Use Caution When Getting an Exotic Pet

While most people have dogs or cats as pets, there are others who prefer exotic animals.  At a time when many of these exotic animals are listed on the endangered species list, nonetheless, a variety of animals are captured, traded illegally, and sold to consumers.  There are many considerations involved in owning these not so ordinary pets.  Therefore, use caution when getting an exotic pet.

Snakes and other Reptiles

Although snakes, iguanas, and lizards are popular exotic pets; they are not suitable for families with young children. They require high maintenance and special dietary needs. In addition, they also require large enclosures and specific temperatures simulating their environment in the wild.

While at first look they may seem fascinating, the fact is they can pose health risks.  For example, a snake’s diet is composed of mice, insects, frogs, lizards, and, in some cases, other snakes. Lizards consume certain types of plants, bugs, spiders, and depending upon their size, other smaller animals.  Iguanas rely on fruits, insects, worms, and crickets.

Considering the diet of these exotic animals, the cost to feed them could be exorbitant.  Moreover, as mentioned earlier some of these exotic reptiles may have been trapped in the wild and sold to unsuspecting consumers.  It would have to be determined if, for example, the snake purchased may become a danger to family members or other pets in the home.

It is important then, before choosing snakes or other reptiles, to find out as much as you can about their needs, if it is lawful to keep them as pets, and whether or not you can provide them with the care and attention they deserve.  More importantly, they should be checked by a qualified vet to ensure they do not carry any known diseases that you or your family can be exposed to.


Gerbils make great pets and are fairly easy to feed.  They mostly live on organic pellets, carrots, and other vegetables but you can also purchase special gerbil food specifically designed for their diet.  However, since they are energetic, it is advised that you purchase a large cage filled with a spinner wheel, a bottle of water affixed to the cage, a food dish, wood shavings or hay to line the bottom of the cage.  Many experts advise it is better to acquire two gerbils as they are a social rodent.  Maintenance of the gerbil can be minimal, but they love attention and prefer to be taken out of the cage and hand-held for several hours.


Some time ago a project was started to breed raccoons in captivity and “get the wildness” out of them. The hope was they would become as popular as cats or dogs. Something similar was done with ferrets.

A raccoon is, by nature, nocturnal and this can cause problems because his or her day starts just when the human being’s day is ending.

They are very independent but like to play with people they know and dogs and cats as well. They are extremely strong for their size and this can cause problems. They tend to attack people they don’t know, say guests in your house. They sneak up on them and make no noise at all. Give no warning. Then they offset their jaw so that the upper jaw is extended and strike at the person’s head or neck, like a snake, sinking their upper canine teeth into a blood vessel, which they instinctively and unerringly locate. So you can’t let a raccoon run free in the house if you have guests.

One of their most serious drawbacks is a combination of their nature and their instincts. By nature, they are a bit clumsy and tend to drop things. If, or rather when, you give them a piece of food, they tend to drop it. If you, as your instinct tends to dictate, try to pick it up to give back to the raccoon, their instinct is to think you are trying to steal it and they will bite you right to the bone. The raccoon will always do this. So it is up to the owner to never try to pick up anything they have dropped unless they go away and leave it.

Another thing is that raccoons don’t understand petting and if you try to do it, they take it as an attack and will instinctively bite. When they are young, 2 to 3 weeks old, you can train them to accept petting by going to pet their head, knowing they will bite and pulling back in time. Once their jaws snap shut on, hopefully, empty air, you tap them lightly on the nose. You have to keep doing this until you wear them down which takes about 4 or 5 repeats. Then they will accept getting petted and eventually learn to like it. This will make them safer for you and other people to be around.

If you have a raccoon you must never give it cow’s milk. If you do, it will get parasites and die suddenly for no apparent reason. Goat’s milk is considered safe and will not cause sudden death.

The upside of getting a raccoon is they are very interesting and intelligent and just plain fun. However, remember the old rhyme, “When they are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they are horrid.”

Therefore, before deciding on an exotic pet, ask yourself these questions:

•    Can I afford the costs associated in maintaining this pet?
•    Is it legal to own this pet?
•    Do I have enough space in my home or apartment that is conducive to mimic this pet’s environment in the wild?
•    Does this pet pose any health danger?
•    Will I be able to give this pet the attention it needs?
•    How will this pet fit in with other pets I own?
•    Was this pet obtained by a breeder or traded illegally?
•    Am I doing more harm than good by keeping this exotic animal out of its normal environment?

While there are a number of exotic pets available, albeit legal and illegally obtained, the decision as to whether or not to own one takes a great amount of thought.  Children tend to gravitate towards gerbils, guinea pigs, and hamsters, while seasoned pet owners prefer more exotic animals such as snakes and parrots.

Ideally, however, acquiring an exotic pet through a breeder is preferable.  Pet stores, on the other hand, may not be fully candid as to where the animal came from or concede that there may be existing health problems.  Consider, too, that most exotic animals need to be kept in an enclosed environment since they can be a danger to other pets in the home. 

Use caution when getting an exotic pet by ascertaining their origin, health condition, suitability in the home, and maintenance.  Remember too, because many exotic animals are being transported through illegal trade they may not be in the best of shape when they reach a certain destination.  Just as humans can develop diseases from exotic animals, they are just as vulnerable to human viruses as well.  It’s just like taking a fish out of water; they can’t possibly survive.