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Exotics 101: Picking Your Perfect Pet

Posted December 15, 2014 in Small Animal Health & Care


Dr. Laurie Hess, our avian and exotics expert, contributes regularly on the Pet Health Network about all things exotic.

It happens in malls across America every year. Somewhere between Build-a-Bear and the food court, an eight-year-old child races up to the pet store window, presses his face up against the glass, points to the large parrot perched inside, and shouts, “Mommy, Daddy, can we get him, PLEASE?” The parents then glance up at the window, see the colorful bird dancing on the other side of the glass and then at their child’s longing expression, and all reason leaves their bodies. They are mesmerized, and without thinking, before they know it, they are swiping their credit card and trying to cram the family SUV with a big metal cage, several bags of food, and a large feathered family member who is no longer sitting quietly but is now squawking loudly in the back seat. And so it begins…

Exotic pets – large and small, from parakeets to geckos to hedgehogs – can make wonderful companions, but unfortunately, many are purchased on a whim. Many exotic pets are highly intelligent creatures that require a great deal of attention and care. They can thrive in the right homes, but they are often bought impulsively by people who have very little knowledge of what they require. As a result, many birds end up being relinquished to shelters, or worse, they remain in homes where they are ignored. Many reptiles are released into the backyard where, not knowing how to survive, they are killed by predators. Many bunnies are banished to the basement where they languish in small cages.

Before you purchase an exotic pet, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:

Do I live in a home conducive to owning this type of exotic pet?
This is a fundamental question you must answer before even considering adopting or purchasing any kind of exotic animal. This really means, can you and your family tolerate the noise of a parrot, the frequent droppings of a rabbit or guinea pig, or the large tank and constantly bubbling water filtration system needed by a turtle? Parrots naturally chatter and squawk early in the morning and at dusk, around feeding time. Plus, large bird and mammal cages (and toys and bedding and supplies) can take up a great deal of space. Small-apartment dwellers (with nearby

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Laurie has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified bird specialist and exotic animal veterinarian as well as a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.