Exotic pets are great fun. But which is better: a chinchilla or a hedgehog? And if one is better than the other, why?
Should you get a chinchilla or a hedgehog? Both chinchillas and hedgehogs make goood pets, so you can’t go wrong with either. But we believe chinchillas make the better pets, because they live longer, have the softest fur of any pet, and are legal to keep almost everywhere (unlike pygmy hedgehogs). However, you might find hedgehogs cuter as they’re smaller, or prefer that they are a more unusual exotic pet. Try to spend time with both pets to see which you prefer before getting either. We recommend adopting your new pet rather than buying one where possible.
Our guide looks at every way chinchillas and hedgehogs are different, so you can see which one you prefer. We’ll also give guidelines on whether they can live together (hint: they can’t) and how to decide between them if you aren’t sure which you prefer.
Are Chinchillas Better Than Hedgehogs?
We believe chinchillas are the best pets of all, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we think they’re better than hedgehogs. However, what’s also true is that different people want different things from the experience of owning a pet: fun, long-term companionship, novelty or something else entirely. As such, while chinchillas may be our favorite pets they may not be yours.
Below, we’ve looked at all the most important aspects of owning either chinchillas or hedgehogs: handling them, feeding them, spending time with them, how long they live, how likely they are to get sick, how much they cost and more. By the end of our guide, you should have an idea of which pet you prefer.
What’s The Difference Between a Chinchilla And a Hedgehog?
Hedgehogs and chinchillas are separate species entirely. You can tell just from looking at them that they aren’t particularly closely related.
The kind of chinchilla that’s kept as a pet is the long-tailed chinchilla; the only other species is the short-tailed chinchilla. These both come from the Andes Mountains. They’re in the same family (Chinchillidae) as the viscacha, an animal that looks like a cross between a chinchilla and a hare. Another rodent from South America, the guinea pig, is distantly related to the chinchilla too. Chinchillas have very thick, long fur to protect themselves from the cold of the Andes. They have large rounded ears and rodent-like faces.
There are lots of species of hedgehog, and they come from all over the world. The most common domesticated kind is the African pygmy hedgehog, also known as the four-toed hedgehog. Other domesticated species include the Egyptian long-eared hedgehog, the Indian long-eared hedgehog and the Algerian hedgehog. The guide below applies to all of these different domesticated species. The most distinctive feature of all these species is their spines, which aren’t as sharp or as long as a porcupine, but can still hurt if they poke you.
Are Hedgehogs or Chinchillas Easier to Care For?
Hedgehogs and chinchillas require roughly the same amount of care, although the care you provide for one is different to the care you provide to the other. Things that both require include:
- Food. Chinchillas need a diet of hay and hay pellets. Pygmy hedgehogs are omnivores, but they eat insects more than anything else; despite that, people mostly feed them dry cat biscuits.
- Shelter. Chinchillas need to be kept in cages. People keep pygmy hedgehogs in aquarium-style tanks.
- Vet care. When any pet gets sick, you have to take it to the vet. It doesn’t matter if your pet is big or small.
- Company. Chinchillas like the company of other chinchillas. Pygmy hedgehogs live alone, but your company stops them from becoming stressed and unhappy in their tanks.
- Cleaning. Both pets go to the toilet and make a mess of their food on occasion, so you have to clean up after them. That means spot cleaning the cage every day, and deep cleaning it every few months.
While they’re both small pets, and small pets are thought of as ‘low maintenance’, that’s not the case for either of these exotics.
Which is better? Neither.
Are Chinchillas or Hedgehogs Cheaper to Keep?
Neither chinchillas nor hedgehogs cost significantly more than the other, despite their differing care needs. The initial purchase of a tank/cage, plus everything that goes in it, is expensive for both pets.
Ways in which the cost of each pet differs include:
- Temperature regulation. Pygmy hedgehogs need to stay at between 21-25 degrees Centigrade/70-77 degrees Fahrenheit. This means you have to heat your hedgehog’s tank, which is an ongoing cost. Chinchillas, on the other hand, should be kept at regular room temperature.
- Food. Hay is cheaper than whatever you decide to feed your hedgehog, be it dried cat food, wet dog food, insects bought in bulk from pet stores, or anything else that’s suitable for them.
- Number of pets. Chinchillas thrive in pairs, while pygmy hedgehogs are solitary. It’s possible to keep chinchillas alone, provided you spend lots of time with them, but most owners don’t.
- Lifespan. As we’ll get to in a moment, chinchillas live longer than hedgies. You’ll therefore be paying for your chinchilla (or chinchillas) longer than you’d be paying for a pet pygmy hedgehog.
If you have any reservations as to whether you can afford your pet, be it a hedgehog or a chinchilla, we don’t recommend buying one. But hedgehogs are cheaper overall since they won’t live as long.
Which is better? Over the course of their lifespans? Hedgehogs. On a day to day basis? Chinchillas.
Do Chinchillas or Hedgehogs Live Longer?
This is one way in which you might think either chinchillas or pygmy hedgehogs are the better pet.
Chinchillas have the longest lives of almost all the rodents. They live for ten years on average, although twenty years isn’t unhear of among experienced owners. The oldest ever chinchilla lived to the ripe old age of 29, which made it older than most common pets, let alone rodents. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, have short lifespans. The average pet hedgehog lives to between 3-6 years.
Whether you prefer having a pet that could live for 20 years or one that’s only likely to live to 4 or 5 years is up to you. If you want long-term companionship, you would do better to have a chinchilla, as your friend could be by your side for a significant portion of your life. But if you frequently have to move house, don’t have or don’t want a steady job, or aren’t sure if you’re ready for that kind of commitment, then a shorter-lived pet would be the better choice.
Which is better? It depends on what you want from your new pet.
Do Chinchillas or Hedgehogs Handle Better?
There are a few ways to address this question.
The first is, is it more pleasant to hand a chinchilla or a hedgehog? Well, hedgehogs aren’t as spiky and spiny as you might think. Picking one up isn’t like trying to pick up a cactus. You can hold a pet pygmy hedgehog without getting spiked, and they can learn to tolerate being held. Chinchillas, though, are definitely more pleasant to handle: they have the softest fur of any pet by far. While you shouldn’t squeeze them and cuddle them close—they’re too delicate, and you could break their ribs doing so—it’s still lots of fun to stroke and pet them.
The other way you could interpret this question is as asking which pet tolerates handling better, and enjoys being around people more. In this regard, chinchillas and hedgehogs are roughly even. They’re both skittish pets that aren’t as fully domesticated as others like cats or dogs. As such, you need to very gradually teach them to get used to you: first sitting by their cages, getting them to sniff your hand, having them eat from your hand, and bit-by-bit teaching them that you aren’t a predator.
Which is better? Chinchillas, as they have such soft, lovely fur.
Are Pygmy Hedgehogs Legal in The U.S.?
Another way in which chinchillas are better is that they’re indisputably legal throughout the continental United States, while pygmy hedgehogs aren’t. The only place you can’t legally own a chinchilla is Hawaii, where it’s illegal to import any non-native pets, both chinchillas and pygmy hedgehogs included.
Beyond Hawaii, though, there are a few states in the U.S. where you can’t legally own a pygmy hedgehog without a permit. These include Pennsylvania, California, Georgia and Maine. You may still be able to get a permit for your hedgehog. But it’ll take lots of applications, letters and time to get one.
There’s also confusion over which hedgehogs are legal to own in certain places. Across Europe and the western world, certain species are illegal to own, while other species aren’t. What’s typically the case is that pygmy hedgehogs are legal to own, but European hedgehogs aren’t. So:
- Austria: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs (African Pygmy hedgehogs) may legally be kept as pets.
- Australia: All hedgehogs are classified as exotic pets that are illegal to import.
- Canada: In Quebec, European hedgehogs are illegal. Four-toed hedgehogs are legal. In Ontario, European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Denmark: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Finland: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Germany: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Italy: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Latvia: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Netherlands: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Poland: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- Spain: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs are illegal and considered an exotic invasive species.
- Sweden: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- United Kingdom: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- United States:
- In Idaho and Oregon, European hedgehogs cannot be kept as pets. Four-toed hedgehogs may legally be kept as pets.
- In New Jersey and Wyoming, a permit is required.
- In Wisconsin, an import permit from the state department of agriculture is required to bring a hedgehog into the state.
- In Fairfax County, Virginia, it became legal to keep hedgehogs as pets in 2019.
- In Pennsylvania, hedgehogs may not be imported into the state, but hedgehogs in the state as of 1992 and their descendants are allowed
- It is currently illegal to own a hedgehog in California, Georgia, Hawaii, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
- Singapore: Hedgehogs of all kinds are illegal, along with other exotic pets such as iguanas, tarantulas, scorpions, and snakes.
- Turkey: European hedgehogs are protected and cannot be kept as pets, and four-toed hedgehogs may also not legally be kept as pets.
And as is always the case with the law, it changes. So, your city or state may outlaw keeping hedgehogs as pets; or, it may repeal a law that bans them. As such, you have to be certain of the legal status of hedgehogs where you live before you buy one. There’s no such issue with chinchillas.
Which is better? Chinchillas, since they pose no legal issue except in very few circumstances.
Which Is Better, Hedgehogs or Chinchillas?
We believe that chinchillas are by far the best pet there is, but you shouldn’t take our word for it. What we like in a pet might not be what you like in a pet.
As such, you should endeavor to spend some time both with a chinchilla and with a pygmy hedgehog. Whether that’s seeing them at a pet shop, spending time with a friend that has one or both of them, or talking with a breeder of either, you can only really get a feel for which you prefer by being with them both. If you can, ask if you can handle them. And besides, don’t discount what makes each individual pet so special: there’s always one that will win your heart, whether because it’s particularly affectionate, particularly cute, or whatever else.
That doesn’t stop us thinking chinchillas are better, though.
Extra Credit: Can a Chinchilla Live with a Hedgehog?
Chinchillas like to live in groups, and there’s limited evidence that in the wild, they can even share burrows with other similar creatures like degus. So, can chinchillas live with hedgehogs in captivity?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. If you put them together, they will fight, and in the end it’s likely that one will kill the other.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Live with Hedgehogs?
Chinchillas can’t live with hedgehogs because they’ve evolved to not like other animals using their resources. This is something that’s common to almost all species. You’ll even see chinchillas fighting other chinchillas over things like food, water and space—so it stands to reason that they wouldn’t want to live with a hedgehog, either.
As for your pygmy hedgehog, it’s a solitary creature. They live on their own in the wild, and live on their own in captivity, too. They are protective of their space and their things, so yours would hate to live with a chinchilla.
What you could do instead is keep your chinchilla and hedgehog in two separate cages. There’s no problem with that, so long as the cages aren’t so close together that the pair can see, hear and smell each other (otherwise the presence of the other could cause stress). As such, what you can do is keep your chinchilla’s cage in one room and your hedgehog’s cage in another. Just make sure to wash your hands after handling one and before handling another, as you could pass on viruses, bacteria or infestations.