The Risks of Exotic Pets

Technically, an exotic pet is one that is not domesticated, or indigenous to its owner's local geographic region. The term usually refers to wild species, unpredictable and often untrainable. Exotic species include wild cats (lions, tigers, ocelots, bobcats), fennec foxes, wolves, bears, monkeys, snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions and alligators.

tarantula spider in palm of hands

The nasty side of exotic pets

Exotic pet owners often choose a species of animal on a whim or as part of a popular fad without considering the animals requirements for the right environmental conditions. Insufficient information regarding adequate housing, correct diet and temperature, and the social environment the species requires all contribute to care problems. Exotic animals do not adjust well to captive conditions where they are typically not allowed to engage in their natural behaviours. Instead of giving the animal what it requires from nature owners will try to change the nature of the animal with abusive practices such as chaining the animal or confining it in barren cages, mutilating it by declawing or removing teeth, or beating it into submission.

Where do these animals end up?

Such animals present a danger to their owners and communities. They may escape their enclosures and roam the community freely, sometimes fatally attacking human beings or other animals. When exotic animals grow too large to control, or the novelty wears off, owners often try to donate their pets to zoos or rescue centres, but these facilities cannot accommodate all the cast-off exotic pets. Many are euthanised or abandoned, or left to survive in deplorable conditions.

If you still desire an exotic pet keep the following precautions in mind as you choose a species:

Animals and children

Exotic pets that have an aggressive, active nature and sharp teeth and claws are not suited for families with small children. Some quieter, calmer exotic species may be frightened by rowdy children and may nip them if handled roughly, and children may accidentally harm small species. Some may be stressed by children or other pets or seriously endanger them.
Basilisk lizard in a vivarium with green plants
Many exotic pets need a very specific environment to thrive

Housing

Proper housing is necessary. Be sure you have enough room for a large enclosure if necessary. Your pet should not be kept in a barren cage or aquarium. Keep their natural habitat in mind as you furnish their home. You may need expensive equipment to maintain the right environmental conditions. You want to be comfortable in your home, should your pet deserve any less?

Exotic diets

You can buy commercially prepared foods for some exotic species but some may require fresh food prepared daily. Mice or insects may be part of their diet. Research the necessary diet for the species and that the food supply is readily available. Be willing to put forth the effort that feeding a proper diet requires.

Laws and licences

Be aware of laws regarding exotic pets in your region. In the United States there are federal and state laws restricting the ownership of exotic species and in the UK there are government and local council licensing laws. Exotic species may be regulated to protect their conservation status or prevent the possibility of introducing an invasive species into the area and disrupting the local ecosystem. Neighbours are often uncomfortable living in an area where they know a potentially dangerous exotic pet is kept. You may be held liable or face criminal charges if your pet escapes its enclosure and causes harm (or worse!).

Exotic animal vet care

Providing proper veterinary care for your pet may be a challenge. Many vets do not have the specialised training to care for exotic animals. If you don't live in a big city with an exotic-care vet you may have to drive quite a distance to find one. In an emergency you may get there too late.

Human healthcare

There are also health concerns for humans when raising an exotic animal as a pet. Some species carry diseases that can be fatal to humans including monkeypox, salmonellosis, Herpes B, and rabies. Family members with compromised immune systems may be especially vulnerable. Potential allergic reactions should be considered if any family members have a history of allergies.

General wellbeing

Provide for your pet's social needs. Some species such as ferrets and pot-bellied pigs need lots of attention and playtime while amphibians and reptiles usually prefer not to be handled at all. Some exotic pets will enjoy a companion of the same species in their enclosure, while some are territorial and independent and may harm a cage mate. At some point you may require a pet sitter. The unique care an exotic animal requires can make it difficult to find someone who is capable to take over when you go on vacation or away for the holidays. Any pet should become a cherished member of the family, not a chore to be taken lightly. Choose a pet that will suit your family and lifestyle, not just because it's the current rage, and be willing to take care of your pet responsibly and faithfully throughout its life.