Ask the Vet: What Is an Exotic Pet?

Exotic pets: parakeet, hedgehog and iguana
Thinkstock
Exotic pets include a wide variety of animals, including hedgehogs, parakeets and iguanas.

What Exactly Is an “Exotic” Pet?

“Exotic” pets include a wide variety of animals: birds, rodents ( hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice), rabbits, ferrets, reptiles ( snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises), amphibians (frogs, toads), sugar gliders (marsupials), hedgehogs, potbellied pigs, and even spiders. As our population has grown over the last decade and many people live in urban environments or want pets who are smaller and require less maintenance (although this is not always the case!), exotic pet ownership has grown dramatically.

Staying current on all that is available for each species has become difficult, so many general practitioners may send you to a veterinarian who has more experience in handling your particular exotic pet. If you are the owner of an exotic pet, you should seek out a veterinarian who has a special interest in that particular species and has the correct equipment to diagnose and treat them.

Many people decide to go the exotic route, because they think it’s cool, and/or they believe the smaller the pet, the less maintenance and less cost involved. As for the “cool” part, remember that some of these pets, such as many birds and reptiles, can live longer than dogs and cats, so owning an exotic can be a real long-term commitment. The novelty of a “different” pet will wear off rather quickly, and you will have a pet you need to care for over many years. Be sure you are ready to make that commitment. Many exotic species must live under very special conditions and require environments that need to be carefully controlled for temperature, humidity, etc. This can become a bit more expensive and time intensive than you may have anticipated.

The key with exotic pet ownership is to thoroughly research the species you are considering. Talk to pet shop owners or breeders, consult a knowledgeable veterinarian, and do some library or Internet research. In other words, be prepared! If you do this, you’ll pick the pet who is right for you. One last thing: Check with the town you live in; it may not allow certain species to live in your home. And you want to be sure you’re staying within the law!

More on Vetstreet:


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!