Dr. Monica Capella | Associate Veterinarian, VCA Calvert Veterinary Center
What is an exotic pet? For our practice, every animal that is not a dog or a cat is marked as an exotic appointment. This can include small mammals, birds, reptiles, and more. The conversations I have with clients about every exotic pet I see are mostly about the same general principles. In this column, I’ll highlight the top grooming issues to consider when buying an exotic pet, easily accessible resources for caring for your pet, and ways to get an exotic pet.
If you are thinking of getting yourself an exotic pet, my first step is to go to a great website called. to visit EMODE pet score. EMODE is a program developed by 18 scientists and veterinarians with expert backgrounds in public health and animal welfare. You can search for each individual animal on the website and receive a pet rating. For example, if you were looking for a “veiled chameleon” you would get a value of “hard for experts” to take care of; Searching for “hamster” gives a score of “moderate”. Here is the link to the website: www.emodepetscore.com/get-your-pet-score.
For any exotic pet, some general points I will discuss with owners are:
Suitable housing, housing and temperature / humidity
The enclosure can vary significantly between species in a group (e.g., housing a chameleon differs from a snake even though both are reptiles) and the equipment required to set it up can also vary in cost. Humidity and temperature are especially important for reptiles, but should be taken into account for all species. These can also vary from person to person (e.g. a northern bluetongue skink needs a different humidity than a Merauke bluetongue skink). Get a hygrometer to measure humidity and a non-contact temperature gun to measure every point in the case. It is also important to keep in mind when monitoring the temperature and humidity that the area the animal is in within the enclosure is unlikely to be the same temperature / humidity at the top of the enclosure, so adding a meter there can lead to incorrect results.
Each species is different in this category, so doing a thorough research before purchasing your pet is crucial. There are many brands for different diets. So if you ever have a question about buying, please ask your veterinarian. Some companies have carried out more detailed nutritional analyzes on their foods to ensure that they meet the needs of the pet and are therefore preferred by veterinarians. Diet also plays an important role in disease prevention; For example, rabbits need hay as their main diet because of the nature of their gastrointestinal tract and the fact that their teeth are constantly growing. Improper diet can lead to serious dental disease and secondary gastrointestinal problems.
Enrichment and social interaction
Which animal doesn’t love playtime? This is an equally important part of care and wellbeing. For example, the Indian Ring-necked Parakeet needs a lot of time outside of its enclosure and interaction with its owners, otherwise it can develop severe neurotic behaviors that are sometimes irreversible. Even the smallest creatures, like our hamsters and gerbils, still need routine exercise. It’s also important to consider when your pet is most active – if they’re nocturnal, they may not be able to interact with you during the day. Also, is the animal you are considering better in pairs or alone? How will this animal interact with other animals in the house (especially if it is a type of prey like a rabbit)? Does this animal get along well around children and what are the safety concerns?
General health conditions
If you are familiar with the common diseases that are found in exotic animals, you can take steps to prevent them if possible, and you will also know the signs to look out for in any illness. Many exotic animals that are prey hide diseases until they are sick. For example, guinea pigs are prone to foot problems because of their body shape, so proper bedding and a good weight can help prevent pododermatitis.
Rabbits who stop eating for 12 to 24 hours are already considered critical due to the nature of the gastrointestinal tract and require immediate medical attention. Most reptiles need calcium supplementation, and if they don’t get it in their diet, they will remove that calcium from their underlying bones, making their bones weak and prone to breakage.
Where can I get an exotic animal from?
I recommend checking out EMODE for some good resources, but in addition, rescues are often overlooked when getting an exotic pet, but they are a great resource for owners. Some emergency services and organizations we often work with are:
- Washington Humane Society / SPCA
- Domestic rabbit society
- Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue
- Phoenix Landing Foundation Bird Rescue
- Rescue station for heart reptiles
When you get your pet, it is important to take care of it quarantine Keep your pet away from other animals for the recommended time (usually 60 days, but this may vary depending on the species) to prevent disease transmission and to monitor for signs of disease.
Exotic / wildlife trade
While this is a difficult topic to discuss, the illegal trade in exotic animals and wildlife continues to affect animals everywhere, decimating populations. When purchasing your exotic pet, it is important to determine if that animal has been illegally taken from the area. Unfortunately, one of the largest parts of the exotic pet trade is the illegal capture and sale of exotic animals. Extensive work is being done by veterinarians, scientists and volunteers to combat this, but educating customers is also an important part. Here are some links to read more about it:
Resources Before You Get Your Exotic Pet
I recommend checking out the following resources for more background on your exotic pet before purchasing:
The VCA Calvert Veterinary Center’s veterinarians have combined over 35 years of experience helping pets stay healthy and happy. For more information on making an appointment for your pet, please call 410-360-PAWS (7297) or make an online appointment at www.vaccalvertvet.com. Conveniently located on 4100 Mountain Road in Pasadena, VCA Calvert Veterinary Center has proudly served the community for over 17 years.