Seeing a wild hedgehog is exciting. And they’re adorable. So much so that you may be considering keeping one as a pet. But, is this advisable, safe to do, or even going to work out? Here is what you are going to need to know.
So, can you keep a wild hedgehog as a pet? Strictly speaking, you should never keep a wild hedgehog as a pet. Hedgehogs have particular needs that cannot be replicated easily in captivity. If you find a wild hedgehog that appears to be ill or injured, you must contact an appropriate wildlife center promptly to ensure they receive the right care.
There is only one species of hedgehog that is widely regarded to be a domestic pet; The African Pygmy. Otherwise known as the white-bellied or four-toed hedgehog.
Even with this species, you need to be very wary and cautious of where you source them.
Essentially, you need to ensure that it has not been taken from the wild.
You may even find other species sold as pets, like the Egyptian long-eared and the Indian long-eared.
Again, research is essential here.
But due diligence should sometimes extend further, such as ensuring they are even legal to own in your location or country.
Nevertheless, let us now take a closer look at all that is involved with the domestication of hedgehogs.
We’ll be covering if it is cruel, caring for a wild hedgehog without taking one in, and even the recommended approach to getting a pet hedgehog – if you did so wish to.
Can You Domesticate A Wild Hedgehog?
It may be possible to domesticate a wild hedgehog, but that does not necessarily mean you should. It will take considerable planning, time, and consideration to meet their needs.
The African Pygmy hedgehog has been domesticated since the 1980s, and since then, it has grown in popularity due to its adorable face and small size.
However, there are many people that claim this is still a wild animal, and therefore it is cruel to keep one in captivity as a pet.
They have a point because dogs have been domesticated for 10,000 years, so compared to this, 30 years seems very short!
African Pygmy’s still have all the same needs as their wild counterparts, so you must factor this in when considering if this is the pet for you.
In the wild, African Pygmy hedgehogs live in the savannahs and grasslands of East, West, and Centra Africa and survive on a varied diet of insects, spiders, plants, and bird eggs.
The most common ailment affecting domestic hedgehogs is obesity, as they are often fed a diet too high in fat.
This is why exercise is so important, as well as offering a varied diet that should include live insects to allow your hedgehog to exhibit its’ normal foraging behavior.
These small hedgehogs are surprisingly active animals and can travel vast distances in the wild, so simply leaving one in a cage is not suitable.
It is important to remember that domestication is not a quick process; therefore, it is simply not possible to domesticate a wild hedgehog in your home.
You are much more likely to put unnecessary stress on the animal, which can lead to numerous health issues and a lower welfare state because you are not allowing it to be able to perform all of its natural behaviors.
Furthermore, you may be unwittingly bringing unknown pathogens into your home as hedgehogs are known to be ‘disease magnets.’
Is It Cruel To Keep A Wild Hedgehog As A Pet?
It can be considered cruel to keep a wild hedgehog as a pet for the simple reason that you will be confining them into a smaller area that does not meet all of their natural requirements.
This is especially important in the UK as native populations are already in decline.
Since 2000, scientists estimate that the UK population of native hedgehogs has fallen by half, which they believe is predominantly caused by a drastic increase in intensive farming in countryside areas.
So, the general guidance if you find a wild hedgehog is to leave it alone unless it appears to be injured or ill.
A wild hedgehog is very unlikely to ever trust you as an owner and will most likely suffer unnecessary stress, which could be fatal in the most extreme cases.
A much better idea is to ensure your garden is hedgehog friendly and allow wild hedgehogs to come and go as they please.
The easiest thing you can do is give hedgehogs easy access to your garden by cutting a 12 x 12 cm hole in the bottom of your fence.
If you have a pool in your garden, though, you must ensure this is safe as, although hedgehogs can swim, it is not something they are proficient at and can easily become exhausted very quickly, which can lead to drowning.
You can either cover your pond or ensure the sides have a gentle shallow slope to allow a hedgehog to easily climb out.
Do not use any type of netting material, as hedgehogs can easily get stuck in it.
Hedgehogs like to hide in covered areas such as under hedgerows as this helps them to feel safe, so consider planting a hedge in your own garden or simply allow one area of your garden to become a little overgrown.
Other additions you can consider include building a hedgehog house, growing native plants, or building a pile of sticks, leaves, and logs for a hedgehog to forage in.
NEVER leave milk out for a hedgehog as, contrary to popular belief, they are lactose intolerant.
Obviously, you have to be more careful if you have outdoor cats in your area!
Can A Wild Hedgehog Hurt You?
Wild hedgehogs are unlikely to cause any serious harm, although they can cause some temporary pain if you touched them while they have their quills raised.
Wild hedgehogs have a very nifty defense mechanism to deter predators.
They can have up to 7000 quills or spines on their back which they can raise when they feel under threat.
They do this by contracting certain muscles that run along their back, which causes the quills to spread out, making them more painful to touch.
Although this can hurt if you pick a hedgehog up, it is unlikely to cause any severe damage.
The quills are made of keratin which is actually what our nails are made of!
Animal horns, nails, and claws are also made of this substance.
These quills do not contain nerves, but it is essential to remember that hedgehogs have evolved these spines to protect themselves from predators, so you must NEVER trim them as this can cause severe stress.
You could also leave your hedgehog open to infection because the quills are hollow on the inside.
The only time you may need to cut a hedgehog’s quills is if they are deformed, broken, or causing severe problems for your hedgehog.
However, you may wish to consult a vet to ensure this is done properly.
Many people worry that picking up a hedgehog hurts. Still, there are ways you can do it without causing excessive pain to yourself or too much stress on your hedgehog.
Although I should remind you that this is only relevant if you own a pet hedgehog.
You should not pick up a wild hedgehog unless you are responding to the advice of a wildlife hospital.
When relaxed and calm, a hedgehog’s quills will lay almost flat against its body.
The quills will only rise up when the animal is under stress or being threatened.
So, if you put in the time to build up trust with your spiky companion, then the quills shouldn’t cause too much of an issue.
If you are worried about picking up a hedgehog, you can use a blanket or even garden gloves to protect your hands.
You should always approach a hedgehog calmly and quietly to ensure you do not appear threatening, and bear in mind that hedgehogs have relatively poor eyesight, so talking to them in a calm voice may also help.
How Do You Take Care Of A Wild Hedgehog?
Taking care of a wild hedgehog is all about supporting them, ensuring they are safe, and helping them to meet their needs. It should not include taking them in and placing any additional stress on them.
With wild hedgehogs on the decline, it is essential that we work towards protecting all remaining individuals.
However, many people who come across an apparently injured hedgehog tend to pick it up and take it home despite their good intentions.
This may seem like a good idea, but you could actually be doing more harm than good.
It is always best to seek the advice of an exotics vet or local wildlife organization if you are not confident in how to handle the situation.
Hedgehogs usually hibernate between November and March, although you may still come across one changing nest site during this period.
If it appears to be in good health, then you should leave it alone to carry on with its business.
However, if the hedgehog appears to be staggering or is out during daylight hours, then it may need a helping hand.
In this situation, you can gently pick the hedgehog up using a thick pair of garden gloves and place it into a suitable box with a well-wrapped hot water bottle, and ensure you call a wildlife rescue center to seek advice on what to do next.
Do not use boiling water and ensure the bottle is well insulated to not burn the hedgehog.
You can also offer water to prevent dehydration.
Always remember that human contact can be highly stressful for a wild hedgehog, so you must tread carefully when dealing with one.
There are several hedgehog rescue centers that you can call.
Alternatively, you can contact preservation societies, which typically have very informative websites detailing what to do if you find an injured hedgehog.
If you do decide to pick the hedgehog up, you need to ensure that you have a large, deep box to put it in.
Hedgehogs are surprisingly good escape artists, so they will easily escape from a shallow shoe box and potentially injure themselves further.
They are also very strong, so it is best to find something heavy to place on top of the lid to ensure they cannot push it open.
If you find a hedgehog displaying any of these behaviors, then they may require assistance:
- Sunbathing (hedgehogs do not sunbathe, so they may be suffering from hyperthermia)
- Staggering or has a wobbly gait (this could also be a sign of hyperthermia)
- Surrounded by flies
- Hoglets out during the day without their mother (please ensure you check around for the mother before deciding to intervene as she could be close by)
There has also been an increase in people abandoning pet hedgehogs in the wild, so you must immediately contact a hedgehog rescue center if you see a white-bellied hedgehog out in the open.
These hedgehogs have been pets and so cannot survive in the wild.
Finally, you must never disturb or move a hibernating hedgehog as you could wake it up, which would use up a vast amount of its’ fat store.
This fat is essential to help hedgehogs get through the winter months.
If you accidentally uncover a nest, you should gently cover the hedgehog back up and then leave it well alone.
How Can I Get A Pet Hedgehog?
If you want to own a pet hedgehog, then it is essential you do so through a reputable breeder. It is essential that you conduct extensive research and due diligence before you decide to do so.
As mentioned above, the only hedgehog breed widely accepted as a domesticated species is the African Pygmy hedgehog.
There has been a boom in demand for these spiky critters in recent years.
Unfortunately, this craze has paved the way for bad breeders to make money, often forcing female hedgehogs to give birth to more litters than they would naturally.
This can lead to numerous health issues, so always ensure you are buying from a reputable breeder.
Furthermore, many people buy hedgehogs without first understanding the specific needs they require, which can lead to them being abandoned.
And abandoned hedgehogs routinely die unless they are quickly taken in by a rescue organization; it’s unfortunate and incredibly sad.
So, you must think carefully before making the decision to buy one.
To look after a hedgehog successfully, you need to be dedicated.
It is essential to handle your hedgehog daily to ensure you build up trust.
You should also invest in a vivarium that you can keep between 24 and 30 degrees Celsius with an appropriate heat source.
Higher temperatures can cause heatstroke, whereas temperatures lower than 20 can induce a form of hibernation or even hyperthermia.
You also need to make sure you provide plenty of opportunities for foraging and exercise, such as tunnels, toys, hides, and live insects for food.
Keeping a wild hedgehog as a pet is generally not a good idea.
It’s just not fair on the animal.
Unless you are very experienced, knowledgeable, and mindful, chances are you are not going to be able to meet their complex needs.
Even if you were, it would likely be very stressful for them.
If you notice an ill or injured hedgehog, instead of taking it upon yourself to care for them, call an organization instead.
They’ll be able to advise how you can best support them in their time of need.
And if you do want to keep a pet hedgehog, well, there are reputable breeders for that.