Keeping meerkats as pets

The meerkat is a small, wild animal native to desert areas of southern Africa and belonging to the mongoose family. These petite omnivores will usually only venture outside during the daylight hours and will travel in large mobs. They have a keen sense of smell, vision and hearing for sensing predators, and can often be seen standing on their hind legs, alert to any danger.

Despite the cute and cuddly image presented in the media, meerkats are actually equipped with incredibly sharp nails so that they can climb trees with ease and quickly dig and burrow underground (as they like to do) in search of lunch.

We believe that meerkats don't make good pets, as it's so difficult to meet their complex needs in a captive environment and they're likely to develop behavioural problems. Sadly, despite this, we still often receive reports of meerkats for sale in local pet shops in unsuitable conditions.

Here's more on meerkats and why they don't make suitable pets.

What do meerkats eat?

As natural omnivores, meerkats mainly eat insects, although they'll also happily eat small rodents, fruit, birds, eggs, lizards and scorpions. Meerkats spend much of their time digging in the sand in pursuit of prey.

Sadly, meerkats kept as pets are often fed the wrong diet and so become overweight and suffer as a result.

Is it ok for meerkats to be kept on their own?

Meerkats are extremely social in the wild, living in tight-knit groups of up to 40 individuals. They need the company of other meerkats to live a happy, healthy life. Sadly, we often see individual meerkats being kept or offered for sale apart from their gang.

Lone meerkats are very difficult to integrate back into social groups, so once separated, a meerkat may have to remain alone for its entire life. Meerkats get stressed in smaller enclosures and smaller group sizes, so it's really important that they're kept in groups so that they can thrive.

If meerkats don't have the right environment, or if they're kept alone or in the wrong social grouping, they're prone to developing behavioural problems such as pacing, head bobbing, over-grooming and self-mutilation.

Do meerkats make good pets?

Due to the stress of being removed from a group, meerkats aren't suitable for keeping in captivity. They also don't make suitable domesticated animals due to their wild nature and demanding needs, because:

  • They need a unique environment: a UK household is rarely ever a suitable habitat for one of these explorative creatures. In fact, every day in the wild, meerkats roam territories that can extend for several kilometres and encompass dozens of overnight burrows and hundreds of emergency bolt-holes. They need this type of environment for their wellbeing. Of course, this simply can't be achieved in enclosures such as rodent cages or in any kind of typical household.
  • They can be aggressive and deliver a really nasty bite. They can also be especially aggressive to people they don't know. Of course, these aren't ideal traits for a household pet.
  • They dig: as meerkats naturally spend hours every day in the wild digging for food or making new burrows, this can become problematic in the home. As they're deprived of this opportunity, it can often lead to carpets, other flooring and skirting boards being destroyed.
  • They scent-mark: as scent-marking is an important mode of communication for meerkats, in the home this can mean brown smelly marks on your furniture!

Are meerkats legal to own in the UK?

While it's currently legal to own a meerkat as a pet, it's also a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act that owners meet all their needs in a way that allows for natural behaviours. We believe this would be impossible to do in a home environment.

How are we helping meerkats?

We respond to calls we've received from members of the public concerned about the welfare of meerkats kept as pets or regarding the sale of meerkats in local pet shops in unsuitable conditions. If you're concerned, please contact us.

Find a pet that's right for your family

Although we would never recommend a meerkat as a pet, there are many animals in our care who could be the perfect pet for your family. Whether it's a gerbil, a mouse, a cat or a rat, by rehoming an animal from us you'll be helping to make a big difference to an animal's life.

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