Cute pet rabbit

Are you considering getting a pet other than a cat or dog and wondering which pets might be friendliest? As an exotic animal veterinarian, I am frequently asked about which non-traditional pets are normally the most people-friendly, and my answers sometimes surprise people.

Here are what I consider to be the top 5 friendliest exotic animals and why they can make great pets:

1. Rabbits

  • Bond closely with their owners
  • Are generally very interactive
  • Have different personalities that might suit the different personalities of their owners (i.e. shy and quiet versus outgoing and mischievous)
  • Can live into their teens when taken care of properly
  • Can make great companions
  • Can be taught to get along with other pets such as dogs and cats — just remember to supervise their interactions always!
  • Can be house trained 

2. Guinea pigs

  • Are hardy rodents that are relatively easy to care for
  • Are generally very sweet-tempered with their caretakers
  • Are usually very vocal and can make a variety of adorable sounds, including purring and “wheeking”
  • Can live happily with other guinea pigs if they are raised together. Just remember not to house males and females together — otherwise you could wind up with a lot of guinea pigs!
  • Can be great first pets for school-aged children
  • Are generally filled with personality and easily make their likes and dislikes known through different sounds and behaviors
Pet rat in cage

3. Rats

  • Are the smartest rodents
  • Many love to hang out with their owners by literally sitting on them
  • Enjoy being challenged by solving puzzles and running in mazes
  • Are incredibly neat and fastidiously clean, despite the negative connotations associated with their name
  • Come with fur of different length and colors, making them look adorable
  • Males may be calmer than females and exceptionally friendly

4. Cockatiels

  • Are relatively easy to hand-tame
  • Can be taught to speak words and sing songs
  • Will dance and respond to music
  • Are social eaters who love to eat when their owners eat
  • Can live 20 years or more
  • Can make great first pets for school-aged children
  • Tend to make lifelong bonds with their owners
Bearded dragon close-up

5. Bearded dragon lizards

  • Can be great alternatives to furred and feathered pets for people with allergies
  • Are usually gentle and easy to handle
  • Generally make manageable first reptile pets because they don’t grow too large (no more than 2 feet long)
  • Definitely recognize and respond to their owners
  • Gesture with hand waving and head bobbing to communicate with other bearded dragons
  • Often love to cuddle with their owners when they reach adulthood

There are so many different types of domesticated pets to choose from that it can be overwhelming and confusing to know which one is right for you. Different species have different merits and fit the lifestyles of some potential owners better than others. If you are looking for a good-natured, gentle, fun exotic pet, think about choosing from among these top five. As always, do your best to educate yourself about any new pet before bringing one home and establish a relationship with a veterinarian knowledgeable about the species you have chosen so that he or she can advise you about proper routine and veterinary care.

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