Dr Platzhund discusses the pros and cons of keeping a hedgehog as a pet.
Q: I’m keen on buying my daughter an unusual pet for her birthday this year. I’m inclined towards getting her a hedgehog. Do you think this is a good idea?
A: If you buy a captive-bred hedgehog that’s not found in the wild, it should be fine. Owning indigenous hedgehogs is illegal, because they’re endangered in South Africa.
Hedgehogs become tolerant towards people, but are shy, nervous and don’t display mutual intimacy and dependence.
Fortunately, they don’t have to be trained, walked, socialised and aren’t a nuisance to neighbours. They don’t gnaw on objects, don’t need vaccinations and aren’t particularly aggressive. But they can become defensive with their spines when scared.
Hedgehogs require close monitoring, a regular check-up with a veterinarian who’s knowledgeable about these creatures. It’s important to note that their habitat requires thermoregulation and because they’re nocturnal, playing with them during the day is equivalent to cruelty.
They predominately eat crickets and mealworms although they can survive on certain brands of cat food for limited periods. They relish rolling in urine or faeces and commonly carry a fungal skin infection potentially contagious to humans. They possess a different form of flora to people, so children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are at risk with direct contact.
They can live for 5-10 years and don’t require vast amounts of space, but the enclosure needs to be safe and secure. The smaller the habitat the more often it needs cleaning. Leaving them outside unattended can put them at risk of predatory birds, like owls. So really, owning a hedgehog is actually rather tricky!