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Are Hedgehogs Exotic Pets? (And Why It Matters)

Are Hedgehogs Exotic Pets? (And Why It Matters)

The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.

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People are attracted to the unusual, rare, and exotic. The novelty of hedgehog ownership and the hedgehog’s innate cuteness has seen hedgehogs become an overnight internet sensation, with thousands heading out to buy a hedgehog for themselves.

With the restrictions placed on exotic pet ownership, defining the “exoticness” of pet hedgehogs is essential!

Hedgehogs are exotic pets according to the USA Department of Agriculture’s definition of an exotic pet. Hedgehog ownership is subject to legal restrictions determined by federal, state, and municipal laws regarding exotic pet trade, possession, sale, and transportation.

Exotic pets are the newest craze in the pet industry, especially the pocket pet trade. The grumpy cuteness of hedgehogs has made hedgehogs a favorite amongst pet owners looking for a low-maintenance exotic pet.

However, exotic pet ownership is not legal in all states, and it is essential to understand what hedgehog species can be legally owned in the different parts of the USA.

What Is an Exotic Pet?

There is no formal classification or definition of the term “exotic pet.” Most people understand the phrase “exotic pet” as any animal of wild origin, non-native animal species, or an unusual and rare companion animal.

Three issues may arise from these definitions.

  1. Wild animals can become domesticated and purposely bred for traits that make them desirable pets, e.g., rabbits
  2. Native animal species are often still listed as exotic pets, e.g., corn snakes are native to Eastern USA but are still classified as exotic pets in the USA
  3. The terms “unusual” and “rare” are subjective, and over time, an animal’s popularity as a pet may increase, making them a standard household pet

The USA Department of Agriculture defines an exotic pet as an animal not commonly kept as a family pet in the USA, e.g., dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, and most farm animals.

Are Hedgehogs Native to America?

Different hedgehog species have populated most parts of the world.

The most common species of pet hedgehog bred in America are the European hedgehog (Erinaceus eiropaeus) and the much smaller African pygmy hedgehog (Ateleric albiventris).

The African pygmy hedgehogs are native to the west and central African regions, while the European hedgehog (unsurprisingly) hails from the western and northern parts of Europe.

The Algerian hedgehog (Atelerix algirus), also known as the North African hedgehog,is the oldest species of domesticated hedgehog. Romans first domesticated the Algerian hedgehog species in the 4th century for their meat, quills, and companionship.

Originating from Africa, the Algerian hedgehog can now be found in the wilds of Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Malta, Spain, and Morocco. The Black Algerian hedgehog is the rarest species of pet hedgehog currently residing in America.

Amphechinus is an extinct species of hedgehog that originated in Asia and Europe during the Oligocene period and then migrated to North America, Africa, Asia, and Europe during the Miocene period.

Except for the now extinct, Amphechinus hedgehog species, no hedgehog species has ever made their home in the wilds of America nor been classified as an indigenous species.

Are Hedgehogs Exotic Pets in America?

According to the USA Department of Agriculture, Hedgehogs are considered exotic pets as they are not dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, or farm animals.

Hedgehogs are also considered exotic according to the following definitions:

  1. An animal that is considered more “wild” than domesticated, although the lengthy domestication of the Algerian hedgehog could contest the veracity of this argument.
  2. An animal who is not indigenous to the area, i.e., in America, there are no native hedgehog species
  3. It is an unusual and rare pet, although as they gain popularity, the strength of this argument will diminish. The Black Algerian hedgehog is considered the most exotic USA pet hedgehog.

What Hedgehog Species Can You Legally Keep in America?

Most species of domestic hedgehogs can be legally kept in the USA, dependent on regional laws. The legality of hedgehog ownership is dependent on federal laws, state laws, and municipal laws.

Federal laws do not currently prohibit the ownership of African Pygmy hedgehogs, European hedgehogs, or Algerian hedgehogs.

In Which States Is Hedgehog Ownership Illegal?

It is illegal to possess, transport, or trade any species of hedgehog in the following states:

  1. California
  2. Georgia
  3. Hawaii
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. New York City
  6. Washington DC

Idaho and Oregan have laws relating to the TYPE of hedgehog private persons can own. Both these states permit the legal ownership of African Pygmy hedgehogs but prohibit the ownership of European hedgehogs.

Pennsylvania states that it is illegal to import hedgehogs into the state, but individuals may legally keep hedgehogs descended from pre-1992 Pennsylvanian registered hedgehogs.

Which States Require a Permit to Own a Hedgehog?

New Jersey, Wyoming, and Wisconsin require a permit to be issued for hedgehog owners. Permits will only be issued to owners who can:

  1. Prove they brought their hedgehog from a registered breeder
  2. Provide a verified health certificate signed by a registered veterinarian

If you are unsure about the legality of hedgehog ownership, you can contact your local municipality and consult BornFree’s summary of applicable laws regulating exotic pet ownership in America.

The Future of Hedgehog Ownership in America

There is no doubt that hedgehogs are charming pets, enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity as companion pets. However, this dramatic rise in popularity may come to a stuttering stop if:

  1. Animal rights activists win the case against ethical (and legal) hedgehog ownership
  2. One or more of the hedgehog species becomes threatened or endangered

The endangered species act (ESA), passed in 1973, is enforced by the Department of Commerce, Agriculture, and Interior. This act makes it illegal to trade in threatened or endangered animal species.

Under the act, importation, exportation, transportation, selling, buying, and possession of an endangered or threatened species is prohibited and punishable with criminal and civil penalties:

  1. A criminal violation can result in imprisonment and a fine of $50,000
  2. A major civil offense is punishable with fines between $12,000 to $25,000
  3. A minor civil violation can be enforced with a $500 fine and removal of the animal

The IUCN red list is a valuable resource that allows hedgehog owners and prospective hedgehog owners to check the conservation status of a specific hedgehog species.

While not yet listed as threatened, the European hedgehog population is rapidly declining. It may be added to the list of threatened species shortly unless their population numbers stabilize.

Hedgehogs are legally protected from cruelty in the UK under the Wild Mammals Protection Act passed in 1996. The UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act enforced in 1981 makes it illegal to capture or kill wild hedgehogs unless due process is followed.

Final Thoughts

According to most definitions of the term “exotic pets,” hedgehogs fulfill the requirements and, as such, are considered exotic pets.

Hedgehogs are subject to the rules and regulations concerning exotic pet ownership in the USA.

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