Choosing an exotic pet
There are many things to consider when choosing an animal for a pet. How much will it cost to care for it? How much room do I have to house it? What if it gets sick? These concerns are compounded when selecting an exotic breed to keep as a pet, as exotics have special needs that need to be addressed well before bringing the animal home. In this article I will point out some of the questions you will need to ask, and find the answers to, when thinking about adding an exotic pet to your household.
You will need to plan where in your home you will be keeping the animal. There must be room enough to place a cage or tank, and if the breed you choose requires any type of heating or cooling, there must be easy access to electrical outlets. The area must be free of obstructions, easy to clean, and out of reach of small, curious children or other pets.
The cage or tank itself must be of a type that is adequate for the species. For example, a tree-dwelling snake will need a tank that is taller than it is wide, while a ground snake will require more floor space. You cannot use manufacturers' or pet stores' recommendations for cage size. They are in the business of selling you a cage; it is up to you to make sure it is the proper cage for your pet. The construction of the habitat is important; you wouldn't want a fragile tank to shatter, causing injury to the animal, or allowing it to escape. It should be easy to reach all parts of the cage for cleaning. Rats, snakes, and tarantulas are notorious escape artists; the cage or tank you select must be made escape- and chew-proof.
You must also outfit the cage with equipment, accessories, and bedding or substrate that are appropriate for the species. There is a wide variety of cage ornaments available, for all types of animals. Certain species require heat lamps or pads; you should learn which type is best for your pet, and make sure you have room to accommodate the equipment. Heat lamps also use quite a bit of electricity, which must be taken into account as part of the cost of the animal's upkeep. You will need to ensure that any electrical equipment is properly installed. The habitat should be in place and fully accessorized before getting your new pet, and the price of the items you will need should be considered as part of the price of acquiring the animal.
A responsible pet owner will understand his pet's dietary needs. Besides learning what your pet needs to eat, you must also consider whether you yourself will be willing to provide it. If you are even a little sensitive about feeding live prey to your pet, don't get a pet that requires it. Some reptiles can be coaxed to accept pre-killed prey; others simply will not accept it at all. I personally own a Dumeril's boa, Lucy, who will not touch a dead mouse. I'm not crazy about feeding her live ones, but that's what she eats, so she must be given live mice. My two pet rats, Tooey and Skeller, are here as a direct result of my being unwilling to feed them to Lucy. You must think about this before taking in a pet that you will not be able to properly feed. The same applies to animals that eat insects. Some will eat dead ones; others will not. If you don't like the sound of crickets, or if you can't abide the sight of wax worms or mealworms, there are many animals you should not own. Research the needs of the animal you are considering before you bring him home!
There are certain species that gladly accept handling by human keepers, and others that, simply put, it would be foolish to attempt to handle. Small mammals can almost always be easily picked up and played with. A bearded dragon is a pleasant reptile, that enjoys human attention. They will sit with their humans and accept treats; I wouldn't try that with a rattlesnake, which I have seen for sale. We have also kept several species of tarantulas in the past, and while most of them are relatively docile, I wouldn't dream of handling some of the more aggressive species. If you want a pet you can take out of its cage and handle, you should be aware of which category the species you are considering falls into!
You should also educate yourself on the safest way to handle the animal, i.e., how to pick it up, what type of support its body will need while you are holding it, etc. You could cause drastic injury to an animal by improperly handling it. Children must be supervised at all times when handling any exotic animal, and especially with reptiles, they must be taught to wash their hands thoroughly before and after handling; before, to avoid sharing any germs with the animal, and causing it to become ill; after, to prevent the spread of salmonella, which is carried by many types of reptiles. Cleanliness is vital to the health of both your human family and your animals.
All animals get sick. When a dog or a cat needs medical attention, chances are there is a veterinarian's office close to you where they are skilled at treating dogs and cats. This is not the case with exotic pets. Not all vets have the knowledge needed to see exotics. It can be difficult to find a qualified exotics vet in the largest metropolis; in less densely populated areas, it can be nearly impossible. I cannot stress enough that you should locate a vet who can care for your pet before you get one. The cost of treatment should be considered as well. Learn about the things that can go wrong with your pet, and find out how much it might cost to treat them. It can add up to a staggering amount of money. Be prepared before it happens, and you will save yourself the heartache of losing a beloved pet because you could not find or afford proper care.
There is a lot you need to know before selecting a pet. If you take the time to educate yourself about the animal's needs before you make your final choice, you will be better able to give it the care it needs and deserves.