There are dog people. There are cat people. And then there are guinea pig people ... or parrot people ... or red-eyed tree frog people.
Private ownership of exotic pets is allowed in many states throughout the United States, and thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever for people to purchase whatever feathered, furred or finned pet they desire. But just because you can own an exotic pet, doesn't mean you should.
Purchasing or adopting any type of pet requires careful thought and consideration — and exponentially so for exotic animals. Here are five things you should carefully consider before you bring an exotic pet into your home.
The rules: Did you know that it's illegal to possess a chimpanzee in the state of California? In Illinois, it's against the law to own or care for any animal that might be considered "dangerous," and that includes any kind of venomous reptile. The same goes for Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York and several other states. Many states have strict laws regulating the type of pets you are allowed to own and the type of permits you're required to have if you wish to own them. Start here for information about your state's requirements for exotic pets.
The costs: This is a big one. When you adopt a dog or cat, you can assume that you'll be able to pick up all of the food and supplies you need to care for that animal at your local big box store. But that's not necessarily the case for exotic animals. And though the frog or parrot or snake itself may not cost that much, the cost of caring for it might be, and these are costs that you need to know ahead of time.
"Exotic pets typically need special caging, specialized diets and forms of enrichment that can all become quite expensive especially in larger exotics pets," said Sharman Hoppes, associate clinical professor at Texas A&M; College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
The research: Before you bring home an exotic animal, you need to know everything there is to know about what it takes to properly care for this animal. "Before buying an exotic pet, research everything about them," Hoppes said. "Questions such as where they come from, their diet, if they climb, their social ability, how big will they get as adults, diseases they are susceptible to, and how long they live are essential before purchasing an exotic pet," Hoppes added.
Other questions to ask include what size cage or enclosure will it need? What does it need to eat? What is its temperament? And how much interaction will it want or need? Many small animals require stimulation outside of the cage — from floor time to cuddle sessions.
The care: Check to find out if there is a veterinarian in your area who will care for your pet in case of an emergency. If not, you many find yourself driving for hours every time your pet needs a vaccination. And you may want to find out how much those annual visits are going to cost. While a regular checkup for a dog or cat may cost around $100, an examination for an exotic animal can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending upon whether or not anesthesia is necessary for the doctor to complete the checkup.
You also need to find out what your pet can and cannot eat and where you can find it. What are your pet's daily requirements in terms of vitamins, minerals, calories, protein, and what foods or supplements will they need to consume to meet those needs?
The fit: Another major consideration about adopting any pet — but especially an exotic pet — is how well this animal will fit into your life. "Many exotic pets are not good with children, and your new girlfriend or boyfriend may not like your large macaw who wants to bite them or may be afraid of your pet kangaroo that can kick and box with the power of Muhammad Ali," noted Hoppes.
If you already have other pets, it's important to consider how these animals will interact with your new pet. In some instances, you may be able to bring your pets to the exotic animal shelter to see how they will all get along.
Ready to adopt? Once you've done all of your homework, it's time to start looking for your new pet. Be sure to check your local rescue centers first. Of course, this is something that you would want to do for any pet, but the stakes are even higher for exotic animals that are purchased or adopted on a whim and then abandoned at the first complication.