Guinea pig in a gift box

The holidays can be a wonderful time for both people and pets, but they also may bring some unanticipated circumstances. By following these do’s and don’ts, you and your pet can enjoy the season and avoid emergencies.


1. Give a bird or exotic pet as a holiday gift.
Birds and other exotic animals should not be purchased or adopted on a whim. Instead they require research and planning to help ensure that they’re a good match for your family, schedule and lifestyle. It is essential that all potential exotic pet owners educate themselves before getting the animal about what it takes to keep that particular species happy and healthy. The worst possible holiday gift is one that results in a disappointed or frustrated owner and a neglected pet.

2. Let your pet out unsupervised around holiday decorations.
Though we may know that what is in the gift box or under the tree is the actual gift, our exotic pets may not. Exotic animals, from parrots to guinea pigs to rabbits to bearded dragons, may chew on ribbons or other holiday decorations or gnaw on wires from holiday lights, potentially suffering life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction or electrocution. So keep your bird, reptile or small mammal safe by letting him get his exercise only when you’re watching him.

3. Allow guests to stress out your pet or handle him without supervision.
During the holidays, many homes are abuzz with company and little children running around. Many exotic pets are easily stressed out by the extra traffic in the house and by strange little fingers reaching into cages (which they may be tempted to bite). Worse yet, strangers may try to pick up your guinea pig or rabbit and inadvertently injure him by dropping him or holding him incorrectly. Avoid these kinds of disasters by keeping guests away from your pet in your absence and by moving the pet, if need be, out of the holiday hubbub.

4. Enable your exotic pet to get into holiday foods.
Some exotic pets can’t resist the sugary, fatty and salty holiday foods any more than we can. Ferrets go for chocolate, and birds love to crunch on salty corn chips. Don’t risk their health by allowing them access to such treats. Keep them caged when these foods are out, because even a bite of some items can be deadly for small exotic pets.

Holiday parrot


1. Give your exotic pet a little holiday gift.
Don’t forget to pick up something to brighten your pet’s spirits this season. A species-appropriate, interactive toy that will occupy him while you are busy with your holiday guests is almost always a good choice.

2. Spend time with your exotic pet during the busy holiday season.
With all the parties and distractions, such as guests and extra time spent cooking, during the holidays, the one-on-one time we have for our pets often gets cut short. As many exotic pets — especially birds — are flock-minded and consider their human caretakers their flock mates, they can get upset when they are ignored. Birds may start to act out by screaming and biting. Even guinea pigs and other rodents can become depressed and eat less. So even if your social calendar is full this season, don’t forget to save some time for your special little guy, whether he’s sporting fur, feathers or scales.

3. Be sure that your exotic pet gets enough rest, even if your house is extra busy.
Many exotic animals are creatures of habit, anticipating the same schedule for eating, playing, resting and sleeping day after day. Although we humans adjust fairly well to schedule changes, our pets are often not as flexible, and they need adequate time to rest. So even if you’re up burning the midnight oil, wrapping presents or cooking a festive meal, don’t forget to turn the lights off on your exotic pet so that he can get the rest he needs, or move him to a quiet room away from the activity.

4. Keep your vet’s phone number, as well as the phone number for ASPCA Poison Control, handy in case of an emergency.
Despite your vigilance, you never know when your pet is going to get into the holiday candy, eat a strand of tinsel, chew on the Christmas tree lights, or be startled by New Year’s fireworks and hurt himself. With exotic pet emergencies, every second counts, so it’s wise to be prepared with these critical phone numbers nearby.

The holiday season should be a time of health, peace and joy. With these holiday do’s and don’ts, you can help keep your winged, scaled, quilled or fluffy friends safe and happy throughout this most wonderful time of year.

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