Exotic pets can make wonderful additions to your family, entertaining you, your friends, and your guests with their unique characteristics and interesting personalities. However, unusual species are often more difficult to care for than a typical cat or dog, since they require different care to stay healthy and happy. As with any pet, regardless of breed or species, do your research, to ensure you can provide the proper care for your new companion.
Exotic pets can require a wide variety of unusual caretaking methods to guarantee their well-being. Some of the more common exotic pets we see at Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center include:
- Non-venomous snakes
- Guinea pigs
- Bearded dragons
When you develop a relationship with our exotic veterinarian, Dr. Bedore, he can guide you on your exotic-pet journey, as you learn how to properly care for your unique companion. He can also offer tips on recognizing illness or injury in these exotic creatures known for their masterful disguise of disease.
Requirements for a healthy exotic pet
Like cats and dogs, exotic pets require the necessities of shelter, food, and water, but they have a few extra needs, namely heating and lighting, to remain happy and healthy. Before welcoming an exotic pet into your home, consider the following factors, to choose the best fit for your family:
- Space requirements — It’s unlikely that your exotic pet will have the run of your home or venture outdoors much, so a spacious enclosure may be essential for adequate exercise. However, many young exotic species are happier, and feel more secure, in a smaller enclosure, so trade out their habitat for a larger one, as they grow.
For example, red-eared slider hatchlings need a 50-gallon minimum enclosure, and three to six inches of water for swimming, while adults need 10 to 30 inches. Birds are often put in cages that are too small to allow them to fly freely, so they need a space to fly safely indoors. A general rule of thumb is that a bird cage should be three times as big as your bird—the width should be three times their wingspan, and the height three times the length from the bird’s head to the tip of their tail, to avoid feathers brushing against the cage’s sides.
Regardless of the exotic species you choose, ensure they have plenty of room to play and exercise, whether it’s inside their enclosure, or in a secure room in your home.
- Heating and lighting requirements — Many exotic species are cold-blooded, or unable to stay warm without additional help. Cold-blooded reptiles often require a temperature gradient with a toasty basking area, and another ambient area typically warmer than your home. Pocket pets and birds are sensitive to drafty conditions, and should be kept in a warm environment, away from doors or windows.
Many reptiles and amphibians require ultraviolet lighting to help support their immune system, stimulate endorphin production, and synthesize vitamin D, which assists in calcium absorption for strong bones. However, some species will be fine with standard sunlight.
- Humidity requirements — Amphibians and reptiles require varying humidity levels to remain healthy, because without them, reptiles can fail to shed their skin appropriately. However, if humidity levels are too high for your chosen species, bacterial infections can occur.
- Nutritional and diet requirements — Many health issues that exotic pets commonly experience are caused by improper diet, and lack of a vital nutritional component. For example, guinea pigs, like people, cannot manufacture their own vitamin C, and if they fail to get enough of the vitamin from fresh fruits and vegetables, they can become vulnerable to a condition called scurvy. Many commercial pet foods can meet the majority of your pet’s nutritional requirements, but fresh-food supplementation is beneficial for birds, rodents, rabbits, and other pocket pets. Keep in mind that many reptiles and amphibians require live or frozen prey, so consider your comfort level with feeding insects or small rodents to your exotic pet.
In addition, consider how much interaction your potential exotic pet can handle. Some exotic species quickly become stressed with too much handling, while other pets can be content riding around on your shoulder or in a pocket all day.
Have you welcomed a unique pet into your family? Give us a call to schedule an exotic-pet wellness exam, so we can meet your new companion, and offer tips on keeping them in tip-top shape.