Is an exotic pet right for you?

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So, you’re thinking about getting an exotic pet. It’s no surprise that 13 percent of US households owned a specialty or exotic pet in 2016, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Exotic pets can seem exciting because of how unique and unconventional they are, but there are a few things to consider before purchasing an exotic pet. Buying any pet on an impulse could end badly, but these animals that require special care are especially vulnerable. Here are some things to ask yourself before you buy an exotic pet.

Laws

Exotic pet laws vary from state to state. Some states might require a special license, and some might ban the animals altogether. For example, in Pennsylvania, nearly all exotic pets are illegal, and if someone is caught with a banned pet, they would be fined and the animal could be confiscated and euthanized. But in West Virginia, most exotic pets are legal or can be kept with a proper permit. Reasons why a state would pass a ban on exotic pets mainly focus on a danger to the local ecosystem and public safety if the animal got loose. Take the time to look up the laws in your state for the pet you want to keep.

Temperament 

What is the natural temperament of the animal? Many exotic pets have not been domesticated yet, and therefore can be unpredictable or dangerous. It’s important to research what the worst case scenario would be for the temperament of your pet. 

Along those same lines, some pets are not suitable for children because of their temperament. If you have children, it’s valuable to take this into consideration. 

How active is the animal, and therefore, how much time will you need to commit to outside-the-cage time? Is this animal known to be destructive to furniture or the house in general, and can you afford or handle their destructive tendencies? 

Where to Purchase

As with any animal, careful consideration should be taken when deciding where to purchase your pet. It’s recommended to ask lots of questions before deciding to purchase from a place. Ask about how the animals are cared for. If you’re purchasing from a store, ask about the conditions of how they were bred and raised. Make sure that the animal was captive-bred by a reputable breeder. Some exotic pets were captured in the wild illegally in a process that is unethical and many times creates health problems for the animal.

Take a look at the conditions the pet is coming from and make sure the pets were properly taken care of up to this point. Red flags include a dirty cage and improper supplies in the cage. It’s good to go to the facility already knowing what the animal needs. You might want to look up reviews online as well.

Price should also be taken into consideration. Look up the average price of the pet you want and see how they stack up. If there are inconsistencies, ask why. A pet that is more expensive than average could be ripping you off, while a pet that is cheaper might raise some red flags. Make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples by researching the specific color or breed of animal that you want. For example, a standard grey sugar glider is worth less than a leucistic (white) one. Lineage might make a difference in price as well.

Cage

One of the biggest up-front expenses when purchasing a new pet is the cage. Find out how much space your pet needs and if you can accommodate for that. Even small animals sometimes will require a 5 foot by 3 foot cage, and larger animals often require a fence. If you plan on keeping your pet uncaged, you might consider a crate for transportation and convenience. 

Food

Exotic animals especially are known for having special diet needs. Some will require a meal prep with fresh fruits and vegetables, while some only require a pellet food. Take the time to research what your animal needs to eat and how much the food will cost. 

Other supplies

What else does your pet need to be fully happy and healthy? Often, pets need some kind of recreation, whether that be toys or a wheel. Be sure to research which toys are safe for your pet before introducing them. Other common things pets might need include things to chew on, things to wash the cage with, bedding, nail clippers, a leash, a collar, treats, and grooming supplies. What your specific pet needs will vary. 

Companions

Consider whether your pet would be happier with a companion. If an animal is naturally social, they might be happier if you buy two or more instead of just one. 

Also consider the pets that you already have, and see if they would mesh well together. A pet that is naturally a predator and a pet that is naturally prey, for instance, might discover itself in a cat-and-mouse situation that could end badly. 

Temperature

Certain pets, especially lizards and cold-blooded animals, may require supplemental heat. Check to see what temperature their cage area should be.

Time Commitment

Look into the animal’s needs and determine realistically how much time it would take to fulfill those needs in relation to your schedule. Some animals require more maintenance than others, and it’s important to be able to set aside that time. A big reason why exotic pets end up needing a rehome is that the time commitment was more than the owner expected.

Longevity 

How long is your pet expected to live? Some pets can live to be 10-15 years old, so it’s important to consider the long term commitment required for the animal.

Vet Care

Don’t let anyone tell you that a pet doesn’t need a vet. Every pet is bound to need veterinary care at some point, and exotic vets can be hard to find. Look up which vets accept exotic pets, and call the office to be sure that the vet has enough room in their schedule to add your pet as a patient. Ask them if they have any experience with your kind of animal so that you can make an informed decision on what vet to go to. Do not wait until your pet has an emergency to find a proper vet. Often, the place or person you are looking to purchase your pet from can recommend a vet in the area. 

Pet Sitters

Is there someone in your life that will take the time to learn how to care for your animal when you are away? It’s inevitable that you will need to leave the house for vacation or a trip, and in those instances where you are unavailable, it’s important to have someone to care for your pet.

Resources

Facebook groups are a great resource for information on how to take care of the pet you want. Here are some other online resources that could help answer some of the questions above:

  • EcoHealthy Pets: a website that gives details on how difficult it is to take care of a specific pet and some of the environmental/ethical concerns.
  • Lafeber Vet: An exotic veterinary resource.
  • Exotic Nutrition: Known for selling exotic pet supplies, this website also provides detailed care advice for a handful of the most popular exotics.
  • Cheat Lake Animal Hospital accepts exotic pets and could be a resource for information.

When it comes to exotic pets, knowledgeable and responsible pet ownership is key to success. Considering all of these factors and others you may come across while doing your own research, only you can make the decision on if an exotic pet is right for you. While doing your own research, you’re sure to find many mixed opinions because pets are always a source of contention, so it’s important to make sure the information you come across is reputable. 

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