Most of us have heard the saying ‘a pet is for life, not just for Christmas’ but what if you are committed to giving these creatures a permanent and happy home? Here we look at some of the things you need to think about if you are buying an exotic pet this Christmas.
It goes without saying that you will need to make sure you do plenty of researching before purchasing a new pet. What may feel like an appealing choice in October may not seem that way in May, this is often the case for abandoned pets especially shortly after the holiday months. Exotic pets are usually purchased as impulse buys following a ‘craze’. The RSPCA has noted the spike, not simply purchasing but, abandonment of terrapins following the release of ‘The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ films.
The holidays are also not always the best time to be bringing a new pet into your household, more so an exotic one which may require far more care than one may initially realise. During the winter months and December may people tend to become a lot busier than they would usually be, this leaves less time to be able to research how to learn and care for your new pet. Many people tend to travel to family gatherings or to see friends over the holiday months and this can also lead to issues with care and that’s before thinking about the financial strain the holidays can be on many people – can you afford to properly care for your new pet?
This is not to say that exotic pets can’t make great pets – Just make sure you are aware what looking after and caring for them really means.
It’s important that you research the correct sort of housing that your new pet will require, you may be surprised how often people think small mammals and reptiles are simply ‘happy in their cages’. All creatures need mental stimulation and reptiles and exotic pets are no exception, if kept in housing that is too small for them, they will start to exhibit behaviours linked with boredom and frustration. It can be extremely fun to create and make a cage or habitat for your pet that will enrich its life, you can also add and swap round toys to keep them stimulated and happy whilst engaging with your pet.
You will need to make sure you have adequate housing for your lizard, these can include; heat lamps, UV lamps, thermometers, hides (for both hot and cold parts of their housing), it will need to be big enough to accommodate your pet as it’s growing and make sure you have a temperature gradient in the vivarium, to mimic your pets natural environment.
Be aware some reptiles are better for first time owners than others. For example; corn snakes, leopard geckos and bearded dragons are good reptiles for first-time owners, where-as chameleons, aquatic turtles and iguanas would be avoided until you have more experience of keeping reptiles.
Unfortunately, small mammals as exotic pets are extremely popular and are usually purchased with the belief that they will be quite content in their cage with only occasional time out to roam. It is very important you research how to care for small mammals when looking into bringing one into your family. Rats, rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and sugar gliders are extremely social and don’t tend to do as well when left on their own. They can also have quite particular needs when it comes to food, so you must make sure you’ve done your research in this department as well.
Many small mammals require bigger cages than you may release and need to have enough space in their ‘run’ or allotted time to roam outside of their cage. Like reptiles they also need to be kept mentally stimulated and there are plenty of ideas online of things you can make and do with your pet – pea diving with your rat for example! As with reptiles there are small mammals that should be avoided for first-time owners as they are more suited to those with experience, such as; degus, ferrets, sugar gliders.
When thinking about purchasing a bird, not only do you need to make sure the cage you have for it is adequately sized with plenty of toys to keep it stimulated, but that you have made sure your house is secure so that when out of their cage, they cannot escape outside or injure themselves. Some parrots have the intelligence past that of a toddler, so it is vital these birds are not left to become bored and develop self-destructive behaviour.
Birds are known for being very good at hiding when they are not well, they may be in advanced stages of a condition when they start to show signs, so you need to be prepared to potentially take them to the vet at very short notice. Also be aware that some species of bird require you to be around for a good portion of the day, like with a dog, but if this is something that isn’t an issue for you, you could find a friend for life. As with all exotic pets there are some that are better for first-time owners, with birds you may want to investigate budgies, cockatiels and chickens, where are more experienced owners may want to consider macaws, cockatoos or the African grey.
This is something that people can sometimes overlook when thinking about getting an exotic pet. Vivarium’s aren’t small, rabbits and guinea pigs cannot be simply kept in their hutch and birds will need to be able to have some space to fly around in outside of their cage. With regards to making sure your pet is safe, small mammals must be kept away from exposed wires as they will chew what they can find, ferrets can often get hold of shoes and furniture, reptiles need more affection than you may realise and time outside with interaction from you. Also, parrots and birds have sensitive respiratory systems, so you will need to make sure their environment is appropriate for them – fumes form burnt on Teflon for instance can be fatal.
The idea of having a lizard for a pet may sound appealing, but does the idea of feeding them live insects have the same ring to it? If you don’t think you can feed your pet the diet it requires, it’s best to look for an alternative.
With all pets you need to make sure what food they eat and how you can source that food to provide them with a balanced diet rich with all the nutrients they need. With regards to live food, you need to make sure you are sourcing this from a good quality supplier, low quality live food can sometimes be rife with parasites. They also need to have a diet that is rich in calcium. Likewise, small mammals need specific foods, a guinea pig will need grass and/or hay, as chewing it will help grind their teeth and stop them from becoming too long. The act of chewing also helps them to keep their digestion healthy.
Whichever pet you are looking into, make sure you have done enough research on their diet specifics and what they need to stay fit, healthy and happy.
As with all living things the unexpected can happen and as many of us see our animals as part of the family, it can be a difficult time trying to cope with this whilst trying to stay on top of vet bills. Unlike dogs and cats, you sometimes may be referred to a specialist vet, causing vet fees to escalate quite quickly. Insurance is something to consider even in the early stages of contemplating an exotic pet, as you may need to budget for this.
If you do decide to look into welcoming an exotic pet into your family, do think about adoption. As with dogs and cats, exotic pets are looking for their forever homes and many centres around the UK have many exotic pets needing permanent homes. If this is something you can offer why not speak with your local centre and see if you can visit. You never know, you could find your perfect companion.