The Joy and Commitment


What a joy to share your life with an exotic pet, but with that joy comes special commitment. Some of the animals that could find their way into the exotic industry today have very highly specialized nutritional and environmental requirements. Some could be dangerous to people or other animals. It is my suggestion that anyone considering sharing their life with an exotic pet do careful research into the special nutritional and environmental and legal requirements of/for that animal prior to obtaining one. Also, check into temperaments, potential size, necessity for neutering, liability for owners and restrictions for your area. After you have done all this homework and the animal you are researching fits your desires and you feel capable of providing proper care for its physical and mental well-being, and protection for other lives around you, then and only then begin to search for a supplier of a sound, healthy animal.

The prospective owner must take a hard and realistic look and make a rational decision before adding these sometimes delicate, sometimes dangerous, sometimes impossible animals to their family.

Some of the questions you might ask are:
  • What is the temperament of the species and this particular animal?
  • Will it need seclusion and/or a quiet area?
  • Does it need a nest box? Trees or branches? Rocks? Dirt to dig in?
  • Are there any animals nearby that would prey upon it in the wild, or visa versa?
  • Is there plenty of shade and access for sun-bathing if that is what the animal likes and shelter from wind, rain and inclement weather?
  • Are there free-roaming dogs, cats or wild animals that can disturb them or transmit diseases?
  • Is there access to bathing/swimming water, such as for capybara, if that is what the animal needs?
  • Does it need animals of its own species for its mental well-being?
  • What are its nutritional needs and are they readily available to you?
  • What are the laws in your local and state area concerning this animal?
  • What immunizations/vaccinations does it need or already have?
  • Do you have a veterinarian available willing to work on this species?
  • Following are a few interesting animals that might be an interesting companion and a brief summary of their care.

    Wallabies, Wallaroos, Kangaroos: There are several species of these marsupials (animals that normally carry and nurse their young in a pouch) in the US today. The smallest are the wallabies which range from 7 to 60 lb. and the largest are the kangaroos which attain 6 feet in height. Babies hand-reared by humans are a must if you wish to have one as a pet. The smallest species have a reputation of being the most nervous, but we have not found this to be the case. The young can be purchased from reputable breeders while they are still in an artificial pouch and being fed several times a day by bottle. A baby well-furred is recommended for beginners as it will have a shorter time until it is comfortable out of the pouch for any length of time. The smaller species wean at a younger age than the larger species. These animals can be taught to walk (boing!) on a leash and can be very captivating pets. Dogs can be a threat to animals so extreme caution must be exercised if you have a household or neighborhood with dogs that can come in contact with them. Food is readily available and includes dry grass hay, green grass and some browse (shrubs, leaves, etc.). There are pelleted diets especially for them and you can use Purina Pure Pride 300 horse pellets. They must have a feed with the proper selenium and Vitamin E or can get a paralysis. Supplement with some veggies such as carrots, yams, broccoli, etc. Use veggies mainly as hand treats. Some of the smaller species can be house pets.

    Sugar gliders are about 4" long from nose to base of tail with a tail equally as long. They have a gliding membrane from their wrists to their ankles that permits them to glide from tree to tree. Captive raised, well-handled babies are a must if you want a gentle, happy pet. These little marsupials bond to their owners and will be content to sleep in your pocket or inside your shirt for most of the day, enjoying the warmth of your body and being close to their human friend. Captive raised babies are always steel gray with a black stripe from head to tail. (I understand that occasionally there are some lighter and partially white specimens). Imported sugar gliders normally are a seal brown with the black stripe. This may be due to the trees they find refuge in. Their diet consists of fruit, fruit juices, sunflower seeds, coconut and a protein source such as cat food, insects or an occasional pinkie mouse. Their cage requirements are about 8 cubic feet per animal with interesting branches and a nest. They readily drink from a water bottle.

    Hedgehogs are becoming so popular, that they are hardly considered exotic anymore. This little insectivore that is covered with quills (that it does not release like a porcupine) can roll into a little ball by constricting a musculature that is in a circle around its body where the quills meet the haired portion of its underside. It can completely withdraw its head, feet and tail. Properly handled these little animals become affectionate and ask little of their caretakers. They are a very low maintenance pet. Breeders are now developing interesting colors: Normal: Can be either Salt and Pepper or Chocolate - these are pure or close to pure native species; Salt and Pepper: Original color of PURE species albiventrix - black and white quills - have black mask and black legs; Chocolate: Original color of PURE species algerian- dark brown and cream quills - do not have mask; Snoflake: A 100 % white hedgehog - but not albino. Has normal pigment on nose, eyes. No mask; Panda: A 100% white hedgehog - not albino, with dark mask; Half 'n Half: In between a normal and Snoflake. The white portion of each quill will be greater to varying degrees; Cinnamon: Light brown with light brown with cream quills, with light face; Fawn: Light brown with light brown and cream quills with dark mask and sometimes dark legs; Cream: Off white with off white and white quills, no face mask; Champagne: Off white with off white and white quills, with darker face mask; Mocha: Chocolate with dark mask. Dark brown and cream quills- Infrequent result of cross with pure algerian and pure albiventrix; Polka Dot: Majority of quills of a light color (white or cream) with scattered darker quills. Animals can be a Cream Polka Dot, A Champagne Polka Dot, etc.; Smoke: Entire quills are a smoky gray color; Albino: White hedgehog with pink eyes, liver/pink nose. No pigment anywhere; Combinations: They can also be combinations of these colors. Pet hedgehogs of either sex, when kept along, seem to be of equal temperament. Neutering is not necessary in these animals. The diet consists of dry cat food, vitamins, insects and an occasional pinkie mouse. They can be kept in aquariums, pet carriers and elaborate environments with logs and plants as your space permits.

    Flying Squirrels are 3-4 inches long from head to base of tail. They are a seal brown color with soft, fine fur. Their tail is flat. They have a gliding membrane from their wrists to their ankles that permits them to glide from tree to tree. Their diet consists of nuts, acorns, seeds fruit and insects. They are captivating pets, however, a flying squirrel loose in your house can cause extensive damage to your walls, furniture, wiring and more. Their environment must be escape-proof. They readily bond to their owners if they are obtained at a very young age.

    Prairie Dogs make wonderful, inexpensive, low maintenance pets. I recommend neutering of any prairie dog in September of its first year (when it is about 6 months old). This puts less stress on the animal during breeding season when it will not be fulfilling its mating cycle and will aid in lessening the musky odor some amorous prairie dogs emit. Handling from a young age is essential if you wish to have a loving, bonded pet. These social animals need contact with other living creatures to keep them mentally stable. They will gratefully take a human as a family member if no other prairie dog is available. They eat grass hay, rodent block, a small amount of dry dog food and a small amount of seeds such as corn, wheat, oats, etc. They usually put on fat prior to winter even if they are an inside pet and reduce over the winter months.

    Capybaras are the largest rodent in the world, occasionally topping the scales at 150-200 lb. They resemble a giant rust-colored, smooth haired guinea pig that ran into a wall, as they have a very blunt muzzle. They can live around to 12 years of age in captivity. They have been taught to walk on a leash like a dog. Neutering is absolutely necessary, especially for males. This can be done after 4-5 months of age before they develop breeding behaviors. They eat grass hay, rodent block or monkey chow, rabbit chow and various fruits and vegetables. They are relatively clean and can be litter trained.

    Springhaas or Springhares are a wonderfully gentle animal that resembles a small kangaroo, but it is not a marsupial. It has large back legs it uses for leaping and hopping. Its small front legs each end with a hand that has five long claws used for digging. They have huge dark eyes and nearly hairless upright ears. Their coat is shiny, dense and a golden red color. They have an extremely long tail the lower third of which is black. These little animals weigh about 3/4 lb. when born but the adults are 5-8 lb. Quite a feat for the mom! They are very gentle and easy going except when frightened. They eat tubers (potatoes, carrots), squashes, roots and grasses. We also give a mixture of seeds and rodent block. They drink little water, recycle their urine and are very low maintenance. They can be taught to hop on a leash and can make interesting house pets.

    Fennec Foxes are the world's smallest canine (dog family) weighing in at a maximum of 3 lb. They are a wonderfully soft creamy tan color with a black tip on the tail and markings on the face. They have very pointed muzzles and the largest ears in the canine family in proportion to its size of up to 6-7 inches in length. They can make wonderful house pets if the youngsters are bottle raised and handled regularly. They easily litter pan train like a cat. They can jump quite high when frightened and can be taught to walk on a leash. We recommend neutering both sexes prior to their first season. If not neutered they will be attracted/attractive to dogs during each other's cycle and they could be hurt. A high quality cat food and some meat can be used as a diet for these fox. They will have to be immunized for rabies, distemper and parvo. Be sure your veterinarian checks the proper type for them. Ferret vaccines have been used successfully although not legally approved. These fox are very affectionate to their human family and extremely cat-like in their cleanliness.

    Caracals, servals, bobcats, lynx, jungle cats, African wild cats: Many of the various wild cats can make captivating pets, however, you must realize that these animals when frightened, sick or sexually aroused will not remember that they are tame. Pets MUST be neutered. Care with these animals must be taken to insure the protection of people and animals they might come in contact with. The wild cats can pose a serious threat to small animals and even children. I recommend declawing all the way around when about 16 weeks of age. They should be placed in an enclosure safe for them and your human and animal visitors as any stranger can pose a threat to them. All of them are extremely clean and litter train as any domestic cat, but there the similarity ends. You must never fool yourself into thinking that you have THE gentle wild cat that is the exception. They are fed raw chicken, vitamins and high quality cat food. Occasionally, give killed rats for the pet food trade. They need vaccinations and immunizations.

    Kinkajous, Coatimundis, Ringtails: These three distinct animals all belong to the same family and have some similar characteristics. The ringtail is the smallest, weighing 2-3 lb. while the kinkajou weighs 3-10 lb. and the coatimundi is usually between 6-15 lb. Both the ringtail and coati have banded tails while the tail of the kinkajou is prehensile which means it can grip with it like an index finger. All are agile climbers and declawing is recommended for the coatimundi, especially. The kinkajou, by far has the best personality adaptable to a human environment, where a hand-raised baby is gentle, loving and very bonded to its humans. The coati is probably the is the strongest willed of the three becoming obstinate at times, for no apparent reason. Diets are similar being that of fruits, dog food and some egg or vegetables. I have not known of any to be litter trained.

    Binturongs, Civets, Genets: These three dissimilar animals belong to the same family with few similar characteristics. Binturongs and civets both have a distinct odor that comes from scent glands in the anal region. The genet does not have this odor. Of the three the binturong is the largest, has a prehensile tail and can weigh up to 60 lb. They are black in color with coarse hair. They can make nice pets, but due to their odor which smells like warm corn bread they must be kept in an outside enclosure unless you wish to have people think you live in a tortilla factory. Called bear-cats, they will stand on their back legs like a bear and box or hug those they care for. Civets really are not suited for pets but more for displays or exhibitions. There are several types from some that are the size of a house cat to those about 60 lb. Genets come in several species, among which are the large spotted (tan with brown spots) and small spotted (silver with black spots). The "large" and "small" refers to the size of the spots. They can be great pets if hand-raised from babies, and will litter train. They are extremely graceful and agile climbers. I recommend neutering and declawing.

    I hope this will give you insight into just a few of the exotics that are available. We have raised these and many more species over the years and have learned by research and living with the animals. Some breed infrequently in captivity, so you might have to get on a waiting list for a hand-raised baby. When you choose your supplier be sure you DO NOT buy an imported wild-caught specimen for a pet. The price will be less, but they will never tame down like a hand-raised baby will. I recommend neutering of both sexes and declawing of most carnivores out of respect for the animal and your sanity. Some of these animals are being exterminated in their native countries because they raid crops or livestock. Breeders here are keeping those species alive.

    Remember, these are not domestic dogs and cats, but animals that are a rare privilege to own. If you do wish to obtain any of these exotics, you should know all the facts about their care and needs so you will be able to determine if you can and will make the ultimate commitment for the proper CARE of these wonderful, unique animals.

    CARE is what it is all about.

    It is not owning.

    It is respect for the animals.


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