I get asked about hedgehogs as pets for kids pretty regularly. People find me through my other hedgehog blog posts such as:
They learn all about the products they need for a pet hedgehog, how to socialize their hedgehog, and how to take care of their hedgehog. What they are left wondering is whether their child would be able to care for a hedgehog on their own.
Of course, every child is different. However, generally speaking I would not recommend hedgehogs as pets for children. They might be okay for some older kids or teenagers but I would still recommend going with another type of pet.
Hedgehogs are not hamsters or guinea pigs. They have quills that hurt when they poke you. However, it’s not really the quills that make them a bad choice for kids. It’s the fact that they are not social creatures. Hamsters, guinea pigs and mice all can be a little bit playful. If they are well socialized they even seem to enjoy being held or using toys. Hedgehogs don’t generally use toys except for their exercise wheel. Those images you see online of hedgehogs stuck in toilet paper tubes aren’t fake, neccesarily. However, hedgehogs don’t erally “play” with toilet paper tubes or tunnels like other small critters will. They root around items in their cage. If you are getting a hedgehog check out my must have items for hedgehog page to see my water bowl recommendation. Every water dish I tried before that made a huge mess because my hedgehog would root around the cage and overturn his food an dwater dishes all the time. He wouldn’t “play” with paper towel rolls or any other type of “toy” that I tried giving him.
Well socialized hedgehogs will tolerate being picked up or held, but they still won’t actively seem very interested in being held. When I was a kid I had a hamster and if I put my hand down he’d crawl over into my hand to help me pick him up. My hedgehog never did that even though I held him very regularly. I always had to corner him to get him. Guinea pigs and mice will brush back and forth over your hand or arm to rub up against you and interact – hedgehogs don’t. If I was holding my hedgehog and put my hand down he’d scoot away unless he was tired enough to just fall asleep in my hand.
Hedgehogs are solitary animals in the wild, so unlike hamsters or mice they generally should be caged alone. They just aren’t social creatures, period.
These are all super minor behavioral traits, but when combined it just feels pretty clear as their owner that they just aren’t super interested in you. My feeling was always that my hedgehog didn’t mind me. He thought I was alright, I think. But I don’t think he would have been sad or lonely at all if I just fed him and let him be. For kids this makes them not as “fun” to interact with. Plus, they are nocturnal so they will be asleep while humans are awake. With all of these things combined, they are a really easy animal to just sort of forget about and let live in a cage 24/7. I know many kids get bored of more social creatures after a few months, so the risk of kids getting bored with a hedgehog is even greater due to the fact that they won’t be getting any “feedback” from their hedgehog.
Some older children who don’t need the social feedback and just want to help care for a life might be fine with a hedgehog. I definitely would not recommend them for younger children. For younger kids, the fact that they are pokey is a big factor. I have a little sister who was 7 or 8 when I got my hedgehog. She was really interested in him and wanted to hold him. She was scared of him though, so she didn’t have the self control to make calm, slow movements. She was too fast and spooked too easily which caused him to spook and curl up which poked her. So from then on out she was even more scared of him because she had been poked. She only came over once every few weeks, so I let her put on gloves before holding him. I thought that was okay considering she wasn’t one of his primary caregivers. However, if he had been her pet it wouldn’t have been a good idea to let her use gloves. Hedgehogs don’t have good vision so they rely more on scent than we do. They use scent to determine one person from the next. Wearing gloves blocks a lot of the scent on your hands which would make it really hard for a hedgehog to get to “know” that person and stay calm when held by them. I personally would not even consider getting a hedgehog for a child who wasn’t mature enough to handle the hedgehog with bare hands and remain calm and make slow, calculated movements as that is what the hedgehog needs from people.
If your child can tolerate handling and caring for a pokey, solitary animal then the remaining question is keeping up with care. Check out my “How Much Work Is A Pet Hedgehog?” post.
If you have experience with kids of any age please share your experience or tips/advice for determining if a child is ready for a pet hedgehog in the comments.