Food & Essential Supplies

Dogs and cats are still undeniably the most popular pet choices in America today. But their lead may be shrinking, as a recent Gallup Poll reveals.

Out of the estimated 60 percent of Americans who own pets, a full 26 percent own exotic pets (fish, birds, other small animals).

National Geographic recently conducted its own survey, which delivered similar results. 600 participants weighed in on their exotic pet preferences. The top four choices included a tiger, giraffe, elephant and dinosaur.

Interestingly, many exotic pets today, including birds and reptiles, do have legitimate genetic ties to the ancient dinosaurs. But no two exotic animals have the exact same care requirements, which is a critical element to think through before bringing home an exotic pet. In this article, learn the basic essentials of exotic pet care.

Food and Supplements

The most important component of feeding an exotic pet is to know whether that animal is a herbivore (plant eater), carnivore (meat eater) or, like humans, an omnivore.

The second most important component is to know feeding style. Some exotic pets are what are called "opportunistic feeders," which means they will over-eat to stockpile food away for later. Animals that hibernate, such as turtles and tortoises, are in this class.

But other exotic pets will only eat a sufficient quantity of food to last them until the next meal, and these are at risk of starving without constant access to food. Ferrets are in this class.

As well, some exotic pet species may have evolved to have unique dietary and supplementation needs, such as rabbits, which cannot make their own Vitamin D (just like people, rabbits need sunlight to turn food resources into Vitamin D).

Portion control is a key aspect of exotic pet health that is too frequently overlooked. Food and treats that are left out can spoil and cause illness or may lead to issues of overweight and obesity in more sedentary exotic pets.

Lighting and Temperature

Some exotic pets live in a natural environment rich in ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light. Others may hail from very humid or very dry climates. Still others may have evolved to do well only in very hot, very cold or temperate regions.

Research is the only way to know for certain what a specific species of exotic pet requires in terms of lighting, temperature control, humidity balance and access to resources.


Some exotic pet species are very extroverted and social. Others are shy and retiring, often living out their whole lives in the wild in solitude. In captivity, this can manifest as a need to be housed with others of their kind. For others, they may require solitary housing.

A good example is hamsters. Chinese, White Dwarf and Roborovski hamsters do better when housed with hamster companions. But Syrian hamsters must be housed alone or they will fight with one another.

All exotic pets have certain basic habitat requirements in captivity, including proper substrate, access to water and food, the right balance of open activity/exercise areas and areas for rest/privacy/hiding, terrain variation and enrichment. Research is the best way to discover what a particular exotic pet needs.

Veterinary Care

Finally, no exotic pet should be brought into a household unless there is local exotic animal veterinary care available nearby. Most generalist veterinarians have not trained to work with exotic animals and will not be able to provide adequate care.

By understanding the special needs of captive exotic pets, it becomes possible to provide an exotic pet with a healthy and enriching life.

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