What is an exotic pet? In the United States, an exotic pet simply means any pet other than a cat or a dog, notes National Geographic Magazine. Veterinarians in the United States tend to also define exotic pets in this way.

Although wild animal species have made headlines as "exotic pets" they are by no means the only choice in exotic furry, scaly or feathered friends one can live with.

11 Suggestions of Exotic Pets

The best choice of exotic animals as pets are species that have been kept as pets for many decades and are often thought of as "normal" pets. These include but are not limited to:

  1. Rabbits;
  2. Guinea pigs;
  3. Hamsters;
  4. Gerbils;
  5. Skunks;
  6. Ferrets;
  7. Birds (all species except for native wild birds);
  8. Reptiles (all species except for native wild reptiles);
  9. Scorpions;
  10. Tarantulas;
  11. Pot-bellied pigs.

The Legal Debate around Exotic Pets

Before shopping for any exotic pets for sale or trying to find an exotic pet store, take the time to find out what species are allowed in your area and what aren't. Never take for granted that any species is legal where you live just because it is for sale. For example, gerbils are considered common although exotic pets. However, they are illegal to own in California and Hawaii because if they got loose they could severely damage the environment.

Contact your landlord or your local police station to find out what species are legal in the area and if they are allowed in your building. One of the most common causes of exotic pets being surrendered to animal shelters is that landlords have discovered the forbidden pet and threaten eviction unless the animal is removed.

Exotic pets that are NEVER a good idea to get are:

  • Any venomous animal like a cobra (although scorpions, most tarantulas and exotic fish such as the lionfish are exceptions);
  • Any endangered species like a panda;
  • Any large predator like a tiger.

ferret up close

Consider the Adoption Option

Thousands of exotic pets are abandoned every year in North America. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries states that there are so many that getting exact numbers has proven to be too large of a task. It does note that there are at least 5,000 pet tigers in the United States. There are certainly five times that many numbers of exotic rodents, small mammals and reptiles alone in shelters needing forever homes. Adopting an animal is not free but certainly much less expensive than going to exotic pet stores.

Prospective owners of adoptable exotic animals are usually vetted by the animal shelter or foster home. You need to prove you have the resources and the knowledge of how to keep your new pet happy and healthy. Your home and yard may be inspected. Improvements may be suggested, such as putting up a fence or buying a much larger vivarium than what you already have. Families with children younger than seven are often urged not to get an exotic pet until the child is older. This is for the safety of the child – and especially the pet.

Requirements for Keeping Exotic Pets

You need to research caretaking information of the specific species of pet you fancy before taking the pet home. All too often this leads to disaster. Check out your library and online for information about feeding, housing requirements, area for any exercise and medical care. Also, check out the many exotic pet online groups on social networks such as Facebook or on pet care magazine websites like Petcha.com (which used to be called Small Animal Channel.) Here you can ask questions and get candid answers.

Try to find the most recent books or online articles on exotic pet care. New knowledge is being discovered all of the time about medical or nutritional needs of exotic pet species. For example, in the 1990s, it was unknown that guinea pigs were allergic to aloe vera. Find out at the least:

  • Space requirements: Does the pet need room to exercise as well as live and sleep? Small mammals and any bird should never be expected to spend all of their lives in a cage. They need to get out to exercise, run around or stretch their wings and burn off excess energy in order to be healthy.
  • Food requirements: Find out the diet before you bring them home. For example, guinea pigs need Vitamin C enriched food since their bodies are like human bodies in that they do not automatically make this crucial vitamin.
  • Temperature requirements: Most small mammals, arachnids, amphibians, birds, and reptiles need a warm environment. This means heaters for tanks or vivariums or even adding a small space heater to rooms where they are kept. Can you afford this rise in your heating bill?
  • Veterinary care: All exotic pets will need to see a vet sooner or later. Find out if any vets in your area take care of the species you have. Never assume that a vet has experience with your pet's species. Ask them about their experience. Vets who are not experienced with your pet's species often will know of other vets that are and give you the contact information.

Picture of a tiger cub

How Good Are Exotic Animals as Pets?

There are good reasons why there is a rise in exotic pet ownership. The best exotic pets have their own unique charms. Go into exotic pet ownership with no expectations (other than knowing there must be a large commitment on your part of time and money) and you may discover that exotic pets make as good as or even better friends than dogs or cats. Many exotic pets do not need licenses or daily walks. Many have a quirky playfulness that is more entertaining to watch than anything on television. Others seem to have a patient understanding and tolerance for all of the mistakes you make.

Get to know your exotic pet on his or her own terms. If they are nocturnal, do not force them to be active in the daytime. If they prefer to live alone, do not get them companions. Pets of all species will eventually interact with their caretakers. The moment when that comes is priceless.

Images taken from depositphotos.com.