While we here at West Hill Animal Clinic only medically care for dogs and cats, we recognize that many of our clients own or are interested in owning exotic pets. An “exotic” pet includes animals such as snakes, lizards, turtles, birds, small mammals such a ferrets and rabbits, and many more. While these animals can make great pets for the right owner, it is important to do your research to find the species that fits you best, as many people underestimate the needs of some of these species. Some important aspects to consider are listed below.
Lifespan. Think about your plans for the future and whether an animal will continue to fit your lifestyle. For example, those attractive little parakeets that you often see in pet stores can live up to 15 years, and some snake species can live upwards of 30 years.
Size. Many pets, especially reptiles, are often sold as juveniles that are only a fraction of their adult size. Make sure you are aware of how large an animal will get and that you have ample space in your home for an appropriately sized habitat.
Time commitment. Be realistic about how much time you have to devote to caring for this animal. While there are many low maintenance species available, some animals require frequent monitoring, cleaning, etc. For example, contrary to popular belief, owning fish has a lot more involved than just throwing them in a bowl of water. Tanks go through a nitrogen cycle that needs to be monitored often in order to maintain the health of your fish. As well, some species of reptile require very specific humidity levels and need frequent spritzing with water.
Cost. This aspect goes along with care requirements. Even if the initial cost to buy the actual animal is within your budget, take into consideration the additional costs for specific housing, food, heating (required for most reptiles), monitoring equipment (thermometers, hygrometers, etc.) and any other equipment your species of interest may require.
Feeding. Many exotic pets do not have a generic commercial diet like cats and dogs do. Make sure you know what the animal needs to be eating, and whether you would be comfortable handling the food. For example, snakes eat rodents (either live or frozen), and many lizards and turtles require insects such as crickets and mealworms.
Handling. While many exotic species take well to handling and can be great interactive pets, there are of course some species whose temperaments lend more to being display animals. For example, the Green Tree Python is a beautiful snake with some interesting behaviours that make an attractive addition to your home, but their natural temperament tends to be on the aggressive side, making them more of a “look, don’t touch” type of pet. As well, make sure to be aware of any diseases that the animal may carry if you have young children or immunocompromised individuals that will be handling the animal. Turtles, for example, carry salmonella that can easily be passed to humans with improper hand hygiene.
Every species is quite unique and it is important to find an animal you’re interested in first, and then do in-depth research to ensure that specific pet will fit perfectly in your home.
Personally, I did months of research before diving into the world of exotic pets. I knew that as a university student, I didn’t have much time day-to-day to devote to an animal, and the space I had available was quite limited. After weighing all my options, I ended up purchasing a Rosy Boa named Atlas, who is just over 2 feet long and as docile as they come. He fits perfectly into my home and I could not be happier with my decision.