Guide to Exotic Pets

what are exotic pets

Fact: we’re a nation of animal lovers. More than 85 million families across America have extended their brood with pets.

But while most of us think of pets in the traditional term: dogs and cats, a growing number of owners are getting more adventurous.

If you haven’t heard of the term "exotic pet," it refers to any pet kept domestically, that isn’t a dog or cat. A wide variety of exotic pets exist, including fish, birds, reptiles, arachnids, rodents, and more.

Here, we learn more about these fascinating creatures and what it takes to own one.

What Are Exotic Pets?

Exotic pets take many forms, named so because of their rarity as adopted animals.

Some of the most common exotic pets include; reptiles, amphibians, certain breeds of bird, rodents and increasingly animals such as pigs (or micro-pigs) and hedgehogs.

Exotic Pet Ownership Check List

Before committing to a pet, it’s wise to undertake some research on the breed. Keep in mind suitability for the people you also live with, and if you’re renting, if your contract allows you to own pets.

Since exotic animals are unusual, are you able to maintain upkeep when you’re not at home?

Also give thought to the environment and conditions they need, and the upkeep for the food that they might require.

Laws by State

It’s worth remembering that different laws apply to different states. The Born Free foundation provides helpful guides to this. For instance, in some states like Indiana, permits are required for certain wild animals, while in Maryland it’s illegal to breed certain species.

Some useful websites for further reading include; The Spruce, the ASPCA, and PETA, which outline some of the wider issues.

Where to Find a Reputable Breeder?

Research completed, the next step is to buy a pet from a reputable breeder. The best action is to go to a body or federation that represents that breed, to find a trusted supplier. Some are listed below, for the more common exotic pets.

Amphibians and Reptiles

From geckos to common grass snakes, this all-encompassing term covers a wide number of exotic species. Due to a growing interest in their ownership, there are more resources available than ever.

The Reptile and Amphibian Community of the USA is great place to start, offering in-depth information for potential owners. You might also want to contact your local zoo, if only just to come face-to-face with the breed, before you commit to it.

The list of exotic reptiles and amphibians includes treefrogs, geckos, iguanas, and pythons. Reptiles and amphibians are popular choices in the pet industry, and pet shops sell a wide variety of species. Reptiles are typically native to warmer climates and need warmth to regulate their body temperature. Amphibians such as toads and frogs live in diverse climates around the world. Feeding and caring for reptiles and amphibians can be an expensive hobby. Reptiles and amphibians can transmit illnesses to humans. One of the most well-known risks from owning these exotic animals is the transmission of salmonella. This illness can vary in its intensity, ranging from mild gastrointestinal upset to death. Some types of amphibians secrete a dangerous toxin that can cause paralysis or cardiac arrest. Educate yourself before bringing one home!

Exotic Fish

According to the AVMA, fish are the most popular type of exotic pet, owned by nearly 8,000 homes.

If you’re looking to own a tropical fish such as a piranha or a guppy, then your local fish or aquatic center might be able to put you in touch with reliable breeders or importers. Another useful resource is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which outlines details on permits and regulations.

Although British, The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association offers a useful reference guide to some of these breeds.

The majority of the fish sold by pet shops in the United States are imported from regions such as Asia, Central America, and South America. Two examples of exotic fish that could find their way into a home aquarium include piranha and red pacu. The red pacu fish grows quickly in an aquarium, reaching a mature size of up to 24 inches. To house this fish correctly, you would need a tank that holds at least 250 gallons, and has an extensive filter system.

Exotic Birds

Your local pet store is a handy place to visit, as they will have access to local suppliers, or may even be able to facilitate ownership for you.

Of course, many exotic birds come from warm climates with freedom to roam, so you need to consider if you can provide the same environment.

The Animal Welfare Institution and this article by BioScience provide helpful background reading.

Exotic birds include numerous species that are widely known, like canaries, cockatiels, cockatoos, parakeets, parrots, toucans, and lovebirds. These birds are considered exotic in the United States because they are native to tropical climates. Because exotic birds have adapted to tropical climates, owners must provide the correct home environment for them. Before owning an exotic bird, you must ensure that you have a cage large enough to accommodate the bird. A bird must be able to turn around and extend its wings fully in a cage without having feathers touch the sides of the cage. An avian veterinarian can recommend the correct type of food to feed an exotic bird. Owners must also clean the cage daily, trim wing feathers and toenails, and provide cuttlebone to ensure the bird receives sufficient calcium.

Rodents, Hedgehogs, and Other Animals

Rats, hedgehogs and even chinchillas can be considered exotic pets in the rodent world. While some of their relatives, such as hamsters and guinea pigs, make perfect house guests, not all do.

Your local pet store is a good port of call for starters, but it's a good idea to look for more insight, such as the U.S Wildlife Service

Choosing a rodent such as a hamster or a gerbil as a pet appeals to many people. A number of exotic options are available for people who wish to own rodents. The chinchilla is a small animal that is native to the Andes mountains in South America. A degu looks similar to a hamster, but this animal is native to Chile. A Gambian pouch rat may become an affectionate pet; however, this animal could be responsible for transmitting monkey pox to humans in the United States.

Other kinds of exotic animals also appeal to pet owners. The hedgehog is small enough to hold in your hands. Hedgehogs have specific requirements for diet and care. If hedgehogs do not receive the correct care, they may become ill. Ferrets need a cage, but they also like to roam around a home. Ferrets need a specific diet, and they also need regular grooming care for them properly. Some people even choose to share their homes with monkeys. Chimpanzees and lemurs are primate species that some people select as pets. Although these animals often remain relatively small in size, they can become exceptionally strong. Because of their unpredictable nature, they may cause injuries to both children and adults in a home.

Insects and Arachnids

Keeping an exotic insect or arachnid in a cage appeals to some pet owners. Examples include scorpions, tarantulas, and jumping spiders. Be aware that these exotic pets need very specific environments and diets to remain healthy. The risk of escape from a cage can also be a concern for some people.

Exotic pets make wonderful animals under the right conditions. But research and understanding of their demands is vital, in order to be a responsible owner.