Are you considering an exotic pet? Reptiles, birds, and small mammals are diverse and unique, which makes them exciting pets—but new owners are often unaware or unprepared for their highly specialized care needs. Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center wants to ensure an exotic pet is right at home in your home, so we offer seven secrets for successful coexistence with exotic pets.

#1: Environmental needs for exotic pets

A dog or cat may be right at home in the same climate—and on the same furniture—but your exotic pet needs a specific habitat that is crucial to their health. Inappropriate housing is a common reason for exotic pet illness and death.

  • Controlled environment Reptiles need precisely controlled temperature, lighting, and humidity. 
  • Special accommodations Various exotics need objects to climb, perch, hide, and sunbathe for their physical and mental wellbeing. 
  • Appropriate surfaces Exotic pets need the correct bedding or substrate, to maintain cleanliness and prevent toxicity.
  • Enough space Exotic pets need appropriate living spacemany are housed in too-small cages and aquariums. 

#2: Preventive care for exotic pets

Exotics are often overlooked when it comes to preventive veterinary care, but these small pets need routine veterinary visits to ensure and maintain health. At Stone Ridge, appointments with Dr. Benjamin Bedore are an opportunity to:

  • Discuss your pet’s habitat, feeding, and care
  • Detect illness or parasitic infections early
  • Learn about normal versus abnormal appearance and behavior
  • Ask about species-specific diseases and their common warning signs 
  • Have husbandry tasks, such as wing, beak, or nail trimming, performed

#3: Nutrition for exotic pets

Exotic pets’ nutritional needs vary greatly from species to species, but an unbalanced diet with vitamin and mineral deficiencies can have tragic consequences in any species. Many widely available commercial diets are inappropriate, especially if fed exclusively. Depending on their nature as herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore, exotics may require supplementation with hay, fresh fruit or leafy greens, or worms, insects, and rodents. If feeding biologically appropriate foods is going to be inconvenient or impractical, you should reconsider an exotic pet.

Changes in eating or drinking habits often indicate illness or a medical emergency. Exotic pets can decompensate quickly, so call us for an appointment at the first sign of a problem.

#4: Grooming exotic pets

Every species has defined self-care or grooming behaviors. Birds preen their feathers, rabbits bathe their faces, and chinchillas need regular dust baths. Know your pet’s natural behaviors, and watch for changes. If your pet neglects to groom, or overgrooms—also known as self-mutilationthat may indicate a medical condition that our veterinarian needs to address.

#5: Handling or restraining exotic pets

Injuries suffered from inappropriate handling and restraint are common reasons why exotic pets are brought to veterinary hospitals. They are often squeezed, dropped, or injured when attempting to escape restraint, resulting in internal injury, fractures, and sometimes death. Children should be supervised at all times while interacting with exotic pets. 

#6: Hygiene with exotic pets

Exotic pets can carry and transmit a number of diseases and illnesses to humans, including: 

  • Salmonella
  • E coli 
  • Psittacosis (i.e., parrot fever) 
  • Ringworm
  • Cryptococcus
  • Aspergillosis 

Maintain a clean environment for your pet to reduce the risk for husbandry-related illnesses. Cages, enclosures, bowls, litter pans, toys, and other objects should be regularly disinfected with a pet-safe enzymatic cleaner. Always remove your pet from the area before cleaning, to prevent exposure to chemicals. For best practices, wear disposable gloves while handling soiled bedding and pet waste, avoid touching your eyes or mouth, do not eat or drink in any pet area, to prevent contamination, and always thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

#7: Exercise and mental stimulation for exotic pets

Mental and physical activity are a vital component of everyone’s wellbeing, and exotic pets are no exception. While you may not be able to walk your iguana, you can set up an environment that provides safe opportunities for your exotic pet to express their normal behaviors, and reduce stress and anxiety. These behaviors include:

  • Digging
  • Foraging for food
  • Scratching
  • Chewing  
  • Hiding
  • Perching and climbing

Pets who are predators or foragers will appreciate strategic feeding, like hiding food throughout their enclosure. Engage your pet’s senses by periodically introducing a new species-appropriate treat or novel object. Puzzle toys that require effort and manipulation to access food have been shown to reduce behavior problems in pet parrots.

Social interaction is another key to good health. Some exotic species do better in groups, and will form a social bond with a companion. Before you add a new pet to the mix, however, ensure you learn and follow the correct procedures for successful bonding. Pets are like people, and not everyone gets along.

Exotic pets can require a lot of work, but If you are willing, you will reap rich rewards, because learning to understand and provide for their complex needs can be fascinating and rewarding. Contact Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center for advice on choosing an exotic pet, or schedule an appointment for your exotic pet’s checkup  with Dr. Bedore.