About 60 percent of U.S. households have welcomed some type of pet. There are plenty of cats (75 million) and dogs (60 million) — but there are also millions of unusual or exotic pet species out there, too. While some exotic pets belong in the wild and do not adjust well to captivity, some unusual domesticated animals make great pets. If you don’t want to go the dog or cat route, consider these exotic pets — along with their sometimes unusual pet health requirements.
Exotic Pet Birds
At first glance, an exotic pet bird may seem like a good idea if you don’t have time to devote to a dog or cat. But in truth, these birds, which can have the intelligence of a young child and are usually very affectionate, are not that easy to care for. Millions of exotic pet birds end up abandoned or living a lonely life of misery in a cage that is too small for them. Screaming and biting are common behaviors in neglected birds. But in the right hands, exotic birds can be wonderful pets — just remember that they require a lot of time and dedication.
Reptiles are popular exotic pets, but they also require a lot of caution and care to keep them in good pet health. You should know that most reptiles do not want to be held or cuddled by a child, may spend most of their time hiding, and may require very special foods and living conditions. In addition, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 90,000 cases of salmonella infections in people from exposure to reptiles every year. Reptiles that make the best pets include corn snakes, king snakes, ball pythons, gecko lizards, and bearded dragon lizards.
This soft furry animal has been bred in captivity for its fur, but it can make a very good pet. Chinchillas are smaller than rabbits, can be trained to be held and to play, and can live to be more than 20 years old. They require a large cage and love to run on a wheel at night — so you might not want that cage next to your bed. You will need to clean the cage, but the animal itself does not give off any unpleasant odor. Chinchillas are vegetarians and can feed on hay or rabbit pellets.
The ferret is the third most common uncaged pet in the United States, after cats and dogs. Ferrets belong to the weasel family and have been domesticated as pets. Ferrets live for about 10 years and can range from two to four pounds. They are extremely playful and friendly and can be trained to use a litter box. Ferrets do give off a musky odor, and for optimal pet heath, they should be de-scented and spayed or neutered. In fact — females who have not been spayed will die if they don’t mate.
The Mongolian gerbil is a good pet choice for older children, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). These tiny rodents are about 4 inches long with a 4-inch tail and can live for about four years. They are gentle and rarely bite, so they can be safely handled. Gerbils require a cage and bedding that needs to be changed frequently., and they love exercise wheels and other gerbil companions. Commercial gerbil food makes for easy feeding.
The Domesticated Rat
Rats have been bred as pets for more than 100 years. Larger than a gerbil, a domesticated rat can be up to 11 inches long with a 7-inch tail. They are curious and intelligent creatures and need other rat companions. It is recommended that you have at least two, but keep males and females apart — you may soon have 12 or 20 if you don’t. A pet rat can be hand-trained and should be let out of its cage every day to keep it friendly and active. Rats prefer wire cages that they can climb around in.
Pudgy Potbellied Pigs
Miniature pigs as pets are growing in popularity because of their affectionate nature and intelligence. In fact, pigs are said to be the fifth smartest animal group after humans, apes, dolphins, and whales. These relatively little pigs require a lot of patience and attention, but they can be house trained or litter trained, will get along with a cat or dog, and can live to be about 15 years old. What’s the main pet health concern for pigs? An un-neutered male pig has an unpleasant odor, and both males and females behave better after neutering, so have them neutered. Size should also be a consideration.
If you have the space, these hardy animals make excellent pets. As intelligent as a pig or a dog, a pet goat can be taught to walk on a leash and perform many tricks, and is both loyal and affectionate. Goats are very social animals and should be kept with other goats or farm animals. The most popular breed is the pygmy goat, which grows to about 50 pounds. Goats, like horses and cattle, eat hay. Your main pet health concern should be castration; this will keep male goats even-tempered and prevent them from giving off a strong odor.
Intelligent Monkeys and Apes
Do you imagine having a cute baby ape or monkey as a cuddly pet? The problem is, these independent and highly intelligent creatures become bigger, stronger, and harder to manage over time. They can inflict serious injuries, especially to children. They also require large enclosures that the average pet owner cannot provide. Many states prohibit the possession of apes and monkeys as pets. Monkeys and apes also carry many diseases that pose health risks to humans, including tuberculosis and herpes B virus. Keeping monkeys or apes as exotic pets also encourages illegal pet trade around the world.