In the world of veterinary medicine and animal care, an “exotic” pet isn’t a dog, cat, or livestock. Exotics encompass many different species and categories, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team offers veterinary care for small mammals and birds, two of the most popular exotic pet types. We know that special pets have special needs, so read on to learn how to care for your exotic pet.

#1: Research pet species before purchasing or adopting your pet

Many people choose exotic small mammals or birds because they have a nice appearance or are different from the norm. But you should thoroughly understand such a pet’s physical and emotional needs before bringing one into your home. Without proper research, you could end up with a pet who needs more time, attention, and financial commitment than you are ready for. You also should take into account the pet’s expected life span—a small mammal typically lives only a few years, which can be heartbreaking for those who form close bonds, while birds can live decades, necessitating a plan for what happens if they outlive you.

#2: Prepare for your pet’s arrival before bringing them home

Once you’ve researched and understood your new pet’s needs, you should set up their enclosure and prepare your home for their arrival. Consider how much exercise your pet will need and how much time you can allow them to spend outside their enclosure to determine how large it should be. Most pet store cages are too small for the pets they are marketed toward. You may need to look at online retailers or build an enclosure yourself.

If your pet will have time outside their enclosure, take care to pet-proof your home and dedicate a room or area where they will be allowed. Can your pet be potty-trained, such as a rabbit or ferret, or do you expect the pet to have accidents? Does your new pet like to chew or explore? Ensure you cover outlets, hide electrical cords, remove valuable or breakable items from their space, and always supervise them while they are free-roaming.

#3: Focus on proper pet husbandry

Husbandry describes general animal care, including housing setup, nutrition, and training basics. These are crucial to your pet’s overall health and wellbeing because most diseases affecting exotic pets are brought on by improper husbandry techniques or stress. Our veterinary team can guide you on proper husbandry for your pet species or direct you to resources that can help. Focus on these key areas:

  • Enclosure size
  • Nutritional needs
  • Ideal bedding material or substrate
  • Comfortable temperature and humidity ranges
  • Sensitivity to environmental stimuli

#4: Don’t forget about exotic pet enrichment

Many mammal and bird species are highly intelligent and need daily mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy and engaged. Providing this stimulation is called enrichment and can include various activities, novel items, or stimulating foods. You should aim to engage all your pet’s senses with such things as games, a toy rotation, bird mirrors, mazes and puzzles for small mammals, or exciting and varied chews or treats. 

Play off your pet’s strengths and natural abilities to devise enriching activities for them. Training using a clicker is beneficial for all species and easy to learn. Birds can complete complex puzzles and memory games, rabbits enjoy jumping and can learn to run courses, and ferrets love to chase and hunt. Use your imagination or consult our team for more ideas.

#5: Stay up-to-date on preventive veterinary care

Like dogs and cats, exotic pets require regular preventive veterinary care. Schedule a visit with our team at least once or twice yearly for a physical examination, health screening tests, parasite control consultation, and behavioral, emotional, and mental health evaluation. Regular visits help us catch minor problems before they snowball into dangerous health concerns and allow us to answer your exotic pet questions. Visits when your pet is young and healthy also provide valuable baseline health information so we have something to compare to if your pet gets sick in the future. 

Exotic pets are fun conversation starters and intelligent companions who can form bonds with humans just like any other pets. Our knowledgeable team can answer exotic pet questions and guide you in proper nutrition and husbandry. Treat your pet like family, and contact our Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team to schedule your exotic pet’s next wellness visit.