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Do Porcupines Make Great Pets? What You Need to Know!

Quincy Miller

Porcupines might have a reputation for being a bit prickly, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make great pets. In fact, for some people, the porcupine might be the perfect pet, and for others, they’re definitely worth considering.

However, they’re quite unlike any pet that you’ve probably owned before, so you should do your research before buying one. We have plenty of information for you right here!

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Is It Even Legal to Own a Porcupine?

The answer is that it depends. Different places have different laws, so check the regulations in your neck of the woods before you buy one.

It may also depend on what type of porcupine you get. There are actually 29 different species, but the one most commonly kept as a pet is the North American porcupine, which just happens to be the largest of them all.

One of the biggest concerns that state governments have in terms of allowing certain pets to be owned is what would happen if that pet got loose. If the animal is a non-native species, it could wreak havoc on the local ecosystem, so most states prefer not to take any chances.

In some states, you can own certain exotic pets if you have a permit for them. These permits can be pricey, though, and there will likely be a restrictive set of rules that you have to follow in order to keep the animal. However, breeding them will almost always be illegal regardless of where you live.

Keep in mind that even if you live in a state that allows you to keep a porcupine as a pet, that doesn’t mean that your landlord or homeowner’s insurance will be so accommodating. There are often strict rules against exotic animal ownership in both cases.

porcupine in the woods
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

What Is Owning a Pet Porcupine Like?

Porcupines are generally easygoing creatures, and they’re not that active. They prefer to lounge around all day, only getting up to eat and maybe to do a quick inspection of their surroundings.

They’re nocturnal by nature, so don’t expect them to put on much of a show during the daytime. They have poor eyesight but a fantastic sense of smell, so they may not recognize you until you get within sniffing range.

It is possible to pick up a porcupine, but you have to be careful. They have to trust you, and you shouldn’t make any sudden movements. Make sure to pick them up by their soft underbelly (no quills there), and don’t hold them close to your body.

As you might expect, given their barbed armor, these aren’t the cuddliest of pets. Still, they’re cute and fun to watch, so as long as you don’t need much physical affection from your animal, they can make an interesting and low-maintenance pet.

Are Porcupines Dangerous?

That depends on who’s asking and how you behave around them.

Contrary to popular belief, porcupines can’t “shoot” their quills, so the only way that you’ll get jabbed is if you handle them improperly. That said, getting a quill stuck in your body can be an agonizing experience.

Porcupines not usually aggressive creatures, though, and they don’t carry any diseases that can be transmitted to humans (with one major exception: rabies). As long as you’re careful with your porcupine, you should never be in any danger.

The same may not be able to be said about the other members of your household. Many dogs have come wandering home with porcupine quills stuck to their noses, and cats aren’t immune to getting punished for their curiosity.

While not likely to be life-threatening, getting a face full of porcupine quills is torture for your pets. Removing the quills isn’t fun either, but if you don’t remove them promptly, they could penetrate deeper into the animal’s body, causing serious complications. They could also become infected and lead to dangerous abscesses.

What Do Porcupines Eat?

Porcupines are herbivores, so you’ll need to provide them with a steady diet of fruits and veggies. In the wild, they eat barks, leaves, roots, stems, and berries, among other vegetation.

However, they have a reputation for being picky eaters, so don’t be surprised if you see your porcupine spit something out or refuse to touch it entirely. There’s a bit of a trial-and-error process until you can figure out your new pet’s preferred diet.

They generally need to be fed twice a day, with maybe a snack or two in between meals. Meals should be heavy on plants and similar vegetation, and you can give them fruit as a between-meals treat. Be careful not to go overboard with fruits, though. They’re full of sugar and could cause your porcupine to become overweight, which is terrible for their health.

Some porcupines like to dig for their food, so burying foods like sweet potatoes may give them a bit of exercise along with a tasty meal. They also tend to crave salt, and it’s okay to sprinkle a little on their food.

You’ll need to provide them with fresh water daily and disinfect the bowls often. You can’t use rubber or plastic bowls, though, because they’ll gnaw right through them in no time.

two porcupines eating
Image Credit: alenat, Pixabay

What Kind of Habitat Do Porcupines Need?

This is one of the things that make porcupines difficult to keep as pets. They can’t be housetrained, so you can’t let them roam free in your house, even if you don’t have any pets or small children running around.

Instead, they’ll need a large wire cage or giant ventilated aquarium. The bottom of the habitat should be lined with straw or pine shavings, and you’ll need enough to keep them comfy and enable them to dig if they feel the urge.

Many porcupines love to climb, and some will even hang from branches like possums. You should include at least a few branches or other climbing areas for them so they can get some exercise and mental stimulation.

Porcupines are fairly hardy as far as weather is concerned, so as long as you don’t keep your house at extreme temperatures, they should be fine.

They tend to be solitary creatures, so you don’t need to pair them with other animals. In fact, they can become quite territorial and aggressive toward other animals, especially as they reach sexual maturity, so it’s best to let them keep to themselves.

What Else Should I Know About Porcupines?

One of the biggest reasons that many people don’t keep porcupines as pets (besides the quills, of course) is the fact that they smell awful. You’ll need to clean out their cage often — maybe even daily — to keep the odor at bay, but you can only do so much.

They’re not that affectionate, but if they like you and trust you, they may rub noses with you. Also, you can pet them on their backs, but only if their quills are flattened. This is a bit like playing Russian roulette, though, because they spook easily, and those quills can easily come up mid-pet.

It’s possible to train them to a certain extent using positive reinforcement, but don’t expect miracles. Any training will likely be purely for novelty purposes rather than being truly useful.

Like rabbits and most rodents, a porcupine’s teeth never stop growing. As a result, they’ll need something to chew on that allows them to file down their teeth. This can be a branch or even a bone that’s been cut into manageable chunks.

Also, keep in mind that these animals can live for over 10 years in captivity, so don’t get one expecting it to be a short-term commitment.

porcupine leaning on table
Image Credit: Dorothée QUENNESSON, Pixabay

What Should I Do If I Get Quilled?

If you own a porcupine and insist on handling them, then there’s a good chance that sooner or later, you’ll get quilled.

Getting quilled is extremely painful, but as long as the quills aren’t in places like your eyes, nose, or mouth, it’s unlikely to be seriously life-threatening.

The most important thing that you should do is resist the urge to pull the quills out yourself. Go to your doctor and let them handle it instead.

They’ll likely give you a local anesthetic, which will be sorely needed. Then, they’ll most likely cut the quill to release the pressure inside, causing the barbs to soften and making them easier to remove.

At that point, it’s a matter of grabbing the quill(s) with fingers or pliers and slowly working them out. Even with the anesthetic, this is likely to be painful, so you’ll be glad to have someone else doing it for you. Also, doctors can ensure that the wound is clean, as infection is one of the biggest health risks involved with getting quilled.

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Is a Porcupine the Right Pet for You?

Porcupines are certainly unorthodox pets, but that doesn’t make them bad pets. They can be wonderfully interesting companions for the right kind of person.

However, if you expect your pets to be affectionate and cuddly, they’re probably not for you (unless you have a really high pain tolerance). You’re better off sticking with a dog or a cat.

If you’re up to the challenge and don’t mind having an aloof pet on your hands, though, porcupines can be great fun.


Featured Image Credit: analogicus, Pixabay

Quincy Miller

Quincy has been around mutts his entire life and has been writing about them for the past nine years and now consists of sharing a house with three spoiled pups who couldn’t hold down a job to save their lives. Quincy never intended to be a cat person. When his wife brought home a kitten one day, he told her she had one week to find it a new home. That week turned into 10 years (his wife moves very slowly), and that kitten turned into three (they got two more, the kitten didn't self-replicate). After a decade of sharing his home with the dogs and three cats, one horrifying realization finally set in: oh God, he's a cat person now too, isn't he???