There are various reasons why someone might choose an exotic pet over a more familiar companion animal like a cat or a dog. For some, allergies in the family make non-furry exotics the only viable option, while for others, space limitations rule out all but some very compact animals. Some people have simply always been fascinated by unusual animals.
Whatever the reason, animals such as reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, insects, birds, and mammals like hedgehogs and sugar gliders can be very rewarding pets to care for. However, while keeping any pet is a huge commitment, keeping exotic pets comes with a number of additional challenges.
Read on for some of the most important things to consider before deciding if an exotic pet is for you.
Depending on where you live, certain exotic pets may either be illegal to own or require a license to keep. Finding out which animals you can and cannot keep should be the first item on your checklist!
A suitable environment.
Be prepared to do a lot of research and go all out to give your pet a home that’s fit for purpose. For example, cold-blooded animals like frogs and snakes may have very specific temperature and humidity level requirements. Some other animals, including capybaras, need a surprisingly large amount of space for roaming. Your pet’s need for space can also change dramatically as it grows – think of ‘mini-pigs’ that are often anything but ‘mini’ as adults!
When choosing a pet, take into account its lifespan. For example, box turtles and Amazon parrots frequently live for over 50 years, making them more or less a life-long commitment. Even invertebrates like the African red-knee tarantula can have a lifespan of 30 years.
Feeding your pet
Convenient commercially-prepared pet food may not be easy to find or even available at all for your chosen pet. Some exotic animals need to be fed rodents or live insects, while others may require a daily serving of fresh fruit and vegetables. Once again, do your research in order to decide if you can meet your pet’s dietary needs with relative ease.
Behavior and temperament
What kind of interactions do you want to have with your pet? How much time can you devote to your pet on a daily basis? Many exotic animals don’t enjoy cuddling (despite their fluffy cuteness, chinchillas fall into this category) and animals like frogs should be handled as little as possible because of the sensitivity of their skin. In contrast, social pets like parrots require a lot of attention from their owner and will suffer if left alone for long periods of time.
Consider also the activity pattern of your intended pet – animals like hedgehogs and many snakes are usually active at night, which means that the ideal time to interact with them is late in the evening. Some nocturnal pets may also get very noisy at night as they go about their business – light sleepers take note!
Hopefully, your pet won’t ever fall ill or become injured, but it’s a possibility that you need to be prepared for. Unfortunately, it can be tricky to find a veterinarian that has all the necessary knowledge and skills to treat exotic animals. Seek out recommendations from other exotic pet owners in your area, and don’t be afraid to ask vets a lot of questions about their experience and training.
Who will look after your exotic pet while you’re away? Friends and family may be happy enough to pet sit an adorable degu for you, but a tankful of Madagascar hissing cockroaches may attract fewer volunteers. Besides asking friends and family (be sure to equip them with detailed care instructions), you might look into pet boarding, or hiring a professional pet sitter. Get in with the service provider in advance to find out if they have the necessary facilities and expertise to look after
Buying an exotic pet
So you are confident that an exotic pet is a right choice for you? Prepare yourself for one last challenge – finding the pet you want can take some persistence and patience. Some smaller exotics may be available in pet shops, but often you’ll need to turn to private breeders or classifieds. Wherever you shop, find out as much as you can about the background and health of the animal on offer before you agree to buy it. A seller who cares about the wellbeing of the animals will want to make sure that they end up in a good home – so if they ask you a lot of questions, take it as a good sign!