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Keeping Exotic Animals as Pets

Updated: Apr 24

Have you recently seen a ZooLab show? Are you interested in one of the animals you saw and now you are thinking of keeping your own exotic animal? Here are some tips and things to think about before getting your first exotic pet!

Ditto the Leopard Gecko basking under his basking bulb and UVB

What is an exotic animal and do they make good pets?

Exotic animals are commonly kept all over the UK, but what qualifies as an exotic animal? Exotic pets are typically an animal that isn’t as readily available as something like a dog or a cat. They are not domesticated animals and still show behaviours that would be exhibited in the wild. They are generally seen as an animal which you’re more likely to see in a zoo. However, not all exotic animals have to be seen and cared for in a zoo! This can be done in the comfort of your own home and with the correct research and care practices they can thrive. Do they make good pets though? Yes absolutely, but it's important to find a species that suits your lifestyle and schedule.

Do exotic animals make good first time pets for children?

With help alongside a trusted adult, reptiles and other exotic animals can make a good first time pet for a child. However, It is important to do extensive research into the animals' needs as a lot of exotic animals require things like UVB and heat bulbs which aren’t necessary for something like a dog or a cat. Whether a reptile or small mammal is your animal of choice, all handling and feeding should be supervised by an adult to ensure the safety of the animal and child. With any animal, it shouldn’t be solely placed on the child to look after it but helping out with cleaning, giving water and feeding can be very beneficial to children as it can help them learn about animal needs and care requirements.

Bioactive Whites Tree Frog 3ft tall enclosure

Where do you get an exotic animal?

A common question that ZooLab rangers get is “How do you find somewhere to get an animal like this from?” Here at ZooLab we do our best to take in animals that can’t be cared for anymore or need a good home. Reptile and exotic animal rescues are usually at full capacity and need responsible keepers to give them a loving place to live. Getting a rescue doesn’t necessarily mean rehabilitation, most of the time reptiles are handed to rescues due to unforeseen circumstances that cannot be controlled by the previous owner. Local reputable breeders are also a good place to source exotic animals from as you can meet the parents of the animal to check that the temperament and health are what you are looking for. Watch out for backyard breeders though and make sure you do lots of research so you can spot the signs of a sick or unhealthy animal. Pet shops do sell exotic animals too, but going to exotic or reptile specific stores means that the staff are more likely to be knowledgeable about the animal and help you provide the best care. 

What does the upkeep and cost look like for an exotic animal?

While the animal itself can appear affordable to some, that doesn't mean that the set up will be too. Making sure that you have the correct equipment can be expensive but it's necessary for the animal to live a long and happy life. Vet visits can also be on the more costly side too as you must go to exotic specific vets. It's important to make sure that you have an exotic vet in your area before bringing the animal home. Once your setup is perfected, reptiles don’t need too much day to day maintenance! Daily spot cleaning, changing water bowls and feeding when necessary is what's to be expected when keeping one in your home. You must look into the lifespan of your exotic pet though as some reptiles, for example, tortoises can live over 100 years in some cases! So putting a plan in place for the animal if it outlives you is very important.

Calcifer the Corn snake's 4ft enclosure

What exotic animal should I get as a first time owner?

Primates, Birds of prey, Big cats and Venomous snakes do not make good pets and shouldn’t be housed by the average person. These animals need advanced husbandry, knowledge and experience. They can even pose a danger to you and others. So what is a “beginner” exotic animal? No pet is necessarily a beginner animal. They all have specific needs and care requirements so the first thing to look for when picking your first exotic animal is what interests you. Leopard geckos, Crested geckos, Royal pythons and Corn snakes are often recommended to first time reptile keepers. Mainly because there has been extensive research done on them over decades and they can handle mistakes quite well. However, if there is a species that interests you more than the commonly kept ones, there's no reason not to do research to see if that animal would suit your lifestyle and schedule.

Common mistakes made by first time exotic pet keepers:

Not using UVB for all your reptiles and amphibians - When we keep exotic pets we want to accurately mimic their natural habitat. Because they are cold blooded animals, in the wild they will use the sun to bask and warm themselves up. The sun will provide something called UltraViolet B also known as UVB. UVB is crucial for reptiles as it allows them to absorb calcium through their diet. If it is not provided, exotic animals can develop something called metabolic bone disease or MBD for short. This can impact the life expectancy of the animal and reduce quality of life.

Only using one source for information about an animal - When researching an animal it's important to look up scientific studies, care guides and speak to professionals about how this animal should be cared for. Using one video or source found online isn't adequate as the information could be outdated. Always look out for companies' care guides that are selling and promoting a product as sometimes they may not have the reptile's best interest in mind.

Choosing the wrong exotic pet for you - Some animals are commonly sold and may seem like the best choice for a first time reptile ie. Bearded Dragons and Chameleons. Bearded dragons may seem like a good choice for a reptile but it's important to understand that they need very high temperatures, high UVB levels, a varied omnivorous diet and lots of space. This is not something that is easy to achieve especially for a first time keeper. Bearded dragons need a minimum of a 4ft x 2ft x 2ft enclosure but a 6ft x 2ft x 2ft is recommended. This is a very big and expensive enclosure. Chameleons are a beautiful and popular pet but they are not animals that will take husbandry mistakes well. Chameleons have a complex list of needs like high humidity, good ventilation, insectivorous diet and lots of vertical space. They are also not always a handleable animal and are known to bite when approached. Never impulsively buy an animal because you like how it looks. Always research and prepare the enclosure before the animal comes home. 

Bearded Dragon enclosure

We hope that we have helped inform you about keeping exotic animals as pets! If our rangers have time, we are always happy to talk about our experience keeping exotic animals and whether or not they would suit you. 

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