They sleep during the day
Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, which means they sleep during the day and are awake during the night. You may be wondering why this is an issue. However in the average household where there is activity and noise during the day this will disrupt their normal pattern of behaviour which can negatively affect their welfare.
Hedgehogs have a specific diet
In the wild hedgehogs eat a mixed diet of insects, plants and other items they can forage naturally for. As well as providing nutrition, this is also an important behaviour as the act of sourcing and foraging for food makes up a large proportion of a hedgehog’s activity. As pets it is almost impossible to replicate this natural diet and behaviour, due to the limited availability of variable foodstuffs that would naturally be found in the hedgehogs’ wild environment. In addition feeding the incorrect diet in captivity often leads to obesity in these animals which can cause serious health issues.
Hedgehogs like to walk a long way
In the wild hedgehogs are very active, they have been known to walk around 2km whilst awake overnight looking for food. As a pet it is impossible to provide a hedgehog with the space it needs to replicate this exercise requirement. Not providing this can lead to health issues due to obesity. And also behavioural issues due to lack of mental stimulation.
They are solitary animals
Hedgehogs like to live alone. They do not like company and in the wild they naturally live a solitary life, meeting with other hedgehogs only to mate. Female hedgehogs nurse their young until weaning age at which point their young will naturally disperse and live solitary lives as well. As pets it is common to find hedgehogs being kept in pairs. This can lead to behavioural issues; injuries as a result of fighting; and stress as this is an unnatural social situation.
So in summary, do hedgehogs make good pets?
No, hedgehogs do not make good pets. They are wild animals who belong in the wild, and they have complex behavioural, environmental, dietary and social needs which mean they are often unsuitable to be kept as pets due to the issues described above. If you would like to read more about this topic the RSPCA have produced a great guide on this issue here: Keeping African Pygmy Hedgehogs As Pets | RSPCA.