It is generally not a good idea to keep exotic animals as pets, because they aren’t domesticated and don’t adapt to living in homes. Exotic pets also have special care needs which people aren’t always able to meet, so they end up ill or unintentionally neglected. If you have your heart set on a unique pet, some animals are easier to care for than others.
By easier to care for we mean these exotic pets don’t have particularly special housing requirements (some can even have the run of the house), they bond well with people but aren’t too demanding, their dietary needs are relatively easy to meet, and they aren’t naturally aggressive.
Here are 3 exotic pets to consider.
Exotic pet #1: Hedgehogs
Pygmy hedgehogs have been popular as pets since the early 1990s. A recent spate of cute hedgehog pictures on social media have renewed interest in the sweet little spiny critters. They are very small, seldom weigh more than 1.5 pounds and don’t grow much more than a foot in length. Their size makes them unbelievably cute and vulnerable, so it’s essential that they have a safe place to live. A spacious hamster cage will do nicely, especially with interactive toys, including an exercise wheel.
In terms of diet, many pet stores, especially those for exotic pets, sell hedgehog mixes. They enjoy insects, so pull yourself towards yourself and get used to shopping for crickets online to treat your hedgehog.
Adult hedgehogs that are gently handled a lot while young may enjoy handling as adults. In fact, they can be quite affectionate and enjoy one-on-one time. Their spines aren’t as spiky as porcupines but you still need to respect them, so always supervise interaction with children.
Note: You need to weigh your hedgehog at least once a week to ensure she’s within healthy limits. Their small size means that a couple of ounces either way could mean your hedgehog is either undernourished or obese. Find a vet who specialises in exotic animals (preferably with experience in hedgehogs) so you know exactly who to call if you have any health questions or have an emergency. African pygmy hedgehogs (the most common hedgehog pets) suffer from respiratory infections and skin diseases, so clean their cages daily.
Pygmy hedgehogs can carry diseases that are dangerous to people, including Salmonella and ringworm. So, take proper sanitary precautions after handling your teeny little hog.
It is legal to have hedgehogs as pets in many states in the US, but in some states they are illegal. Make sure you know what the rules are for your area. Properly cared for hedgehogs can live up to 6 years, so they represent a fairly long-term commitment.
Exotic pet #2: Pigs
George Clooney made pigs popular as pets – or at least he made the general public aware of their potential as pets. The truth is that as far as exotic pets go, pigs can make great pets; they’re clean, they’re sociable and they’re very smart. But they also come with certain challenges. For example, many people think that potbellied pigs are small, but they can grow to a significant size (175 pounds and 2ft tall). If you want truly small, you need a micro-mini pig (or a teacup pig). Unfortunately, they aren’t a natural breed and are underfed and inbred to keep them small. When micro pigs go to homes where they are properly fed and cared for, they pile on the pounds.
Food and exercise
Pigs lean towards fat, so it’s important that they get exercise. You can walk potbellied pigs on a lead, so take piggy out for a daily walk. It’s also important that pigs eat a balanced diet. Just because pigs will eat just about everything doesn’t mean you should feed them just about everything. They have nutritional needs that include cereals (wheat and oats, etc.), fruits and vegetables (apples, cucumbers, carrots, peas and turnips, etc.). Some feed suppliers sell pig feed designed to meet all your pig’s nutritional needs. However, ensure that the feed is good quality. Find a veterinarian who specialises in pigs (livestock veterinarians) and get a diet that specifically suits your pig’s lifestyle.
Sterilization is important for your safety as sows and boars can be aggressive and moody when in heat. They also need the usual regular vaccinations and deworming and hoof trimming.
Pigs are social animals and communicate their feelings unequivocally, so don’t be surprised if your pig has a head-tossing tantrum if she’s frustrated or angry. On the flip side, you may find a 170-pound pig trying to squish onto your lap when she’s feeling happy and affectionate. As they are socially demanding animals, some people get 2 pigs. This is only recommended if you have the space and the budget to accommodate 2 fully grown adult pigs.
Pigs can be destructive. Their natural rooting instinct means they will dig up your lawn and could root up your carpets too. It’s likely they’ll knock knick-knacks off coffee tables, bookcases and shelves. Like dogs, they need mental stimulation to prevent boredom, destructive behaviour and depression. Pigs respond well to training and they’re food motivated which is a big advantage. A little wallowing pool will make your pig very happy.
Pigs can live up to 30 years (although 15 – 25 years seems to be the average). They are life-time commitments, so make sure you really want to share your life with a pig before you get one.
Pigplacementnetwork.org is a great resource for anyone thinking about getting a pet pig. It is illegal to have pet pigs in some US states so do your research before getting one.
Exotic pet #3: Bearded Dragon Lizards
Reptiles are popular alternatives to the usual pets and what could be more exotic than a dragon? Bearded dragon lizards might not breathe fire or fly, but they look impressive with their throat pouch that puffs up into an intimidating beard. They are relatively easy to care for because they adapt well to a variety of habitats. They will need a terrarium set at at the right temperature and humidity level. Bearded dragons need ‘misting’ every second day. The terrarium should provide hiding spaces and include special lighting.
You can keep more than one bearded dragon, but you need to consider the best gender mix and whether you have the space to accommodate more than one. Males are territorial so they either need a terrarium each or a large space that can be divided into clear territories. Females can be housed with males but research breeding habits first.
When it comes to diet you can’t be squeamish. Live insects are an important part of a bearded dragon’s diet as are vegetables. They need a calcium supplement twice a week. A specialist veterinarian can recommend a brand and help you work out dosages. Food size is also an issue. Bearded dragons shouldn’t be fed food pieces that are wider than the space between their eyes otherwise they can choke.
Age is another factor to consider as young bearded dragons need to be fed more often than adult lizards and they need more insects than vegetables. According to The Bearded Dragon, young lizards should eat as many insects as they can within a 10 – 15 minute period three times a day. After the 15 minutes is over, remove any uneaten insects. Expect your young lizard to eat up to 60 insects per day. Adults can be fed insects once a day – the 15-minute feeding period applies.
Note: Buy insects from a specialist breeder or store for exotic pets as they’re disease and insecticide-free. Insects suited for bearded dragons include: Black soldier fly larvae, butterworms, crickets, dubia roaches, earthworms, locusts, redworms, and superworms. Vegetables and fruit safe for bearded dragons include: Acorn squash, artichoke heart, asparagus, beet greens and beetroot, butternut, shredded carrots, collard greens, peeled cucumber, green beans, cooked lentils, mustard greens, snow peas, turnip greens, raw zucchini, apples, blackberries, cherries, grapes, mangoes, melons, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, prickly pears, prunes, strawberries and watermelon.
Bearded dragons are gentle and affectionate animals, so they make good pets for youngish children. Salmonella is a health risk for anyone living with a bearded dragon, but proper sanitation will help keep your family safe. They can live up to 15 years, so they require a significant commitment.
A final word
In general, exotic pets are discouraged because their special needs are too complicated for the average person to meet. However, the 3 exotic pets above are relatively user-friendly – provided you research the species and follow care instructions to the letter.