Exotic Pets: Choosing One and Living with One

Although cats and dogs are chosen most often as pets, there are people who find the unusual and exotic pet fascinating and a welcomed challenge to own. There are some important things you should consider and valuable information you should know before choosing exotic animals as pets. Understanding the special needs and requirements of exotic animal pets will help you choose the pet that is right for you.

What types of pets are considered exotic?

Defining exactly what classifies a pet as an exotic is not clear-cut, but as a general rule in most states, an exotic is an animal other than the common cat, dog, horse and in most places, fish. Although many people consider birds such as parakeets and parrots common, they could easily be placed in the exotic category. There are also other animals that are easily classified as exotics, such as reptiles like snakes, iguanas or turtles; rodents such as ferrets, rats, hamsters or gerbils; and even gentle animals such as bunnies, sheep, or goats. Spiders and other insects like crabs and frogs, and some farm animals like pigs or chickens are also considered exotics in most locales.
One way to help you distinguish whether or not the pet you have chosen is considered an exotic animal is to check with your local animal authority for a list of animals they have designated as exotic for your location. It is important to obtain this list before you choose that unique pet in case there are restrictions on owning that particular animal in your city or town. Even if your local authorities permit ownership of certain animals, there may be restrictions on its housing, the number of these animals you are permitted to keep, and even extra fees for licenses you may be required to pay before you can own the animal.
An exotic pet may also be defined as an animal that is generally wild and not domesticated. To say an animal is wild does not necessarily mean it was plucked from the wild and brought home as a pet, although people do find raccoons, squirrels, and similar critters while camping, or who have strayed into their yards from nearby woods, and begin to feed them and care for them as they would a pet. However, even animals that are not actually born in the wild and then taken in to be domesticated, are still classified as “wild” because they are generally not bred and sold domestically.

Where are exotic pets purchased?

Exotic pets can be acquired from several different sources. Animal rescue shelters frequently contain wild or exotic animals that can no longer live in the wild or be returned to their natural habitat because of an injury that no longer allows them to hunt for food or protect themselves against predators. Rescue shelters also have exotic animals that previous owners no longer wanted or could no longer care for that must be cared for in a domestic environment, because they no longer have the skills necessary to live safely in the wild. Many people find adopting an exotic pet from one of these facilities gratifying and rewarding. Some of the exotics commonly found at rescue shelters include bunnies, gerbils, ferrets, rodents and reptiles.
Another place to find exotic animals are local pet stores. Most pet stores contain a variety of exotic pets, as well as the products necessary to feed, house and care for your unusual pet. Pet stores generally sell books on care, cleaning and maintenance of exotic animals they sell, in order to provide customers with a good basic knowledge of the animal they have chosen. However, be careful when selecting an exotic pet from a pet store; they make every exotic animal seem exciting and easy to care for, but some species are far more delicate or difficult than they may seem at first glance. Pet stores want you to take these animals home, so they will do whatever they can to convince you this exotic animal is right for you, which unfortunately is often not true, resulting in these poor animals ending up in shelters or cruelly released into the wild by owners who could not handle them.
A third place to find exotics is from breeders who specialize in a particular animal. If you already know what type of animal you want, a breeder should be able to give more specific information not only about the breed, but also about any special care it requires, as well as informing you of any difficulties you may encounter and how to deal with such issues. For people who like a challenge, this may be the option that best suits them.

Things to remember before adopting an exotic pet:

  1. Research – learn as much as you can about the type of exotic animal you are considering adopting as a pet. Your local library, local breeder and local exotic veterinarian can provide you with information, references to people who own similar animals, and resources which can help you fully understand what you will need to know in order to care for your exotic pet properly.
  2. Laws and Limitations – check with your local animal authorities on any restrictions regarding ownership of exotic pets within city limits. You will also be told about any animals that are prohibited (so that you don’t choose a pet you won’t legally be able to keep) or any special housing or requirements that may be necessary in order to own a certain type of exotic pet. If you live in an apartment complex, or rent your home, you will need to check with the owners to make sure you are allowed to house exotic animals. This is particularly important in apartment building and condominiums where your neighbors live in close proximity, and special ordinances may make owning exotic animals difficult or even impossible.
  3. Medical Care - you will need to find an exotic veterinarian. Many people do not realize that not all veterinary clinics are properly staffed and capable of handling exotic animals. Most veterinarians who care for exotics as well as common pets will indicate that in their ads, on clinic posters and signs and other places they advertise. The best way to choose an exotic veterinarian is to select a clinic near you, and call them to make sure they can treat exotic animals. Tell the exotic veterinarian which pet you have and they will confirm whether or not they are capable of caring for your pet.
  4. Cost and Feeding – find out what housing requirements your exotic pet will need in order to thrive; and where the materials to build a proper habitat can be purchased. Feeding your exotic may involve special foods you cannot purchase locally or from a pet store. Research what resources will be able to provide the food your exotic pet will need, as well as the cost. Caring for an exotic animal, depending on the breed you select, can be very expensive; so it is important to make sure you can meet the financial obligation that will ensure your pet gets the housing, medical care and food it requires to live a healthy life.
  5. Special Needs – exotic animals have special needs that cats and dogs don’t. They also require special handling and exhibit unique behaviors that may make it necessary to get training in order to own and keep them healthy, and both pet and owner safe from injury or other unforeseen incidents. Some exotics can be “socialized” (taught to handle or accept human handling and interaction) while others cannot, and will simply be pets that are fascinating to watch, and should not be handled because of aggressive behavior or a natural instinct to protect which may cause the handler harm. Breeders and exotic veterinarians, as well as owners of the pet you have chosen, will be your best resources for information about handling and special care.

Do you have an exotic pet? What type? Share with us in the comments!

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