When you think of pets, what’s the first animal that comes to mind? It’s pretty likely that your answer was a dog or cat, but these days, more and more people are opting for something a little more unique. Exotic pets are increasing in popularity every day, but what, exactly, is an exotic pet?

Obviously, animals such as monkeys and chinchillas make the list, but some slightly more common pets are also considered exotic. Surprisingly, rabbits are among them, despite being the third most popular pet in the United States. Birds also make the list, as do fish, turtles and many types of rodents.

Photo of a pet squirrel monkey in a cage

Photo of a pet squirrel monkey in a cage

As children, many of us probably raised hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs, all of which are thought of as exotic pets. As we found out, these little animals are delicate and don’t have the longest life spans. Hamsters usually live about two years in captivity, though a well-maintained guinea pig can live up to eight years. They’re also a little more work than you might think; guinea pigs need to have their nails trimmed and their coats brushed regularly. Their teeth need to be monitored, and they even need to be checked for fleas.

Rabbits are another delicate exotic. They can live up to about 10 to 12 years, but they need quite a bit of care. They’re billed as low-maintenance pets, but that’s simply not true. In fact, they require much closer monitoring than many people realize. Their physical health is fragile, and they can become quite ill if stressed as well.

Ferrets’ popularity has been on the increase for years, and it isn’t showing signs of a slowdown. These rambunctious fur balls are great fun to have around, but they can be difficult to catch if they get loose, and it can also be tough to find them the proper food. Ferrets need regular check-ups, just like cats and dogs, and should be vaccinated against rabies and distemper.

If you want an exotic pet that will be around to keep you company for a good, long time, a turtle is a good choice. They can live for more than 20 years with the proper care. Most turtles are happy in 10- to 20-gallon aquariums; semi-aquatic turtles need to have access to both water and land, with a hiding spot available near the land mass. Other types of turtles may require only water or land.

Perhaps the most low-maintenance pet of all is the fish. Approximately one in three United States households feature a fish aquarium. There are numerous species of fish, from the goldfish so commonly found as children’s pets to the wildly exotic. Different types of fish require different food and different care, so be sure to do thorough research when investing in a pet fish.

These are just a few of the best-known exotic pets in the world. Here’s a list of some other fairly common exotic pets in the USA:

  • Alpacas
  • Bees
  • Chinchillas
  • Emus
  • Ferrets
  • Gerbils
  • Hamsters
  • Hedgehogs
  • Hermit Crabs
  • Lizards
  • Llamas
  • Mice And Rats
  • Pythons
  • Savannah Cats

Owning Exotic Pets Rules, Regulations and Restrictions

You’re an adventurous person who’d love to add a pet to your life, but you’re just not satisfied with the everyday options, like dogs or cats, or even the mildly exotic, like rabbits.

A kinkajou in a tree

A kinkajou in a tree

You want something really outrageous, like a kinkajou or a monkey, and you’re sure you could handle a pet like that. The real question, though, isn’t whether you could handle an exotic animal; it’s whether you’re legally allowed to keep one.

There are a few main reasons why you might not be permitted to keep certain kinds of exotic pets. Animals which have special needs or requirements not easily met by the average owner might be restricted, unless the potential owner obtains a specific license.

Potentially dangerous animals, such as alligators or big cats, may be prohibited, and endangered animals probably won’t be allowed.

Pet alligator in an aquarium

Pet alligator in an aquarium

Sometimes, an exotic pet is restricted in certain areas because it is considered an invasive species in those areas, meaning it could threaten native species should it escape and reproduce in the wild.

Finding out which pets are legal in your area can take a little bit of digging, and there’s no standard agency to contact. The governmental department or agency which has jurisdiction over exotic animals depends upon the exact type of animal, as well as on your location.

Start with someone in your local government first. Local laws are often the strictest, and they can overrule the broader, more liberal laws of the federal or state government.

If you’re at a loss as to where to start, try the local humane society or a veterinarian; anyone who works with animals on a regular basis may be able to point you in the right direction.

Don’t forget to check with the health department – it may have its own restrictions in addition to city legislation.

If the exotic pet of your choice is legal in your local area, your next step is to check at the next highest level. For residents of the United States, check with state agencies like the Department of Wildlife or Natural Resources. Then, check with the federal government.

At the federal level in the U.S., you may need to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture and other agencies, possibly including the Center for Disease Control. Your exotic pet may be subject to import regulations if you’re getting him from another country.

Exotic pets may be fun, interesting and different, but even if you obtain approval for your animal, there are still things to consider. First, it may be very difficult to find a veterinarian for your new pet.

Second, be sure you’ve learned as much as you can about the animal’s requirements – if you’re not properly prepared for him, with the right foods and a comfortable environment, he may not adjust well to its new home.

If you’ve thought it through and gone through the proper channels, your new pet might just be a conversation starter and a loving companion for years to come.



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