Important Factors to Consider
There are a lot of animals that can be kept as pets besides dogs and cats. Sometimes the term "exotic" refers to any animal that is not a dog or cat, including pocket pets and common reptile species.
Other times, the term refers to some truly exotic animals: monkeys, skunks, large reptiles, big cats, and much more.
Legal Factors: Obtaining and Possessing an Exotic Pet
In some states, it is illegal to own an animal that does not belong to a domesticated species. In other states, almost any animal can be kept by anyone. In some states, keeping the animals is legal, but breeding and selling them is not. Additionally, the federal government regulates the importation of animals into the country, so obtaining a wild-caught animal or one bred in another country brings with it another set of legal issues.
Logistical Factors: Maintaining an Exotic Pet
Maintaining an exotic pet can be difficult. Animals may have space requirements that are hard to meet on smaller properties. They may also have specialized requirements, such as the need for even large reptiles to have humidity controls in their living area. This can be expensive and difficult to provide.
Many animals cannot be house-trained, so they must either be confined or constantly picked up after. In addition to physical needs, animals have mental needs. Species-appropriate enrichment must be provided in order to keep the animal from becoming bored and destructive.
Most veterinarians will not treat animals that are sufficiently exotic. Some will treat certain common exotics, but not extremely unusual pets. Especially in the case of potentially dangerous, large animals, it may be difficult to find a vet who will treat an exotic pet. In addition, most of the veterinarians with hands-on experience in exotic animals work for zoos and are not available to the general public.
Despite the lack of vets who can work on them, exotics still need vaccinations and regular care. This can mean driving a long ways to find a veterinarian who has the necessary knowledge and skill to work on a particular exotic animal species. It is also often expensive to provide veterinary care for an exotic animal.
Owning an exotic pet can be hazardous to your health. While the dangers from a healthy small exotic are minimal, the dangers from a larger exotic pet can be extreme. Large cats, for example, are very dangerous to own. Even medium-sized exotics such as chimpanzees can be extremely dangerous.
Relationship Factors: What to Expect from an Exotic Pet
Exotic pets have a wide variety of different temperaments. Some are relatively easy-going, while others can be high-strung or aggressive. It is very important that people who are considering obtaining an exotic pet read about their potential animal and speak to people who actually own one.
Wild animals behave differently with people than domestic ones. Most exotics will have higher levels of fear and aggression than domestic animals, because these are traits that keep them alive in the wild. Fear prevents them from getting too close to something dangerous, and aggression protects their resources, such as food, from being stolen by another animal.
The people who truly enjoy owning exotic pets tend to have done a great deal of research before choosing their animal. They can provide for the physical and mental needs of the animal and respect that it is wild. Accepting an exotic pet for what they are and not expecting things that they cannot give is very important if everyone is to be happy and safe at the end of the day.