By Gary Speer
Unusual or exotic pets carry responsibilities for care and keeping than your run-of-the-mill family cat or dog. But don’t worry, if you’d prefer a snake or turtle, tiger or crocodile, or simply a perky gerbil or hamster, it certainly can be a good choice for you. You just need to plan ahead, and you must start that planning before you shop for your dream tiger or ferret — and the more unusual or exotic the pet, the more important it becomes to do your planning or pet homework. Here are 5 basics to consider before buying that unusual, uncommon, or exotic pet:
1. Check local/state/federal laws and regulations for pet ownership. If you plan on getting a gerbil, a hamster, or exotic fish, chances are that local laws won’t matter, and your biggest issue will be related to pet care and keeping the peace in your home/family. But if you’ve always wanted a pet tiger and now have lots of land and adequate facilities, you really need to be sure you are allowed to keep tigers in your neighborhood. A simpler but unusual pet you might want would be a rabbit or even a chicken. (Don’t laugh — where do you think all those Easter chicks go?) A rabbit or two in the backyard, or a carefully guarded chicken may not seem to be an issue. If your town or city has laws against keeping livestock on your property, your unusual pet becomes a pet legality issue.
2. Make sure you have the environment your unusual or exotic pet needs. Don’t think plenty of room to roam is the only thing you need for your snakes, rabbits, or hens. You also need adequate containment, i.e., proper fences, hutches, roosts, rocks, temperature, humidity, etc.
3. Make sure you have the right food available for your unusual or exotic pet. When he was a youngster, my nephew persuaded his mom he had to have a pet snake. Being more adventuresome than the average mom, she agreed. It took a bit of getting used to the fresh and frozen mice she helped him learn to feed the snake. If your pet is only an “unusual pet,” such as a turtle, a ferret, or small caged animal, food probably isn’t much of an issue. Various reptiles and large cats (there’s that tiger again) are a different matter. Do your homework about this, just as you did about living quarters and pet legalities.
4. Plan in advance for your exotic or unusual pet’s health care needs. If you have a horse and a gerbil, chances are good that the same veterinarian won’t have the expertise or interest to care for both pets. If you have one of the big cats, even adequate environment and proper food supply won’t resolve every issue you face when it comes time for your pet’s checkup (or dental cleaning). You must limit your pet choices to those pets you can properly care for. It will become a hardship for you and could become a health and safety issue for your pet if you cannot find adequate veterinary care for that pet within a reasonable distance from your home. Don’t let your desire for an unusual or exotic pet turn you into an abusive pet owner.
5. Pet lovers have family, friends, and neighbors, too. If you’ve planned carefully and prepared well for the pet of your dreams, only to find that your wife/husband/son/daughter is allergic to hermit crabs or has a major phobia about tarantulas — you’d better reconsider your pet choice. If you live in the suburbs and are fortunate enough to have no legal problems keeping goats and roosters, you must remember that you still have neighbors. Before you buy that expensive cage and put it on the rear patio as a home for your new cockatoo, be aware that cockatoos can be noisy neighbors to, uh, the neighbors.
Plan carefully and do your homework if you want to go beyond cats and dogs and look at some more unusual, uncommon, or even exotic pets. You can own that cockatiel or macaw you’ve always dreamed of having, but make sure the experience is good for the pet, your family, and your neighbors. Now, where did I put that ferret leash? Panther needs his daily walk.
Gary Speer, both a cat lover and a dog lover, has enjoyed the pleasures of pet ownership for years, with pets ranging from cats and dogs to hermit crabs and hamsters (with even a few gold fish in the mix). Check out one of Gary’s pet-oriented websites at http://www.forpetsandpetlovers.com/unusual-pets for tips and information about owning and caring for unusual, uncommon, or exotic pets.
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