FAQs

The following is a list of commonly asked questions. Please read these before submitting your own questions.

  1. I want a meerkat. Should I get one?
  2. Please would you tell me where to buy a meerkat?
  3. Pretty pretty please, I really want one and Iíd be ever so nice to it?
  4. What do meerkats cost?
  5. Can meerkats be litter trained?
  6. I'm definitely getting a meerkat. How should I keep it?
  7. I have a meerkat and I donít know what to do with it...?
  8. Someoneís offering me a meerkat they canít look after, should I take it?
  9. Why was Mila so small when she arrived?
  10. Do you know your meerkats are very cute?
  11. Meerkats should be left in the wild. What do you think youíre doing?
  12. Meerkats should be in large packs. Is two enough?
  13. What are meerkats exactly? Are you sure you're spelling it right?
  14. Do meerkats smell?
  15. Can you breed meerkats in capitivity?
  16. Why have you written this site?
  17. Why did you do that Sun article?
  18. I'm worried about the plight of meerkats caught up in the pet trade. What can I do?

I want a meerkat. Should I get one?

Almost certainly not.

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Please would you tell me where to buy a meerkat?

No, sorry.

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Pretty pretty please, I really want one and Iíd be ever so nice to it?

Still no, I'm afraid. I'm really not going to help you get one so please don't email and ask me to.

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What do meerkats cost?

Lots. Around £500 is reasonable. These days they are more like £1000 though.

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Can meerkats be litter trained?

Yes and no. Mostly no. We found it easy to persuade them to use a litter box for number 2s (one each!), but they still sometimes drop a sneaky one behind the sofa. They urinate freely wherever they fancy (they don't wee a lot, they are desert animals) but the most inconvenient part is that during the night they don't get up to use the loo, so they wee all over their bed and each other. Lots to clean up.

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I'm definitely getting a meerkat, how should I keep it?

Have you read this site carefully? In which case, allow us to say "we told you so" in advance.

If you are quite determined, make sure you have everything you need. Hot water bottles and a heat lamp for winter, a ready supply of appropriate insects and day-old chicks if you are getting a young one (that must be de-fluffed, de-headed and legged and have the yoke sack removed before chopping into little bits, lovely) and an appropriate home environment. If you want to slot them into your home, meerkat-proof it. Consider that they will dig at anything that isn't concrete and will learn to climb into toilets and onto everything vaguely within reach - sometimes with the use of tools - and you're getting the picture. Otherwise find a professional to help you design an appropriate outdoor facility, a big one. Get a LOT of advice. Email us if you like. Bear in mind they can live 14 years, cannot really be left alone, and are almost impossible to successfully re-home so THINK IT THROUGH. Without our wonderful, tolerant, bite-scarred meerkat-sitters Sal and Alex we couldn't have managed it, and the meerkats refuse to allow anyone else in their lives now they are grown up. Sadly you can't get pet passports for them, so vacations abroad will be tricky.

Oh, and definitely get yourself a tetanus shot.

PLEASE remember that meerkats are extremely social. They cannot be kept alone unless you are with them literally every second of the day, and if you buy two together they tend to bond with one another rather than you. I had Jack first, and spent almost every second with him (he came everywhere with me and when I couldn't keep him with me he had a friend to watch him). Under normal circumstances you can't give single meerkats the constant attention they need. Solo meerkats tend to actually go insane from anxiety, and many seriously self-harm. There are stories of lone meerkats actually chewing their own paws off - which makes me want to cry just thinking about it. Leaving a meerkat alone is basically torturing it.

Also remember - grapes kill meerkats. I don't keep grapes or raisins in the house, since my meerkats appear to be able to manifest the powers of flight and telekinesis when I go out.

Don't get a meerkat, live vicariously though ours, or adopt a meerkat at a local zoo, most zoos have programs which allow you to do that!

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I have a meerkat and I donít know what to do with it. It was really sweet as a baby but now itís a year old itís completely unmanageable. Itís taken a violent dislike to half of my family. It sprays the furniture, digs up the carpet, viciously attacks visitors and makes a hell of a racket if it doesnít get its own way. It  has completely destroyed the fridge, defecated in my shoes, tunnelled through the plaster walls and Iím growing to loathe its presence in my house. What should I do?

Sadly you are not alone. Meerkats go through an unmanageable phase that can last from 6 months to several years, and well past that if you donít know how to deal with their behaviour. If you genuinely canít cope with your meerkat you should give him to a very reliable, animal-loving friend who has already met him and is confident that he/she can cope with him. Failing that find an exotics expert, or possibly a zoo, to take him in. If you care remotely about his happiness do not give him to someone who intends to sell him on for profit, or seems in anyway capricious or un-knowledgeable about the species.

If you love your meerkat, fully intend to be with him for life but are just having hard time with his behaviour, take heart, with care it will pass (although it will always bite on occasion, it's not a domesticated breed). Email me for hints and tips. I can mildly recommend neutering to improve the disposition and smell of the males (but not the females), but that might mean it can be harder re-home him later if you need to as a breeder wonít then take him.

If you do re-home your meerkat he will almost certainly find the move to a new family extremely traumatic and you should do everything you can to smooth his progress (stay and settle him in for a while, pay him regular visits in the early days). If you have more than one they must be re-homed together, and always try to find a permanent home. Meerkats used to the company of people are likely to be miserable and confused if placed in an environment of only other meerkats, and remember a new meerkat to a pack will often be attacked by the others (zoos have had success introducing new members by dousing their meerkats in Vix Sinex so they all smell the same!).  Meerkats are tricky to re-home so you will have to put considerable time and effort into finding him somewhere safe to go. Remember, you knew when you bought it that it would live up to 14 years and you, its family, are now abandoning it - something meerkats are pretty much terrified of. So it is only fair for you to do your level best to find it a loving and tolerant home.

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Someoneís offering me a meerkat they canít look after, should I take it?

Not if you have young children or respond poorly to being savagely bitten. If you are hardy, very experienced with animals and determined to give it a long and happy life regardless of whether itís sometimes mean to you, then open your heart and do your best. Be prepared for a very trying settling in period however. If you are adopting an abandoned meerkat and want advice please feel free to email us!

Meerkats are extremely bright and very social. Do not consider trying to keep a meerkat (or even a small group of them) in a rabbit cage at the bottom of the garden. That sort of thing gives me nightmares, it's very cruel indeed. If you do take them on they either need to live with you (like a cat, but tricksier) or have a custom-built environment of the sort you would see in a zoo (no small undertaking).

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Why was Mila so small when she arrived?

She was 5 weeks old. Her mother abandoned her at less than a day old, otherwise sheíd have stayed at home with her parents until she was at least 10 weeks old. Meerkats should still usually be with their families at this age.

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Do you know your meerkats are very cute?

Yes, thank you! Very cute, but very naughty :-)

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Meerkats should be left in the wild. What do you think youíre doing?

Whilst we appreciate that viewpoint, our  meerkats were born in the midlands to meerkat-owning families. We didn't pluck them from their troup in the desert, this life is all they have known.

Whilst the species itself is native to the Kalahari, it doesnít *necessarily* mean they arenít happier in the comfort of my home (after all, if someone pulled me out of my native environment of cold and wet and being chased around by sabretooth tigers and so forth, and plonked me in Barbados with a cocktail, I wouldnít be complaining).

We feed our meerkats plenty of insects, provide sandy places for them to dig for insect prey, they have heat lamps in winter and windowsills in the sun for summer and they are protected from the threat of ever-scary birds of prey and passing aeroplanes. They have a lovely life. We were well-informed when we took them on, with plenty of professional backup, and our meerkats are happy and healthy as they could ever be.

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Meerkats should be in large packs. Is two enough?

They have a pack of 6 here (including humans of course), and are warm, happy, well-fed and well-cared for by all members of it. They protect us as part of their pack, groom us, follow us anywhere and would defend us to the death if the situation arose. We love them very much and always put their needs first. They appear well adjusted and secure, and are very stimulated.

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What are meerkats exactly? Are you sure you're spelling it right?

Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are small members of the mongoose family, originating from the Kalahari Desert, which covers regions of Botswana and South Africa. And yes, that's definitely how you spell it.

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Do meerkats smell?

Yes. They tend to wee on one another so that they smell similar (which is why we bathe them regularly). The males scent mark EVERYTHING using their anal glands. Yes, it's as bad as it sounds, it's brown and revolting. They especially scent mark their owners. Nice.

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Can you breed meerkats in captivity?

Yes you can breed your meerkats, but they have a low survival rate. Females tend to eat their own young due to the stress of not being in a proper family troup (also because they sometimes like to do that in the wild anyway). Furthermore the male will become very aggressive, and scent-mark more than usual, when the female is expecting. Best left to zoos and breeders with larger packs.

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Why have you written this site?

Originally because we have friends and family across the world to communicate with, and because we had so much interest from people around Oxford it became easier to point people to a website than address the same questions over and over again.

We are, afaik, the only site that talks about the reality of living with pet meerkats (i.e. we love them but they are trouble and a half) and support savethemeerkat.com in their campaign. We do *not* wish to encourage more people to get meerkats as pets. If you are considering it please get in touch and I'll happily give you what I think is a balanced view of the pros and cons of keeping them (I'll tell you now the cons list is loooong).

If you have a meerkat and need help with it (or just want to chat) please get in touch too!

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Why did you do that Sun article?

By accident, I'm afraid. We agreed to talk to an independent journalist because he said we could have copy approval and that he would highlight the downsides of keeping a pet meerkat, and the plight of meerkats kept incorrectly by inexperienced or disinterested owners. He wrote a very good article which we approved. He then sold it to the Sun who took out all of the words and just used the photos, and wrote a load of rubbish with not a mention of the downsides - which was the primary focus of the original article (I *hate* when they use quotation marks for totally made up things - don't they understand what quotation marks mean?). Then they later wrote a separate article condemning the trade in meerkats.

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I'm worried about the plight of meerkats caught up in the pet trade. What can I do?

Sadly not a great deal. The current craze will pass and there will be a lot of one or two year old meerkats in desperate need of help, all that can really be done is make sure that people realiise what they would be getting into if they kept meerkats.

We do a lot of that - after hundreds of emails and calls from interested people only one I'm aware of went ahead and got meerkats. He shall remain nameless but he called recently to say that he was stressed to breaking point and ask how to stop them destroying his home and viciously assaulting his friends. I explained that you can't (I had warned him before he got them of exactly these sorts of problems, but it's hard to imagine how bad it really is until you experience it for yourself).
Anyway if you do want to help support the savethemeerkat.com campaign.

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