You may recall that last month we discussed preparing for a new pet. If you haven’t had a chance to read that blog, please take a look to get great tips on how to prepare for adding a new pet to your household. This month we will discuss exotic pets, and things to consider before adding one to your household.
What is an exotic pet?
In general, we think of exotic pets as those that are not the standard pets we see on a day-to-day basis; these are rare or unusual pets. The most common pets that we see at Twin Maples are dogs and cats. We like to group all the other pets we see into the exotic category, although some hospitals may consider small mammals such as rabbits, rodents, and ferrets also standard pets. The pets we consider exotic include those small mammals that are not dogs and cats (rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, ferrets, etc), birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Here at Twin Maples, in addition to dogs and cats, Dr. Miles will see small mammals and birds and Dr. Gardner will see small mammals.
What makes caring for an exotic pet different than a dog or a cat?
Exotic pets can be, in some ways, much more difficult to care for than a dog or cat.
Most of these animals require special housing/caging due to their small size and to protect them from other animals in the home. Depending on the animal, the housing may require exercise equipment, bedding, toys/enrichment items, a UV light, a heat source, special bowls/containers for feeding and watering, etc. Caging for exotic pets can potentially be expensive and take up a large amount of space in your home, depending on the animal. It is usually recommended to house pets indoors, due to an increased risk of exposure, infections, and parasites. Some pets require certain temperature and humidity levels to be maintained at all times. Before purchasing an exotic pet, we encourage you to speak to your veterinarian about appropriate housing.
Knowing what the appropriate food is for your exotic pet can be challenging, due to the fact that pet stores often keep in stock a variety of foods that are targeted towards these exotic animals, but in actuality may not be healthy choices for them. Doing your research ahead of time is extremely important. Unfortunately, we often see exotic pets for illness exams as a result of malnutrition due to an inappropriate diet. Researching what these animals need to eat to thrive is important, and there are many good books available on appropriate husbandry for many species of exotic pets. Some foods that are not toxic for dogs and cats (or you), may be toxic to your exotic pet, so we never recommend feeding people food without discussing it first with your veterinarian.
http://www.lafebervet.com/ is a very good website with helpful tips on appropriate diets (and also husbandry tips!). You can also get to our LifeLearn handouts from the Twin Maples website at http://www.lifelearn-cliented.com/iframe.php?clinic=317 and search for specifics on your exotic pet. For sugar gliders, we highly encourage you to become a member of http://asgv.org/, as this is the best website for information on sugar gliders. And lastly, speaking to your veterinarian that sees exotic pets is a good source for feeding recommendations.
Due to size alone, examination of an exotic pet can be more challenging than a dog or cat (ie, think about the size of a sugar glider, a dwarf hamster, a budgie…). As many of the exotics that are household pets are prey species, the stress of the visit often makes these little critters very difficult to handle. We encourage you to call ahead to your veterinarian to ensure they are comfortable examining and restraining an exotic pet; if they are not, you can visit http://www.aemv.org/ to search for veterinarians that see small mammals, http://www.aav.org/ to search for veterinarians that see birds, or http://www.arav.org/ to search for veterinarians that see reptiles and amphibians. For some diagnostic tests, simple restraint may not always be enough, and sedation or anesthesia may be necessary. As with dogs and cats, we do recommend annual exams to screen for early disease.
As already mentioned, many exotic pets are prey species, and as a result, will often hide signs of illness early on. Hiding the symptoms can be very problematic, since when they do present to the veterinarian when symptoms are obvious, the disease is usually well-advanced. Treatment may then be difficult or ineffective. It is highly encouraged to monitor your exotic pet’s behavior, feeding habits, and urination/defecation very closely, so that you may know what is normal for them, and at the first sign of something being different, you can bring them in for an exam to check for illness.
Do exotic pets make good pets?
The answer to this question depends on what your idea of a good pet is. Some exotic pets are just as big of cuddlers as a dog or cat can be! For example, ferrets, rabbits, and many rodents can be very affectionate, and enjoy being held. Many birds (especially parrot species) will also bond well with their owners and enjoy being held or perching on their owner’s shoulders. And then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, where some exotics are for display only (ie some reptiles, some amphibians, some birds, and fish). If you have any specific questions about whether a certain exotic pet is right for your household, please do not hesitate to ask your veterinarian. We look forward to sharing our opinions and knowledge with you!
Where can I get an exotic pet?
Just as with dogs and cats, these pets can be acquired directly from breeders, through a pet store, or through rescues. We always encourage adopting a rescue animal when possible!