Porcupines are considered exotic pets because they are wild animals and not typically kept as pets.
Their unique features have generated great interests from some humans but a majority of us wouldn’t be looking to keep porcupines as pets.
The first thing that probably comes to your mind when you think of porcupine is; a creature with sharp needles likes spikes, waiting to throw them at you if you get closer. Well, that is really not the case.
They don’t shoot the quills (spikes) in the air but you will get hit if they feel threatened.
I wanted this article to be a complete resource to pet lovers who want to keep porcupines. They are a unique pet and there are definitely a lot of misunderstandings about them.
People have varied experience while keeping these rodents as pets. However, I don’t think you would really know what you are getting into until and unless you already have a pet porcupine. They are not cuddly like cats and dogs nor are they like birds, reptiles, fish or other mammals.
This article is laid out for you in great detail to help you guide and decide if you really do want a pet porcupine. Even if you already have one, I hope this is still going to help you better care for your porcupines. (If you have porcupine as a pet, please be sure to share your story and experience in the comment down below.)
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There are 29 species of porcupines and for various reasons not all of them can be kept as pets.
Depending on where you live, it may be illegal to keep some species of porcupines. Keeping some could turn out to be quite expensive in the long run. Other major reason is the difficulty in housing them. While housing them you have to consider their wild habitats and build housing accordingly.
The one that is probably most commonly kept as pets is the largest species, the North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum). Some people also keep African crested porcupines (Hystrix cristata) as pets. Another species that is kept is the Prehensile-tailed porcupines (Coendou). These porcupines can climb like a squirrel and hang like a possum. They are full of energy, curiosity and needs.
Keeping porcupines is a great challenge so you have to be ready for it. They have a lot of daily needs which has to be taken into considerations. Like I mentioned above, they also need to be housed imitating their natural habitat. I have included more on housing, in detail, in the Pet Porcupines Care section below.
Before you keep any porcupines, you have to make sure they are legal to keep as pets where you stay at. It is illegal to keep them in a lot of American states. California is one such state where you can’t keep them as pets. In some states like New York and Utah, you can keep them legally. It is perfectly legal to keep pet porcupines almost anywhere within Canada.
To be on the safe side, find your country, state or county/province/district laws regarding keeping exotic wildlife beforehand. It might also be illegal to cross country/state boundaries with porcupines. Also note that, if you want to breed them then very likely you may need a license from your local Department of Wildlife.
Besides that, here are some other things you have to think about before you get a porcupine:
- See if your landlord allows it.
- What if you have to move later on?
- If you go on a vacation, who will take care of it?
- What if later on you think keeping porcupine is not cool anymore?
- See if you can find a vet near you that knows about porcupine’s health issues.
Porcupines are slow-moving and may look weak but they have a unique physical attribute, the dreaded quills, which are their natural defensive package. They are incredibly protective of themselves and do not hesitate to use these threatening defensive structures. Having said all that, you can keep a porcupine without getting hurt at all.
Here are some of the things you can do to not get struck by the quills:
- Never scoop it up and bring it close to your body quickly.
- Whatever you do don’t make it feel threatened or frightened.
- Don’t move fast around a porcupine. Don’t startle or surprise it.
- To be on the safe side always use heavy duty leather gloves when handling it.
- Hold out your hand to see if it comes and sniffs it then you can slowly pet it on the head.
- Build relations by spending time with it and before you know it, it would want treats and belly scratches.
Be extremely careful introducing an adult porcupine if you already have a pet dog or a cat. Dogs and cats are curious in nature and might get hit by the quills due to their inquisitiveness. If a young porcupine is kept together with cats and dogs from the very early years, they all may be able to coexist together without anyone getting hurt.
If you got a baby porcupine as a pet but later, down the road, want to release it in the wild, keep in mind that it may not be able to survive in the wild. This is because once it gets used to you, your pets and the surroundings; it may have no fear of other pets, wild animals or humans. It can end up getting killed because it may not be used to using the quills for defensive purpose when it needs to.
They may not really be ideal pets like dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and other rodents. However, they should not be the subject of terror.
We have to understand that just like other exotic pets we have tamed overtime, porcupines could be amazing pets too.
Here are some of their cool facts and characteristics that are going to help you better understand these animals:
- The most characteristic feature about porcupines is obviously that they are quill bearing rodents. Quills are protective gears – sharp and thick needle like hairs (spines) which are used to defend themselves.
- Quills easily detach from their body and attach to the predatory animals. The barbs that run along the tip of the quill shaft facilitate this easy attachment, also assisting the quill to move up the skin surface and puncture vital internal organs. Hence, they are not only painful but could also be deadly.
Photo courtesy: sciencemag.org
- Contrary to the popular belief, however, no species of porcupines shoot the quills in the air. When they feel threatened, they will warn you first by showing their quills; flaring them all along the body including the tail. They look bigger and bushy when they do this. They also shake their tail back and forth bristling up. Then they spin around, turn their backside and whack the predators with their tail/behind. With the dorsal side (backside) and the tail covered with approximately 30,000 quills, they can literally drive hundreds of quills at a time into their predators.
- Porcupines are found throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. In the wild, their habitat ranges from the grasslands, shrub lands, mountains, forests and even deserts.
- There are 2 kinds of porcupines. The new world ones (Erethizontidae) and the old world ones (Hystricidae) are not related to one another, except the fact that they are both rodents. The new world ones are arboreal (live in trees) and the old world ones are terrestrial (live on land).
- North American porcupines (also known as Canadian porcupines or Common porcupines) are found in all 48 contiguous U.S. states, Alaska, Canada, including some parts of northern Mexico. They are arboreal hence belong to the new world kind. They have easygoing personalities and are common in conifer, evergreen forests, woodlands and deserts throughout the North American and some parts of South American continent. On these particular arboreal species, quills on the tail are really hard, tough and also points backwards enabling them to stay and climb on the tree branches.
- North American ones are also noted to be really good swimmers because the hollow quills helps them stay afloat in water.
- The smaller prehensile South American counterparts have no quills on the tail but they do use their tail to climb trees and hang on branches just like a possum does. That is how they got their name as Prehensile-tailed porcupines.
- All species of porcupines are solitary, slow moving animals that live in trees trunks, hollow logs, trees, burrows or rock crevices in the wild. They do not hibernate but tend to sleep a lot.
- Porcupines are herbivores. In the wild their diet consists of twigs, berries, leaves, roots, stem and other vegetation. During winter seasons some species of porcupines also depend on barks and conifer needles.
- Their head is small but usually is also covered in quills. They have a chunky, stocky body. The face is small and usually darker in color as compared to the rest of their body.
- Their nose is soft to touch and doesn’t have any quills. Nose is a vulnerable spot. (Predators that specialize in killing porcupines attack the nose first, flip the porcupine over and eat the belly side first, which is also quill free.)
- All porcupines are near sighted rodents with poor eyesight but excellent sense of smell. They are nocturnal but can also be active during days.
- Their colors vary from dark brown to black with white highlights. All porcupines have carved claws on each foot to help forage or climb trees (in arboreal species). And like all rodents, their front teeth (incisors) continue to grow throughout their life.
- Male and females are pretty much the same size. Their weight may vary from 3.5 kg – 18 kg (7.7 lbs – 40 lbs) depending on the species.
- The length not counting the tail is approximately 25 – 41 inches. Length of the tail ranges from 5.7 – 12 inches (14.5 – 30 cm)
- They have shorter hind legs with four fingers on the front feet and 5 on the hind feet. Hind foot is 3 – 3.6 inches (7.5 – 9.1 cm) long.
- Reproductive season depends on which part of the world the porcupine is from. They do call to attract mates and males tend to fight over females. In North American porcupines, this starts at late summer through early fall. For majority of other porcupines, breeding occurs in fall, early winter. After about 210 days of gestation, female gives birth to 1-2 babies.
- The young ones are born with soft quills that take couple of hours to harden and they stay with their mothers for at least 6 months after birth.
- In the wild their life span is 5-8 years but in captivity they can live for more than 10 years.
Now let us look at some popular porcupines in the news. Due to them, porcupines as pets have become more popular than ever. They are basically the great ambassadors for the porcupine species.
Snickers is a famous porcupine who became a star when his YouTube video went viral. So far his video has reached over 3.9 million views. Check out that video here:
Snickers, later renamed as Stinkers (take a guess why), is a male porcupine who lives at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, Alaska. He was found alone orphaned as a porcupette (baby porcupine) and was raised in a home as a pet before being relocated in the conservation center. He is a very friendly porcupine who loves to climb on everything. Over the years he has been great for school presentation and animal shows and loves to entertain people. Just like a puppy, he jumps up and down, chases his tail and even rolls on his back.
Another most notable celebrity porcupine is without a doubt Teddy Bear, the talking porcupine.
Her owner Allison at Zooniversity had her since she was found as a new born baby orphaned in a barn in a farm in Texas.
Teddy has legions of devoted fans. He has more than 31,000 fans just on Facebook.
Here is Teddy making a fuss while eating corn in a cob:
You can also know more about Teddy in his social media pages:
- And don’t forget to check out Teddy’s official page here.
Before we delve into details about porcupine pet care, let us take a quick look at the pros and cons of keeping pet porcupines.
I have to be real honest here. There are definitely more cons in keeping porcupines then pros.
The biggest pro is most definitely ‘the challenge’ if you love exotic animals and are not afraid of a challenge. Not everyone keeps porcupines as pets so it is pretty cool to have one.
They can be trained to some extent as they do well with positive reinforcement behavior.
Now on the other hand let us look at some cons of keeping pet porcupines.
Most likely they want to be left alone and are not really affectionate. Unless it is a rare case where you have raised them from small and they really get attached to you.
They can’t be house trained like dogs and cats and do smell bad. They also get real territorial and cranky when they reach sexual maturity.
Another concern is that since they are rodents, they could be the carriers of rabies and you can get rabies if you get bit by an infected porcupine.
And then of course, they have quills which can be very dangerous. However, many porcupine handlers and lovers agree that the quills are harmless as long as the animal isn’t alarmed and you think safety first.
When not alarmed, these spines/quills are flattened and you can rub and stroke their back. They like to be petted as well. The trick in not getting stuck by quills is to always pet and gently stroke them from front to back. To be on the safe side always use thick leather gloves while petting and handling them.
Porcupines are affectionate and love to snuggle and rub their nose on you once they get to know you.
One of the best times to bond with a pet porcupine is their snack time. If you have their favorite snack they will get attached to you fairly quick. I mean, they are real smart animals. They know who has the goodies.
Like I mentioned in the cons above, the major worry is about the quills. When other pets are around, this could be a concern because naturally other pets like dogs and cats are very inquisitive.
It is in porcupine’s nature to be defensive first. Hence, it is best to keep them separate from other pets, unless there is a rare occurrence where they get along together. (Please be sure to share if you have seen such circumstances in the comments below.)
Another thing to keep in mind is to never let them be alarmed. Loud noises and extreme sounds can make porcupines nervous. Something as simple as slamming the door little harder can lead to misunderstandings and consequently a disaster. Do not totally surprise them either.
Make some kind of small noise or talk to them like you would do with any other pet while approaching them. It is always best to keep them calm by letting them know that you are no harm to them if you want to avoid any accidents. Whatever you do, do not be threatening or aggressive or else you are going to deal with the consequences of being quilled.
Just like keeping any other pets, you need to take care of porcupines basic needs of housing and food.
Housing, Temperature and Lighting:
Porcupines can be housed outdoors or indoors but I recommend housing them indoors because better temperature control is possible indoors.
I know some people keep porcupines in aquariums. Aquariums are fine as long as it is well ventilated and spacious. However, I believe big wire cages are ideal for porcupines.
For the bedding and at the bottom of the cage, straws or pine shavings can be used. Straws are ideal because they are easier to clean considering the fact that porcupines smell and their house needs to be cleaned almost everyday.
Lots of tree branches, wood stalks, logs must be kept in the house to ensure that porcupines feel like they are in their natural environment. They need some sun but shaded area is also needed so they can cool themselves if they are kept outdoors.
Temperature is not really going to be a big issue if it does not exceed that of their natural habitats.
In the wild, crested porcupines have to face a range of 55 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit and North American ones have to face below freezing to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Except for the Crested and the North American, all other species are from sub-tropical or tropical climate. So they need to be housed from 70 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
If kept indoors, the temperature can be maintained to a constant 75 degrees for any species. If kept outdoors, you are going to need well ventilated structures that protect them from sun, wind and temperature extremes.
For the porcupines that spend time on trees (arboreal), like prehensile tailed and North American, the cage should be higher (vertical) than longer (horizontal) because they rarely get on the ground. For the porcupines that do not climb trees (terrestrial), like crested, cages need to be longer than taller.
The general rule for the cage is the bigger the cage, the better it is. For a single arboreal porcupine, the minimum requirement is 5 x 5 x 8 (200 cu ft) and for every additional porcupine, the cage space should be increased by at least 25 %.
The terrestrial porcupines are poor climbers. Some like the crested porcupines are larger and great diggers. So you need to facilitate this natural digging behavior. For them, the minimum requirement is 6 x 8 x 6 (288 cu ft) and for every additional porcupine, the cage space should be increased by at least 25 %. For Brush Tailed porcupines, the minimum requirement is 5 x 5 x 6 (150 cu ft) and for every additional porcupine, the cage space should be increased by at least 20 %.
For lighting, normal incandescent or fluorescent lighting is good. Light is needed but too much light should be avoided. Like I mentioned above, shaded areas must be included in kept outdoors to let them escape from the heat and sunlight.
Diet for porcupines:
In terms of food, all species of porcupines are herbivores and vegetables / greens are their staple meals. In the wild their diet varies from twigs, berries, barks, leaves, roots, stem and other vegetation depending on the seasons and species of porcupines.
In captivity, fruits and veggies should be their staple diet. Along with fruits and veggies you can also give them monkey chow and / or rodent chow.
With abundant food available in the wild, porcupines tend to be picky eaters. They might take a bite of a food and if they don’t like it, move on to the next one, if more options are available. Therefore, in captivity I think it would be wise to set regular eating hours for them. Feeding them twice a day and fruits snacks couple of times in between should be ideal. Porcupines love to snack on fruits with high fibers and glucose content like apples. They also love corn on a cob and yellow pumpkins.
Ground dwelling ones like the African crested porcupines love digging for roots in the wild so they may also enjoy eating edible tubers and tuber roots like yams and sweet potatoes. African crested porcupines are originally from the African continent so they might not be genetically protected from the bacteria found where you stay at. Hence, you have to clean the food, wash it thoroughly before giving it to them.
Porcupines love to go dumpster diving whenever they get a chance but it is not a good idea to let them due to the high probably of various dangerous bacteria present in the dumpster.
Porcupines have craving for salt since their natural diet is low in sodium. Sprinkle salt in their food or you can provide them with a block of mineral salt. However make sure that they are not ingesting too much salt.
Any objects handled by human hands like, wooden tool handles, gloves, hoses, tires, wooden structures etc. are very likely to be chewed on by porcupines because of the salt present in human sweat. If you don’t want your porcupine to chew on these, spray them with capsaicin based ‘hot sauce’ repellent. These repellents are fairly easy to make by yourself and is irritating to small mammals like porcupines.
Talking about chewing, all porcupines need something to chew on at all times. Like all other rodents their incisors (front teeth) grow all the time. If they do not have chewies, their teeth will not wear down properly and can grow long, injuring the insides of their mouth.
Chewies can be something non toxic like birch or willow branch. In the wild some porcupines have been known to chew on bones for this purpose. Beef bones cut in small chunks can also be used. If bones are used they will be a supplement for calcium as well.
Fresh water must be available at all times and food and water bowls must be disinfected daily. Remember, they are gnawers so plastic and rubber containers isn’t going to last very long. You have to use stainless steel or ceramic crocks instead.
Now for the newborn porcupines, they start eating solid food 2 weeks after birth but continue to nurse up to 5 – 6 months.
Porcupines are not very popular pets because of their quills. I mean who would want to get quilled right? Some exotic pet lovers however are not discouraged by the challenges or be scared to keep porcupines as pets.
One of the important must know about keeping porcupines as a pet is being prepared for the worst. What to do if a person or animal gets quilled?
Porcupines are not known to chase and attack people or other animals. They mind their own business however; they do attack when provoked and threatened.
Some pets like dogs are more prone to get quilled because of their playful nature. Also due to their predatory nature, dogs don’t usually learn their lessons after they get quilled once.
But it is not only pets that are prone to be attacked. Any curious domesticated animals like horse, cow, sheep etc. are prone to get attacked. Even people are prone to get attacked, if the porcupines feel threatened.
Mighty punch with a tail full of quills is going to be painful no doubt. When quilled in softer parts of the body particularly the eyes, throat and mouth, it can turn out to be deadly.
Some pet animals can go under shock due to the pain. And the thing is, they have to be taken out a certain way to decrease further damage to part of skin and organs.
If someone gets poked, get medical help immediately. You might think about wanting to pullout the quill by yourself. But, it is never a good idea to to do so, unless you are pro.
It is not easy to take the quills out and without anesthetics it is going to hurt really bad. Due to the barbed nature of the quills, they keep moving inwards so minimize movements. Furthermore, if the quill breaks within the body, it can lead to infections.
Now you might be wondering what happens when a porcupine gets quilled by another one. Well, they are equipped with antibiotics in their skin so they don’t have to worry about the quills like other animals do.
It takes a lot of courage and sacrifices to pet a porcupine. But if you make a connection with a porcupine by learning about it and spend time with it could turn out to be very rewarding in the long run. Whatever you do treat your porcupines right and feed them well because a hungry porcupine is an angry porcupine. And always be careful when a person or animal is around a porcupine to make sure they don’t get agitated. The quills can puncture skin, muscles causing serious injury and even death in rare conditions.
Is this article helpful? Do you have a story or anything else that you would like to share about keeping pet porcupines? Please leave a comment below.
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