Every pet is unique, and while some people prefer a cat or dog as a companion, others choose exotic animals, such as reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, or birds as their family pet. While exotic pets can provide the same companionship and love as cats and dogs, they require specialized care, attention, and owner education to thrive. Plus, exotic pets need different care according to their species. Our team at Village Veterinary Hospital provides the same high-quality care for a variety of pets—including exotics—and we want to share the important information you should know if you own or are considering adopting an exotic pet.
Examples of exotic pets
Exotic pets come in all shapes and sizes, and include:
- Small mammals — Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, and mice
- Reptiles — Bearded dragons, leopard geckos, box turtles, and snakes (e.g., corn snakes, pythons)
- Amphibians — Salamanders, frogs, and toads
- Birds — Parakeets, cockatiels, and parrots
- Backyard poultry — Chickens, guinea fowl, ducks, and geese
When you bring an exotic pet into your home, you must consider their needs in the wild, and endeavor to meet those needs in their captive environment.
Exotic pet care basics
These include all aspects of the appropriate habitat and diet for the various exotic species.
- Habitat — Exotic pets need a safe, supportive enclosure that imitates their natural habitat. Before bringing home an exotic pet, do your research to ensure their enclosure meets their unique needs according to their species. For example, some exotic pets require extra heat and humidity (e.g., lizards, snakes), while others need places to burrow or climb (e.g., rabbits). Many exotic pets (e.g., sugar gliders) are nocturnal (i.e., active at night). Providing the right space is incredibly important to ensure your exotic pet will thrive. Other habitat considerations include:
- Security — Rodents, small birds, and reptiles can be prey for other pets living in your house, such as dogs and cats, or may escape unsecured enclosures. Ensure these pets have an enclosure that is inaccessible to other pets and can be closed securely.
- Space — Reptiles and parrots, for example, can grow quite large, and they will need numerous enclosures to provide adequate space as they grow.
- Temperature and humidity — Exotic pets, including lizards and snakes, need a specific temperature and humidity range for optimum health.
- Lighting — Natural and artificial light are necessary to maintain the appropriate circadian rhythms of many exotic pets.
- Enrichment — Ensure your exotic pet can exercise their natural behaviors, such as climbing, stalking, sunbathing, swimming, or soaking.
- Diets — Exotic pets have specialized nutritional needs, and require species-appropriate, balanced diets to avoid macronutrient, vitamin, or mineral deficiencies. For example, some pets need to eat live bait or small prey, while no pet should eat processed food. Every exotic pet must always have access to clean, fresh water. Also, exotic pets should be fed precise portions based on their weight, body condition, and life stage. Under- and over-feeding can lead to serious health issues. Spend time researching your pet’s nutritional requirements, and never hesitate to consult with your veterinarian if you have questions.
Health care for exotic pets
Responsible health care for exotic pets includes knowing signs that indicate illness. Many exotic pets are prey animals and are experts at masking signs of pain or weakness, because in the wild, revealing weakness leaves them highly vulnerable to predators.
- Illness signs —Monitor your exotic pet closely for subtle behavior or appearance changes that may indicate they are sick, including:
- Increased or decreased appetite or thirst
- Fur, skin, or scale changes (e.g., not shedding, lumps or bumps, irritation, lack of grooming)
- Abnormal stool or urine
- Eye or nasal discharge
- Reduced activity (e.g., climbing, digging, playing, or socializing)
- Uncharacteristic fear or aggression
- Unusual standing or moving posture
- Abnormal breathing
- Preventive care — All pets, including exotics, require routine preventive care, including a physical assessment, blood work, X-rays, and fecal screenings. Early disease detection is essential, and regular wellness exams allow your pet’s veterinarian to catch problems quickly and determine the best treatment plan. Do not wait until your exotic pet shows signs of sickness—prevent illness and disease with at least yearly comprehensive veterinary wellness exams.
An exotic pet can be an exciting addition to your family and provide years of companionship, but before bringing a pet home, thoroughly research all the various exotic pet species and their needs, and talk to your veterinarian so that you have a thorough understanding of their care.
Contact our team at Village Veterinary Hospital with any questions about your exotic pet’s special needs to ensure they thrive, or to schedule their wellness exam.
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