If you’re not a dog or a cat person, but if you truly love animals, an exotic pet may be right up your alley. No, we’re not talking lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!), but exotic animals that are legal. And while some exotic pets, such as monkeys or llamas, are high maintenance, there are a host of exotic animals that are easy to care for and that will be just as happy in your home with a ball to play with as any domesticated canine would be.
What is an Exotic Pet?
First, it’s important to establish what, exactly, is considered an exotic pet. An exotic animal is one that is not domesticated or that is uncommon. There are many animals that are technically exotic (as in not domesticated or changed very little from their wild ancestors) but are not viewed as such, like several birds and fish. On the other hand, there are just as many non-exotic pets, such as pygmy hedgehogs and chinchillas, that are considered exotic but that are very changed, both physically and mentally, from their wild counterparts.
With that said, this list is meant to provide you information about exciting and truly exotic animals that are easy-ish to care for. But what is easy, you may wonder? The exotic pets listed here are considered lesser maintenance than other animals (yes, even the domesticated ones) due to the following:
- They come with reasonable housing needs;
- They have a fairly simple diet that is easy to maintain;
- They’re small in size;
- They don’t require a great deal of attention; and
- They pose a lower house destruction potential than most other animals.
In general, these animals are low maintenance and don’t require much to live a long, happy and healthy life.
Sure, rats and mice are cute, but if you want a small exotic pet, those rodents aren’t going to cut it. For a truly exotic animal that is likely to impress your houseguests, consider one of the following:
- Flying Squirrel: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s a flying squirrel! Similar to sugar gliders but much easier to house and care for, these animals are cute and cuddly and the ideal pet for someone who wants the love of a dog but not the responsibility.
- Chipmunks: If you want an animal that can fit in the palm of your hand but just aren’t into adopting a pet mouse, the chipmunk might be for you. These creatures are extremely active and require a large cage in comparison with their size. Though these animals aren’t ideal for cuddling with, they are entertaining to watch.
- Prairie Dogs: Just like domesticated canines, these little “dogs” are affectionate and can be trained to walk on a leash. They are very social creatures, so if you adopt one, you should expect to give it a significant amount of your time and attention. Despite their social needs, however, they are easy to care for and thrive in an adequately sized environment and off of a simple diet of hay, pellets, grasses, fruits and veggies.
- Degus: The degus is cute and small like a gerbil but is actually more closely related to the chinchilla and guinea pig. They’re highly social in nature, so it is recommended that if you’re going to adopt one, you should adopt two. Highly active creatures, the degus needs plenty of space to run around and exercise.
Hedgehogs are apart of the Erinaceinae family, and are neither rodent nor are they related to the very similar porcupine. By far the easiest exotic animal to care for, hedgehogs are ideal for someone who wants a pet but who doesn’t have a significant amount of time or resources to devote to their care and attention.
Hedgehogs require a simple terrestrial enclosure big enough for them to run around and play in. They thrive off a simple diet of fruits and insects, all of which can be found in your kitchen or backyard. Hedgehogs are not social creatures, unlike many other smaller animals, so it is not recommended to house more than one in an enclosure.
3. Non-Domesticated Canines
If you’re the typical “dog person” but you like to defy social norms, you can find compromise with a non-domesticated canine such as a fennec fox or a Russian domesticated silver fox. Bear in mind though that their non-domesticated traits may be a challenge if you’re expecting the tame behavior of a normal feline or canine.
Foxes are active predators, which means that they require the same amount of space to roam freely as you would grant to a domesticated canine. If you do plan to cage a fox, make sure that the cage is large and that you let it out frequently. Foxes can also be quite noisy and playful, much like a standard domesticated dog, so if you want a tame exotic animal, a fox may not be ideal for you.
The pit fall of owning a domesticated foxes is their price tag. If you want to adopt a fox, you can expect to pay $2,000-$7,000 to bring one home. Non-domesticated foxes such as the white artic fox or red fox have undergone little to no selective breeding, and thus are much more affordable, costing as little as $200-$400. Keep in mind that the more affordable foxes tend to have a strong smell and are much less tame than their domesticated counterparts.
Skunks make great pets so long as you de-scent them first! Most pet owners are surprised to find that skunks are actually rather playful and enjoy their freedom; they are not animals to be cooped up in cages all day. They like plenty of toys to play with and a large environment in which they can exercise both their physical and mental strengths. Skunks are easy to care for and require a simple diet of fruits, vegetables and dog food. While many skunk owners love their bi-colored pets, not all state legislatures are on board with the animal, and it is banned from the pet list in several states due to the fact that many skunks are easily susceptible to rabies. However, that is not to say that skunks inherently carry the virus; rather, they can contract the virus easily from another rabid animal.
5. Wild Cats
Not all felines are your typical house cat. There are many exotic cats that are just as cool as their ferocious ancestors. Two felines that make great house pets are the Savannah cat and the Bengal cat. The Savannah cat is a hybrid of the domesticated cat and the Serval, a wild cat from Africa. Some Savannah cats have more Serval in them than others, so breeders categorize them as a F1 to F6. A F1 cat has approximately 53% to 75% Serval in their genes, while a F3 has as little as 12.5% Serval. A F6 have very little Serval, but enough to rank as a Savannah cat. A F1 can be extremely challenging, especially if the percentage of its Serval genes errs towards 75, while a F6 will be almost as tame and complacent as your ordinary housecat. A F3 is a happy medium, as these animals typically have the fun loving and excitable personality of a regular canine but with all the exotic physical features of a Serval.
The one downside to owning a Savannah cat is that they are expensive, which is to be expected as they look very much like a cheetah and are likely the closest you will ever get to owning such a wild creature.
The Bengal cat is basically a domesticated cat but with a more interesting personality. Bengals have a small amount of Asian leopard genes in them, which is essentially the only “wild” in them. They are the ideal pet for someone who wants a pet with an exotic look but all the tame tendencies of a domestic cat.
Exotic Pets That Are Not So Easy to Care For (And That Are Likely Not Legal to Own)
While there are many exotic pets that are easy to care for, there are many more that are not. In fact, most pets—domesticated or not—are not considered “easy” to care for by most standards. That being said, a few animals that are very difficult to care for include:
- Non-Domesticated Canines: Non-domesticated canines, especially the large ones, require large, outdoor enclosures, special accommodations and an almost wholly meat diet.
- Non-Domesticated Felines: Cats in general have a tendency to spray indoors, but non-domesticated felines have the urge more often. Additionally, wild cats destroy furniture and require an escape-proof enclosure.
- Primates: Monkeys and other primates may be cute, but they are extremely high maintenance and require a significant amount of attention, which most pet owners find that they’re unable to give.
- Small Exotics: While some small exotics are fairly easy to care for, others are much more difficult, such as sloths, genets, kinkajous, coatimudnis, porcupines, wallabies and tamanduas. Each of these animals requires large cages and special living accommodations, which most people find difficult to provide.
Too often, people adopt monkeys, large cats, wild dogs and other exotics without giving much thought to what it would take to raise an undomesticated animal. Once those animals grow into adults and start to act on their wild instincts, their owners become unwilling (or unable) to put up with them. To prevent these animals being passed from home to home or shelter to shelter, let these types of animals live in the wild, and only adopt what is legal and easy to care for.
Work With a Knowledgeable Veterinarian
At the United Veterinary Center, we specialize in the treatment of exotic animals, both large and small. While it is your job as your pet’s owner to love and care for them in your own home, you can count on us to ensure that your exotic family member has the medical care they need to live a long, happy and healthy life. This includes advising you on the proper diet for you exotic pet, providing the necessary vaccinations, administering the proper medical treatment, and being there for your pet when they need medical attention the most.