With a little patience and affection, porcupines can make excellent pets. The African Pygmy Hedgehog, a domesticated species and a hybrid of two wild African species, is famous for its intelligence and kindness, and is often a great companion for devoted owners. As you would before purchasing any pet, research the care that the porcupine requires to see if it is the right animal for you. Understand what kind of environment this animal needs to live in and what its diet is to give your prickly friend the treatment he deserves!
Part 1 of 4: To pick your porcupine and bring it home
Step 1. Find out if the law allows porcupines to be raised as pets in your area
As it is an exotic animal, keeping it in captivity can be a crime, depending on the country or state in which you live. In some places their creation may be illegal; in others, legal, with government permission. Try to understand how local, state and federal laws work on this subject.
If you need help finding and interpreting such laws, or if you need to find shelter for a porcupine that the law prevents you from raising, contact your local wildlife (or hedgehog) body
Step 2. Buy your porcupine preferably from specialized breeders
If the animal is of good origin, it is more likely to be accustomed to the presence of humans and - once the breeder knows the porcupine lineage - healthy. Hence the importance of finding a good breeder. The last thing you want is a moody or sick hedgehog.
- Make sure the breeder provides pedigreed animals and takes precautions against WHS (Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome; in Portuguese, something like "shaky hedgehog syndrome") and cancer.
- Ask the pet shop's breeder or professional if they are licensed by IBAMA (if you live in Brazil; in the United States, the USDA issues licenses). If local law requires documentation or withdrawal of a license, ask them for information on how to proceed.
- Be wary of sellers who advertise animals in classifieds and auction sites, such as Mercado Livre.
- Ask what guarantees you are entitled to. The return policy or veterinary assistance in case of illness may vary from breeder to breeder, but you will make a safer purchase if this issue is discussed in advance. Ask the professional what measures he takes to prevent harm and genetic defects - the most responsible breeders are aware of these problems and try to avoid them.
Step 3. Check if the porcupine is healthy
Before taking the animal home, some things that indicate if it is in good health:
- Bright, healthy eyes: the porcupine should have an alert expression; your eyes should not be skinny or dry, sunken, or swollen.
- Thorn and clean hair: although some degree of oiliness is normal (see below), sludge accumulated around the anus indicates diarrhea or other health problems.
- Healthy skin: flaking around the spines indicates dry skin or the presence of mites - in the latter case, the animal will need treatment. And search the animal for fleas (brown dots the size of pinheads and that bounce very quickly), which also require treatment.
- Absence of wounds and scars: if there is any injury, ask the breeder to clarify what happened and how the animal is healing. Some porcupines can survive serious childhood accidents (loss of vision or limb, etc.) and still lead a healthy and happy life, but keep in mind that such a pet needs special care - before it becomes an owner of it, think carefully if you are able to provide them.
- The degree of attention: A healthy porcupine is alert and aware of its surroundings. Never acquire an animal that is lethargic or unresponsive to stimuli.
- The ideal weight: When obese, the porcupine develops "pockets" of fat at the base of its forelegs and cannot shrink into a small ball. When he is too thin, he has a concave belly and depressions on the sides of his body, just below his ribs. Both conditions can be signs of a more serious health problem.
- Stool: Check the cage for signs of diarrhea or abnormal stool color. Both are indicative that something might be wrong with the animal.
- Healthy Paws: The nails must have been trimmed so they don't curl down. If they are long, ask the breeder how to trim them.
Step 4. Prepare everything before bringing the porcupine home
Provide everything you need to take care of it before purchase. The first month will be a transition period for the animal: it needs to adapt to the new smells and new environment that now surround it. This is a very significant change!
To get the animal used to your presence, take it for a while every day. You can do something simple: put him on your lap and talk for a while. Boost his confidence by letting him eat snacks from your hands. Whenever you go to spend time with the pig, wear an old t-shirt or one you've been wearing all day so that it recognizes and gets used to your smell
Step 5. Don't be surprised if your pet spreads a secretion on the spines
This is one of the most exotic aspects of this animal: whenever faced with a new food, a new smell or in the presence of salt, its mouth produces excess saliva. The hedgehog throws its head back, bending its body in an S, and smears the substance on the thorns. Although experts do not know the purpose of such behavior, it is speculated that saliva, having irritating properties, transforms the thorns into even more effective weapons. For this reason, some porcupine owners show mild skin irritations when handling them for the first time.
Part 2 of 4: To shelter your porcupine
Step 1. Provide a good nursery
To be comfortable, porcupines need a lot of space: they have an instinct to investigate and explore, and the space they have in nature is usually 200~300 m in diameter. Some factors need to be taken into account when choosing a cage for your pet:
- It has to be big enough: the minimum size should be 45 x 61 cm. If you live in a spacious house, so much the better: a 61 x 76 cm cage is even better than the previous suggestion; or a 76 x 76 cm, if you're too generous.
- The sides must be 40 cm high or more. Some experts recommend that they be made of smooth materials (plastic or acrylic), others claim that solid walls make it difficult for air to circulate. But remember that crates can be a problem if your pet has a taste for climbing! Porcupines are notable escapists. The cover must be securely attached - if there is not one, make sure the animal cannot climb the walls and escape over the top.
- The background must be solid. With a grate bottom, the porcupine could hook its paw in between the grates and suffer injuries.
- Do not buy cages with more than one floor. Porcupines do not have good eyesight and a small fall could easily break their limbs. Crates can also pose a big danger if your pet likes to play the climber! Before deciding the dimensions of your nursery, consider how much space inside your nursery will be occupied by toys, food bowl, sand tray, etc.
- Good ventilation is essential. The air must be free to circulate at all times - unless there is a sudden drop in temperature (during a blackout, for example). In that case, cover the cage with a blanket.
Step 2. Select a good material for the lining
Porcupines like to sleep in sawdust beds, but remember that it must be made of poplar wood; never cedar, whose phenols (aromatic oils) are carcinogenic and, over time, will make the animal ill. If you prefer, line the cage with resistant fabrics (twill, velvet or wool) cut to the size of the cage.
Another option is Carefresh, a synthetic lining that resembles shredded cardboard. Some breeders recommend it, but there is a chance that the flakes this material is made of will lodge in Organs genitals of males and in the space between the spines of animals of both sexes
Step 3. Install the "furniture" of the nursery
Do not go to house the animal without it having some essential items:
- A hideout: in wildlife, the hedgehog has nocturnal habits and does not occupy a very high position in the food chain. Hence the need for a shelter where you can feel protected from predators, light and other stimuli. A toy igloo or a dog carrying bag does this job well.
- Exercise wheel. Porcupines need a lot of exercise, and the wheel is the perfect way to guarantee the pet its nightly jogging session. In this item too, the material has to be solid - wheels made of harrows or bars can trap the legs of the pigs, which could result in a torn nail or a broken limb.
- The sand tray should have an edge of no more than 1.25 cm, so that the animal can easily enter and exit without risk of breaking its legs. If you use cat litter, buy only the ones that don't clump together; or, if you prefer, you can use paper towels. The tray area should be slightly larger than your pet's body and the sand should be changed daily. The "bathroom" can be a specific tray for sanitary sand or a shallow tray for cookies. Many porcupine owners tend to leave the tray under the exercise wheel, as this is where they most often go to bed.
Step 4. Maintain a proper temperature
Porcupines need to stay in slightly warmer environments than houses that have an internal heating system: somewhere between 22 °C and 26 °C. Temperatures that are slightly colder than these can encourage the porcupine to hibernate, which can be fatal (since this condition is conducive to the onset of pneumonia). Excessive heat, in turn, makes the animal nervous - try to make the aviary a little cooler if you see it "sprawled out" in the cage, looking listless because of the heat. If he's in a kind of torpor or if his body temperature feels lower than usual, do something to warm him up (a good method is to tuck him in between your tummy and shirt so that he absorbs some of the heat from the your body).
If the low temperature persists, take the porcupine to the veterinarian immediately
Part 3 of 4: To feed your porcupine
Step 1. Offer a varied diet
The porcupine is an insectivorous animal, but it can taste other things: fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat. Since he has a natural tendency to put on weight, prioritize foods that won't make him fat. The obese porcupine cannot curl up and can develop "pockets" of fat that impair its ability to walk.
Step 2. Compose the menu with quality foods
Although the porcupine's nutritional needs are still a mystery, many owners make dry cat food a staple of their diet and supplement it with other foods, discussed below. The rate of fat in the ration needs to be less than 15% and the protein, between 32% and 25%. Look for organic or holistic products and avoid those that use by-products (corn and others) in their composition. Give the animal one to two tablespoons of the kibble a day.
Avoid low quality porcupine-specific feeds, whose ingredients are questionable. The most recommended brands are the American L'Avian, Old Mill and 8-in-1
Step 3. Leave some feed in the bowl if you think you're going to be away when feeding the porcupine
Some breeders, when they go out of the house, leave in the cage a portion a little larger than what their pet eats at each meal. When he finishes eating, there will still be some left over in case he gets hungry again.
Step 4. To avoid nutrient deficiencies, offer the porcupine a variety of snacks
Supplement the cat food with a small serving (1 tablespoon) of some nutritious food. Some suggestions:
- Chicken, turkey or salmon cooked, skinned and chopped into small pieces (do not add seasoning).
- Very small cubes of fruits and vegetables such as watermelon and sweet potatoes, mashed peas, or applesauce.
- Scrambled or boiled and chopped eggs.
- Flourworm or moth crickets and larvae: this is a crucial item. As an insectivore, the porcupine needs to have its hunting instinct stimulated at times. Furthermore, this is an important source of nutrients. Include insects in your food between one and four times a week. Never use insects found in nature (this is for those you find in the garden), which may be contaminated by pesticides or parasites that will be transmitted to your pet.
Step 5. Know what foods to avoid
Porcupines are great foodies, so there's a list of things you shouldn't offer them: nuts and seeds; dry fruits; raw meat; uncooked hard vegetables; sticky, stiff or stringy foods; avocado, grapes and raisins; milk and dairy products; alcohol; bread; celery; onion (natural or dehydrated); raw carrots; tomatoes; junk food (chips, sweets, any food prepared with sugar or salt, etc.); acidic foods; honey.
Step 6. Decrease portion sizes if your pet gains weight
In addition to diet control, another effective measure is to encourage you to exercise.
Step 7. Feed him in the early evening
Because of its nocturnal nature, twilight is the time of day when porcupines are most active. Feed yours once a day, always at this time.
Step 8. Provide a suitable bowl
It should be wide, so that the pet has no problems using it; and have a heavy bottom, so that he doesn't tip it over or try to play with it.
Step 9. Provide a rodent water dispenser or water bowl
Change the nursery water regularly.
- If using a bowl, look for a model similar to the one used for food: heavy and shallow enough not to tip over. Wash it well and change the water every day.
- If using a water dispenser, make sure your porcupine knows how to use it! It is likely that he has already learned it from his mother, but it may be necessary to help him in the beginning. The water inside the bottle must be replaced every day to prevent bacteria buildup.
Part 4 of 4: To keep the hedgehog healthy and happy
Step 1. Keep the nursery in a quiet and peaceful environment
Never leave it near the TV or stereo. Because it has to protect itself from predators in the wild, much of the porcupine's sense of location comes from hearing; therefore, the excess of sound stimuli will disturb you. Noise, lighting, and movement levels near the cage should be kept as low as possible; if they get bigger, move the cage temporarily. However, porcupines can become familiar with noise as long as they are exposed to it little by little.
Step 2. Give the animal opportunities to exercise
The natural tendency to gain weight makes physical activity one of the basic needs of these animals. This means you will have to buy lots of toys and an exercise wheel. Toys should be of materials that they can chew, squeeze, investigate, and even drop, as long as there are no pieces that can be pulled out and ingested. Look for small holes or loose lines in the toy, which could get caught in the porcupine's nails and paws.
- Toy suggestions: rubber balls, used toys, rubber dolls, baby teethers, toilet paper roll cores cut in half lengthwise, balls for birds or cats with little bells inside, etc.
- From time to time, let your pet play in a bigger place. You can buy a large plastic basin or drop it in the bathtub at home (as long as it's empty, obviously).
Step 3. Look for changes in the animal's behavior or water or food intake
Porcupines love to hide food, so double your attention. In the face of any significant changes, call your veterinarian, explain the situation to him, and ask if there is a need for a more detailed examination.
- If the hedgehog does not eat for a day or two, something is wrong and he needs medical attention. Without eating, these animals expose themselves to a risk of accumulating fat in the liver, which can be fatal.
- Look for scaling and dryness around the spines: this is a symptom of mite infestation, which, without treatment, can debilitate your pet.
- Fast or discontinuous breathing and the presence of mucus on the face and forelegs are symptoms of lung infection, a serious and common disease among porcupines.
- If the animal produces loose stools for more than a day, or if it has diarrhea accompanied by apathy and lack of appetite, it may be contaminated by parasites or have developed a disease.
- Hibernation, although normal in wild porcupines, poses risks when it occurs in captivity. As mentioned above, if you notice that your pet's belly is colder than usual, try to warm it up by putting it under your shirt, in direct contact with your skin. If his temperature doesn't rise within the next hour, take him to the vet urgently.
Step 4. Handle the porcupine frequently
This is the only way your pet can get used to being caught. And there is no reason to be afraid: he is not fragile as he seems. Try to handle it for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Approach the animal calmly and silently. Grasp it at the bottom of the body, making a gourd with both hands to lift it.
- Find opportunities to play with your hedgehog. In addition to catching him, have fun with him: the more you do it, the more receptive he will be.
Step 5. Clean the cage regularly
Every day, wash the food bowl and the water dispenser (or bowl) with hot water; remove stains, dirt, droppings, etc. from the bottom of the cage; and clean the exercise wheel. Change the liner once a week or as needed.
Step 6. Bathe the porcupine when you notice it dirty
Some pets will naturally be cleaner, others will need more frequent baths.
- Fill a sink with warm (never hot) water to the level of the porcupine's belly. Do not allow water to touch your nose or ears.
- Add some baby oat bath mix (Aveeno is one of the most popular manufacturers) or some puppy soap to the water. Use a toothbrush to clean the thorns and paws.
- Rinse with clean warm water. To dry it, tuck it in a clean, dry bath towel. If the pet doesn't seem to mind, you can use a hair dryer at minimum power - if you notice that it doesn't like it, however, just use the towel. Never return the still wet hedgehog to the cage.
Step 7. Make regular inspections of the porcupine's nails
If they grow and bend down, they can get caught somewhere - like on the exercise wheel - and be pulled out.
- Use small manicure scissors to trim only the tips of the claws.
- If bleeding occurs, apply cornstarch to the wound using a cotton swab. Use only native or organic cornstarch; those sold commercially can cause stinging.
Step 8. Prepare for the thorn exchange
This stage of the hedgehog's life - which is equivalent to what changing teeth is for the baby or ecdysis for the snake - starts between the sixth and eighth weeks of the pet's life and continues throughout its first year. During it, the spines with which the porcupine is born fall to make way for others that are stronger and more suited to its adult size. The exchange usually goes smoothly, but watch out for any signs of pain, discomfort, or that the new thorns aren't emerging as they should. During this period, the animal may become moody and unwilling to be held, but remember that it is only temporary. For your pet to go through the process more smoothly, put it in oat baths.
- An easy and inexpensive toy option for porcupine is the toilet paper roll core. Cut it in half lengthwise before handing it to the animal so it doesn't get pinched.
- Unless you want puppies, never buy a male and a female. The female porcupine reaches fertility at eight weeks of age, but will only be able to breed safely after six months. If, despite the warning, you acquire porcupines of different sexes, you should keep them separate: they are likely to breed with each other, and the last thing you want is unwanted, cross-fertilized puppies. In addition to the costs and risks of allowing these animals to breed, pregnancy can kill a porcupine that is too young. Never start raising porcupines without planning, as often the female or her offspring (or both) die in childbirth.
- Always check your pet's paws to see if they are tangled up in lines or hairs. If such an accident goes unnoticed, blood flow to the limb may be disrupted and the need to amputate may arise.
- Whenever you handle a porcupine, be gentle or you may get bitten.
- If your home is too cold, buy a ceramic heater or ceramic lamp. If this is not enough, install a reptile hotplate under the bottom of the cage (although this alternative is not recommended, because of the risk of the animal suffering severe and even fatal burns). Do not use light bulbs, which can disrupt the porcupine's circadian cycle.
- Not all veterinarians have experience with porcupines. Therefore, when purchasing your pet, ask the breeder or the pet shop for recommendations from professionals with this specialty. Hedgehog owners clubs and organizations can also provide such information. Once you know the name of the veterinarian, contact them to confirm that they specialize in porcupines before any emergencies happen.
- Check with the breeder if any individual of your porcupine's lineage has suffered from WHS (Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome; in Portuguese, something like "shaky hedgehog syndrome"). If this is the case, your pet may develop the same disease as they age. Never buy a porcupine in a hurry: research until you find the ideal breeder.
- If you want to own two hedgehogs, it is recommended that you keep them separate. These animals have a solitary nature, preferring to live only with themselves. When kept together, they are likely to fight each other; if they are two males, they will fight to the death.
- If there are no breeders in your area, it may be necessary to buy your pet at a pet shop. Therefore, watch carefully for signs that the porcupine is healthy (see Step #3 in Part 1 of this article).
- Never purchase a grid or bar exercise wheel. With these models, porcupines run the risk of losing their claws (or even their fingers) or breaking their legs. Do not use Silent Spinners branded products, which, although they are plastic, have joints where the porcupine's nails can catch. Look for solid surface exercise wheels (Comfort Wheel, Flying Saucer Wheel, Bucket Wheel, etc.).
- Don't mistreat your porcupine by dropping it, rolling it when it's curled up, throwing it into the air, and so on. This type of trauma will cause the animal to become irritable and antisocial.
- Don't allow "semi-hibernation" to occur - it's lethal to the pygmy hedgehog. The most common symptoms of this condition are acute lethargy and a lower than normal temperature in the belly area. In the presence of any of these symptoms, shelter the animal between your skin and the shirt so that it regains body heat. If necessary, heat it with the help of other objects - touch the animal with plastic bottles filled with lukewarm water, heated towels or a heating plate wrapped in fabric and adjusted to the minimum capacity. Do not place the porcupine in warm water in this situation. If the animal does not recover or becomes alert within an hour, take it to a veterinarian immediately.
- Attention: do not use cedar sawdust to line the cage. When interacting with porcupine urine, this wood will release toxic gases. The same phenomenon can occur with improperly treated pine wood - if your sawdust is of this material, smell it before putting it in the cage: the characteristic pine aroma will indicate that it has not been treated properly; the one of common wood, that it can be used safely.
- Handle the porcupine with due care or you'll get a bite. Any animal that has teeth can bite, it's true, but it's more common for this species to defend itself by wearing its armor. If the porcupine bites, don't react or it will clench its teeth even more. In case it doesn't release, try to force it gently. And never return him to the cage soon after a bite: he will take this as a sign that he should bite when he wants to go back to the aviary.
- Don't confuse the exchange of thorns with the loss of them (which can be caused by mites, infections or a poor diet). If you notice that any part of your pet's body is "bald", take it to the vet.