In our fast-paced society, we are always looking for the next new thing. Last year’s must-have item is today’s old news. The pet industry has not escaped this desire for new and unusual. Over the last few years, the demand for exotic pets has exploded. We now see all types of animals, from degus to pythons to chimpanzees, living in our homes. But this fad deals with living creatures and not disposable items.
As with owning any animal, there are responsibilities. You must provide food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and enrichment. This is much easier to do with animals such as dogs and cats. They have been kept in captivity for generations and much is known about required care. Any veterinarian is able to provide treatment and commercially prepared food can be purchased in stores. Exotic animals are relatively new, and as such, pose many unique concerns.
Diet: Commercially prepared food is not readily available. Some species require daily preparation of fresh foods. While more is being learned every year, there is still much guesswork involved in satisfying their nutritional requirements.
Veterinary Care: Not all veterinarians will treat exotic animals. Again, this is a fairly new field and not all offices are prepared with equipment and knowledge of every species. While most exotics do not require vaccinations, they should receive an annual exam. It is important to find a veterinarian who is experienced with your particular animal because many species will mask signs of illness until it’s life-threatening. Symptoms are often not as obvious and easy to diagnose as in other animals.
Laws: Exotic animals are not legal to own in all areas. Some species require a special permit and others are simply prohibited. This is for the protection of the local environment as well as humans and other animals. Keeping animals illegally can result in fines and jail time for the owner and seizure and possible euthanasia for the animal.
Danger: Exotic animals are not domesticated. Even dogs and cats, which have been kept in captivity for generations, can revert to their wild instincts. Whether it’s through venom or sheer strength and size, exotics are much more likely to cause injury to their human owners. There have been documented cases of owners being killed by their venomous snakes and maimed by their chimpanzees. Visitors to the home are at a greater risk of illness or injury because they are often not aware of safe handling techniques. Their actions can cause an instinctual reaction in the animal, and a pet that has caused injury to a human is often labeled dangerous and removed from its home or even euthanized. Owners must also consider what they would do if their animal escaped. Some jurisdictions require owners of certain species, especially large cats, to submit a written protocol that will be followed in the event of an escape.
The Future: No one knows what’s in their future. When owning pets, it becomes our responsibility to plan for their long-term care. If it became necessary to rehome your pet, there are many options for dogs, cats, and some small animals. What about rehoming a chimpanzee or an iguana? That’s not so easy. There are a few organizations that will take exotics, but they are not common. Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the release of exotic species into the wild. This has caused devastating effects to the native environments. Pet owners must assume responsibility for their pets and exotic animal owners are no exception.
Remember, sugar gliders, pythons, iguanas, and chinchillas may fascinate you today but they will be your responsibility for years to come. Before bringing any animal into your home, research its needs carefully and decide if you are willing to commit to providing them for the pet’s lifetime.