Can I Have a Pet Hedgehog?

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on September 05, 2023
3 min read

Hedgehogs are small nocturnal animals. They have a prickly coat and are naturally found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

They are considered exotic pets and are illegal to own in four states in the U.S. and the five boroughs of New York City.

Before buying a hedgehog you’ll need to find out if they’re legal in your state or county or if you need a permit. 

The two most common types of hedgehogs kept as pets are the European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, and the smaller African pygmy hedgehog, Atelerix albiventris.

Hedgehogs live alone in the wild and are typically solitary animals. They may take a while to warm up to you when you first bring them home. Patience and time will help them trust you. 

Hedgehogs can be a fun and low-maintenance pet for your household, but they do need some special care. They have sharp quills that can make handling difficult. Consistent and proper daily handling will help them relax and feel comfortable with you. 

Hedgehog's quills do not shoot out like a porcupine's, but they are sharp enough to pierce your skin. Be especially careful when they are frightened.

Hedgehogs are a unique pet that has gained popularity. They can be fun pets to have around, but there are some challenges you’ll have to work around.

Nocturnal. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and are most active at night. Bonding with them can take a while due to their solitary nature. Playing with them and letting them roam around before bedtime will help them get used to your touch and care.

Active. Hedgehogs are very active. They can run for miles! They enjoy climbing, digging, and swimming. They’re nocturnal, so they’ll be doing most of their digging and running around while you’re trying to sleep. Providing them with a large enclosure away from your bedroom will help them blow off steam and you to get some rest. 

Can carry disease. Hedgehogs can seem healthy, but they can transmit bacteria like Salmonella or Mycobacteria to their owners. One large Salmonella outbreak was traced back to a pet African pygmy hedgehog.

Before your hedgehog arrives, you’ll want to make sure that they have a large, escape-proof cage. The cage floor should be solid, not wire, so your hedgehog doesn’t get stuck. They’ll need newspaper or paper-based bedding in their enclosure. You should also hedgehog-proof your home. They love to run around and will need extra space to roam outside of their enclosure.

Make sure there are no small items around for your hedgehog to swallow, or places that your hedgehog can get trapped. You'll want to keep an eye on your hedgehog while they're out of the cage. They like to dig and burrow in places. This makes them difficult to find once lost.

Hedgehogs can easily become overweight. Plenty of exercise and a healthy diet are important. Adding a smooth-sided wheel will help them run as much as they want at night. Let them settle in on their own when introducing your hedgehog to their new space. Give them a few days to get comfortable. 

A pet hedgehog’s diet consists of pellet formulas specific for hedgehogs. This is often supplemented with insects and small amounts of fruits and vegetables. These include beans, peas, cooked carrots, and apples. Do not offer nuts, seeds, or hard foods such as raw carrots, as they may get stuck in the roof of the mouth (especially peanut halves). In the wild, hedgehogs may eat bird's eggs, lizards, mushrooms, and berries. They also enjoy catching live prey. Giving your pet a limited number of live insects will let them use their instincts. 

Hedgehogs are not recommended for households with children under 5 years of age or adults over 65. They can carry Salmonella bacteria in their droppings. Even if they seem healthy, the bacteria can infect their bodies, habitat, toys, and anything they come in contact with. This makes them a risk for those vulnerable populations. 

People with weakened immune systems are also at risk from the germs and bacteria that hedgehogs can carry. 

This is important to keep in mind before bringing a hedgehog into your home. If you do have one as a pet, take care to clean their enclosure and toys away from your kitchen so you don’t infect your eating space.