Juney Shober explains his method for managing humidity: “I just use a little spray bottle, but some people use humidifiers for more exotic snakes. For temperature, I have an under-tank heating pad and a heat lamp.”
The correct temperature is not the only requirement that needs to be met in the housing of an exotic. Having enough space for the animal can also be problematic for potential owners.
“Particularly for your larger reptiles and birds—they really need a lot of space,” said Dr. Dawkins. “We have a macaw, and her cage is larger than the couch in the living room. We happen to have a big living room, but previously when we lived in an apartment, we didn’t have a couch because we had parrots.” Some pets can grow beyond what some owners might expect, so Dr. Dawkins recommends doing your research. “Some of these reptiles get bigger and bigger .You start off and you think, ‘Oh, it’s this little six-inch thing.’ Well, if you have it around long enough, it’s going to outgrow that little cage you have.”
Time can also be a major factor for pet owners. Dr. Dawkins says potential owners should consider that “some animals, like birds, really require you to be home a certain amount because they like a lot of interaction, whereas some of the reptiles are totally fine if you work a 14-hour shift. On the other hand, some birds live about 10 years, but if you get into big parrots, we’re talking 50 to 80 years. So you might need to think about long-term time as well.”
Yet another challenge for exotic pet owners can be finding a veterinarian with the proper training to care for these animals. Dr. Dawkins explains, “A lot of vets haven’t been trained on them so understandably they don’t feel comfortable seeing them.” Dr. Dawkins will see almost anything that isn’t venomous. “[Exotics] are different, and some drugs you cannot use in them, so sometimes it can be difficult to find someone comfortable treating their health issues.”
If you’re serious about wanting to own an exotic pet, Dr. Keller says, “Be sure that you have the financial resources to not just purchase the animal, but also to provide for all their extensive needs.” He also warns against just accepting what your local pet store might tell you. “Pet stores are often guilty of simply selling the animals and not truly caring about their welfare once they go to their new homes. They also sell a lot of equipment and supplies that are not needed or incorrect for that animal. Remember the salespeople are not necessarily trained or experienced.”
Dr. Dawkins expands that to information you might find on the Internet. “In this modern world, we always go straight to the Internet because Google has all the answers, and there’s some good information out there. But there’s also some information that’s not correct, and the person reading may believe something that is incorrect, unfortunately.”
With the long list of things you need to take into consideration, owning an exotic can be challenging and time-consuming. So is it worth it? Absolutely, says Kris Van Dyke. “We love that pig like a child, and we’re not that way with our other animals,” he says. “Out of all the pets I’ve had in my entire life, [Bootleg] is by far my favorite.” Megan Jackson agrees, saying she will seek out another exotic for her next pet. “They’re fun, and I like having something different.” Dr. Keller adds, “Some of them are extremely interesting and it can be a fun challenge to make sure that they thrive in your care.”
Just make sure that before you bring home that pig, snake, macaw or anything else you fall in love with, that you’re prepared to be a good pet parent to the exotic you’re adopting.