Exotic Pets Actually Aren’t Hard to Care For

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.

Caring for Exotic Pets

So you go to the zoo and see an impossibly cute little ‘wild’ animal performing some awe-inducing behavior. It’s smaller than your dog, and it looks like it would make the perfect pet. You turn to the keeper next to you and excitedly ask, “would it make a good pet?”

“Absolutely not,” the keeper replies. “They demand a lot of care. They will destroy your furniture, pee on the walls, and bite you. They are not domesticated!”

Oh, well, that dream was dashed, but you rapidly get over it and move on.

Most people have had such thoughts when visiting the zoo or viewing an animal exhibitor’s presentation. They are often informed that the animal being shown makes for a bad pet. They are often oblivious to the fact that the exhibitor owns that animal as a pet, even if they insist it is not a pet.

Let me let you in on a little secret.

Exotic pets aren’t hard—perhaps they are even easy—to care for. Yes, so-called wild animals such as foxes, kinkajous, wallabies, and muntjac deer. With the exception of very fragile animals, such as a sloth, or animals so large and/or potentially dangerous that housing them is a hassle alone, most exotic pets that you see in the pet trade have pretty simple and common sense care.

I saw the above humorous graphic on my Facebook feed, and despite its non-serious intentions, I found the concept of it wildly accurate. ‘Fun vs. Effort’ roughly translates to rewards vs. the amount of care one puts into their pet.

In the chart, fun positively correlates with effort (except your friend’s dog). The dragon, arguably the most exotic pet of all, tops out as requiring the most effort but is also the most fun. Who wouldn’t want a dragon? Exotic pets are similar (even though, ironically, the real exotic pets are listed below the domesticated pets in effort). The more exciting they are, the more ‘work’ is generally involved. This is because the more ‘interesting’ pets are so because they are less common, and less common pets are usually so because they are ‘harder’ to care for.

But what does this really mean? What makes an animal hard to care for?

As previously mentioned, an animal like a sloth is delicate and very sensitive to stress. Keeping this animal alive and well, especially if it is not captive-bred, can be a challenge. But most exotic pets are not so fragile as to have their health jeopardized from non-expertise. So ‘hard to care for’ shouldn't technically apply.

Exotic pets might seem hard to deal with for most people, and that is something entirely different. An exotic pet not behaving the way you want it to or not being ‘cuddly’ doesn’t really make it hard to care for.

Not all exotic pets can be housed indoors, just like farm animals. Those that can might not have the greatest house manners compared to other species. A combination of proper caging and supervision is required. But is this really so hard?

Are You Committed?

The fact is, whether or not exotic pets are hard to care for is almost entirely dependent on the effort you are willing and expecting to commit towards it. Looking back at the ‘Fun vs. Effort’ chart, the human baby is hilariously placed as one of the hardest ‘pets’ to care for. There is a lot of truth to this. The majority of humans will become parents and care for babies successfully. The care of human children is far more involved than that of most exotic pets. Most people do not prioritize their animals like they do their children and consider animals to be a supplementary form of enrichment.

If You Can Care for a Baby, You Can Care for Almost Any Pet

Caring for babies is a lot like caring for young chimps, arguably the most demanding exotic ‘pet’ someone can care for, just without the extreme strength. Why do so many people, most whom are or will become parents, believe an exotic pet is too much for them to handle?

What Is an Easy Care Pet?

Most exotic pets are not really ‘hard’ to care for, most people just have set expectations of how much time and effort one should put into animals.

Most people bring pets into their home and have the expectation that a pet will, and should, easily adapt to their home life, as a few 'domesticated' pets have been bred for.

Because many ‘domesticated’ pets might be this way, when other pets aren’t, they are ‘difficult’. These expectations are purely cultural. The existence of abnormally forgiving species does not instantly make other pets overly demanding. In fact, dogs can require a lot of care, and that is well-established. But when it comes to smaller animals, the same effort is not often applied due to, again, culturally-driven expectations about how much effort should be applied.

What makes exotic pets east to care for?

There is a very reasonable, common-sense approach to keeping most ‘exotic’ pets that is easily accomplishable by any competent-minded person.

Simple Research

There was a time when information about unique species was hard to find, but now we have the internet. Information about most animals is now ridiculously easy to find to anyone with access to a computer. The best places to seek essential information about less well-known animals are forums with breeders and long-term successful owners. You may also be able to locate care sheets from zoological facilities. There may be a few ‘care sheets’ floating around the internet written by average people like myself, but they should never be fully relied on. Get information from multiple sources.

Treat Them Like They Are What They Are

Exotic pets are not dogs, so don’t treat them like dogs or expect them to act like dogs. Not every animal can be a dog. Most farm animals aren’t dogs and are thus not treated like dogs, they are treated like chickens, cows, and horses. Therefore, treat a fox like a fox. An exotic pet owner should be prepared to embrace the unique challenges of another species. Some exotic pets are skittish, smelly, and ‘independent.’ Give them space when they need it.

Exotic Pets That Are Hard to Care for?

Ironically, while the keeping of fish and most reptiles receives less criticism than mammals, these animals are harder to maintain successfully as pets, if success is determined by the likelihood of the pet reaching an older age.

Fish in particular are very hard to care for. Many tropical fish can live for 10–20+ years but rarely do in captivity. Maintaining the proper water quality they need for many years is difficult. Reptiles are easier but require the proper temperatures to thermoregulate and keep their body systems running smoothly. Any prolonged lapses in maintaining adequate temperatures and humidity can lead to irreversible organ diseases.

Some animals, like certain primates, may require special care to promote psychological welfare. Once again, anyone who can handle a baby can technically handle most primates, but due to our culture’s placement of pets as something you should not invest an absurd amount of time into, most will see such care requirements as extraordinary.

Exotic Pets Are Rewarding

People who are confused about why someone would want to keep an exotic pet inexplicably seem to not understand that exotic pets are rewarding. The more unusual a pet is, the more exciting it often is to raise. Just as the chart with the dragon suggests, sometimes more effort is involved with an animal that is more fun.

The next time a zookeeper or animal exhibitor tells you an animal is ‘not a pet’, this is really just code for their recognition that most people just aren’t ‘animal people’ and will probably be overwhelmed when an animal doesn’t behave like a poodle, or, relative to its species or size, might demand similar care to a dog. They are probably correct, but unfortunately, people who actually enjoy exotic pet keeping are all painted with the same brush, and when Joe Schmo thinks an animal is a bad pet, he thinks everyone who has one is not caring for it properly.

This is also where the idea that you need some kind of special training or credentials to own small numbers of exotic pets originates. Some zookeepers might not like the idea that their work is accomplishable by non-professionals. It should be understood that these claims exist for reasons other than having a basis in reality.

© 2016 Melissa A Smith

june on June 15, 2020:

what exotic pets re legal in virginia

Noah Montgomery on March 04, 2020:

Are northern tamanduas legal in Arizona?

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 27, 2016:

Yeah, exotics seem way easier than children to me, and less gross.

SW on May 26, 2016:

Excellent article.

I have wondered about that last point in regards to some zookeepers. Even towards those interested in the field such as myself, if feels as if I've had to work through endless variations of "IT SUCKS AND YOU'LL HATE IT" answers before I've had them take me seriously. Do they really get that many people who think that it's all fun and games? I wonder.

And I'm still young but I already know I'd rather invest my money and effort into the care of animals rather than raising a child. Alas, to many, that is a sign of defectiveness.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 10, 2016:

Just another reason to miss the 90's!

The Logician from now on on May 10, 2016:

I had a red and a silver fox, an arctic/red fox cross, arctic foxes and 4 gray foxes (my favorite) in the 1990s. I've had several arctic foxes in my life, bought my first Arctic fox from a pet shop in Philadelphia, PA in 1981. When I lived in NY any species of fox was legal because NY classified them as farm animals, no permit required. I got mine from a breeder and 2 different game farms. Back then in NY, whether they came from a fur farm or not they were legal as long as you had proof of purchase as you could not take them from the wild. I never had a fennec fox but that would be my next choice if I wanted to get another fox.

My gray foxes grew up in my house, used litter box like a cat. I noticed early on how sly they are! Whenever chased they would run behind a chair or sofa but never come out the other side. They instinctively stopped behind the chair and turned around to emerge the way they went in and double back on their tracks. They played with my dog. When they got tired from my dog chasing them through the house they would come out into the middle of a room and make a stand. The dog would stop and look bewildered, then the fox would growl and attack him and chase him out of the room.

Grays are the best, they are climbers and spend lots of time in trees. Mine loved to climb right up my body and lay across my shoulders when I'd take them out for a walk. They'd sit stand and lay on my shoulders watching everyone walking by me just enjoying the ride. I took them in to elementary schools to show them to the classes and teach the children about them. The foxes loved it, they would sit on the table or my shoulder and study the whole class intently never wanting to get down or act up and they just loved to be touched and petted by the students before we left. The first time I did this I was totally impressed at how well behaved the foxes were and how mesmerized they seemed to be by all the children. It was like they knew to be especially nice to children.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 10, 2016:

Yeah, monkeys can be hard but they are doable for a dedicated individual.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 10, 2016:

Thanks tsadjatko. When did you keep foxes? Only fennecs are legal now unless they weren't really 'pets' but fur farm animals.

The Logician from now on on May 10, 2016:

lol Dr. Mark, Only on hub pages!

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 10, 2016:

Good reading. I looked at a hub yesterday from some zookeeper who stated "Monkeys are NOT suitable pets." Totally incorrect. If he had said "...for most people." I would have agreed, since most people are not willing to go to the extra time and effort to care for an exotic like a monkey.

But, of course, that zookeeper has a picture of a monkey as his avatar. How messed up is that?

The Logician from now on on May 10, 2016:

Interesting points and your point of view! However the fun vrs. effort graph is incomplete, it left out Velociraptors ( :-)

As a former owner of several fox species (classified as farm animals in NY state because of fur farms) I can agree with much of what you say. Here is another fox that loves his rescuer!

Skunks have one obvious drawback which is why they’ve never really taken off as pets until recently: their smell. However, domesticated skunks have their scent glands removed when they are young, which makes them safe to keep around the house.

Once you get over their less-than-stellar reputation, keeping a skunk as pet is similar to owning a cat or a ferret. But as with most pets, if you want to have a strong bond with them you have to give them extra attention when they’re young.

Before you join the Pepe Le Pew fan club, you’ll need to find out if owning a pet skunk is legal in your state. It’s still illegal to own a skunk in most states, so don’t get your hopes up. If you do get one, you can plan on it keeping you company for around ten years.

What Are the Basics of Chinchilla Pet Care?

Pets need a place to live. For the chinchilla, the best home is a roomy metal cage made out of stainless steel, nickel, or aluminum. Never choose a plastic cage for your chinchilla chins love to chew and plastic can be harmful to them. The cage needs a solid, not a wire floor, this is also out of concern for your chinchilla’s foot health.

The cage isn’t just where your chinchilla sleeps. It’s also her playroom. They need space where they can work off all their energy, and different levels so that they can climb. Providing lots of toys, an exercise wheel and places where they can hide will give you high marks for great chinchilla pet care.

So your chinchilla has a place to live and play, food to eat and water to drink. What about bedding? What makes the perfect chinchilla bed? Aspen wood bedding is absorbent and safe, as well as cozy. Bedding for a chinchilla has to multitask: it’s not just where they sleep. It’s also a playpen, a litter box, and sometimes a secret stash where they’ll put food.

Characteristics of a Low Maintenance Pet

Different people have different ideas about what a low maintenance pet means. For some it might mean food, water, wash -- basically your set it and forget it friend.

That level of care usually doesn't pair well with a cuddly pet. That's true for a couple of reasons. If your pet requires very little care and attention, chances are they're fine in their independence. If that's true, cuddling is not high on their priority list. They may tolerate it some, but not for long periods and certainly not as much as you would probably like.

For a pet to want to cuddle with you, there has to be a bond. Bonding means work and lots of attention. Work and lots of attention isn't the first thing on your mind when you think of low maintenance.

See where we're going here?

To have low maintenance pets that like to cuddle, the truth is, they're not going to be completely low maintenance. You're going to have your basic food, water, cleaning, and general care. That's just part of having a pet.

Vet Care

Don’t let anyone tell you that an exotic animal doesn’t require vet care because it’s just not true. An exotic pet needs a wellness plan and wellness exam just as a puppy or kitten would if you were to have those as a pet. Wellness care for pets is just as important as it is for the humans in your life, and that includes any exotic pets you might decide to adopt. Your exotic pet will need to see a veterinarian when he’s sick or to keep up with his wellness exams, just as your kitten or puppy would.

The thing is that exotic pet veterinarians can be hard to find, just as roaches to feed your bearded dragon can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. It’s best to call around to local veterinarians to see if they take exotic animals before you adopt a lizard, bearded dragon, or other exotic animals. Exotic pets might even need vaccines that you aren’t aware of.

Watch the video: All Exotic Animals are Dangerous. Exotics Misconceptions (July 2021).