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What Types of Exotic Animals Make the Best Pets?

Exotic animals can make fascinating pets. But it is best to start small and consider all they might need to be happy and healthy before bringing them into your home.

January 9, 2023 5 min read
What Types of Exotic Animals Make the Best Pets?

Do you love animals in the wild? Are you brave enough to make a home for an animal that family, friends, and neighbors would consider, well, different? Are you unconventional, open-minded, and comfortable with the weird and unusual?

If the answer to these questions is yes, an exotic animal may be the right pet for you. Exotics are animals that aren't really domesticated the same way as cats, dogs, and horses. They also aren't commonly kept as pets like turtles, birds, and fish, either.

Exotics are like the animals you might see in a zoo, except the zookeeper is you. Owning an exotic pet is an intense experience of caring for an animal that can give you a unique taste of what it is like to still be close to the natural world.

There are adventurous animal lovers who keep crocodiles, scorpions, and even lions and tigers and bears in their homes. Not all exotic animals, however, are safe and legal, and some are definitely not for beginners. This article will introduce you to seven animals that make unique pets that just about anyone can keep healthy and happy at home.

Arthropods: Hissing Cockroaches, Millipedes, Scorpions, Tarantulas, and Land Crabs

Insects and arachnids don't make cuddly pets, but they are fascinating to watch—from the other side of the glass wall of their terrarium. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are easy to care for and live for three to five years. Mexican red-knee and Chilean tarantulas are happy in their terrarium as long as you keep them supplied with dried insects and an occasional misti or drip of water. Emperor scorpions are pettable. Moon crabs and other land crabs will happily dine on your leftovers. Kids are fascinated by millipedes.

The key to success with pet arthropods is to provide them with ample living space, and not to forget their food and water. Arthropods should be kept in glass terrariums, never plastic (and not in a Mason jar) for easy viewing.

Skunks (De-scented, also Spayed or Neutered)

Skunks that have had their scent glands surgically removed make playful pets. Just don't even consider bringing a skunk home until it has been de-scented! Spayed or neutered skunks are easier to manage as adults.

Domesticated Foxes

Rescuing a fox from a fur farm saves its life, and creates an opportunity to own an exotic pet. It is important to understand that all foxes are outdoor pets. They love to make their territory, and their scent becomes pungent in enclosed spaces. A fox will accept you as a companion, but will not be as devoted to you as a dog.

Short-Tailed Opossum

Though short-tailed possums look like rodents, they are really marsupials, in the same family as koalas, wallabies, pademelons, bettongs, potoroos, and kangaroos. Fortunately for lovers of marsupials, short-tailed opossums don't require any kind of permit, and they are as easy to keep as gerbils.

Hybrid Serval Cats

Have you ever fantasized about saying "Here, Kitty" to a cheetah? Owning a cheetah, tiger, or lion requires getting a permit and providing expensive food and veterinary care, but hybrids of the smaller serval (bred with ordinary house cats) are the next best thing.

The serval is a small predator of the African savannah, native to the grasslands south of the Sahara Desert and north of the rainforests. It looks a lot like a small cheetah, with black stripes and spots on a golden yellow to buff-colored coat. Serval cats stand 21 to 24 inches (55 to 60 cm) tall and weigh 20 to 40 pounds (9 to 18 kg) when they are fully grown. They can mate with house cats.

You can get F1 hybrid serval cats that are 50 percent serval and 50 percent cat, down to F6 hybrid serval cats that have just a trace of serval genetics. The closer your pet is to its wild ancestor, the more "interesting" its behavior will be. It is important to keep in mind that a pure-bred serval cat can jump over a 7-foot (2-meter) enclosure. First-generation F1 hybrids offer the most entertainment (and cost more), but F2 through F6 hybrids are just house cats with "personality."

Can't find a hybrid serval cat? Consider a hybrid Bengal cat instead.

What To Consider Before Owning an Exotic Pet

If your desires in a pet run toward the "more exotic," here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Wild felines demand an escape-proof enclosure. Even small wildcats are notorious for marking their territory when they are kept indoors (although hybridizing them with house cats reduces this tendency). Large wildcats require state and local permits and a rider on your homeowner's insurance policy.
  • Non-human primates, such as monkeys and chimpanzees, require a tremendous amount of socialization to train them to be safe and pleasant companions. They also have psychological needs that are a challenge to meet in captivity.
  • Some small exotics like coatimundis, genets, kinkajous, sloths, and tamanduas require large cages. They also require tropical conditions and a highly specialized diet.

Choosing The Best Exotic Pets for Your Lifestyle

Owning an exotic can be stressful both for the owner and for the pet. It is always best to start with small animals that are relatively easy to keep. If you choose to rehome an animal that has been abandoned by its owner or is slated for euthanasia by a zoo, be sure to consult with its keepers about housing requirements, heating and cooling requirements, socialization with other pets and people, diet, and vet care.

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