The Essential Guide to Keeping Exotic Animals

By Alberto Roy

Updated on:

Most people think that cats and dogs make for perfect pets. Others go outside the norm by keeping rare and exotic species. It’s a matter of preference, but making a pet out of an animal that’s not meant for domestication entails several challenges.

Exotic animals can be ideal pets so long as they’re properly cared for. Still, nothing about it is straightforward, because some species are protected by environmental laws.

You will also have to make sure that such animals live in appropriate habitats and thrive on a natural diet. Without following the basics of animal care for these special creatures, they won’t last long enough to breed. If you’re thinking of getting a wild animal to live at home, here’s a guide to doing it right.

Have a valid reason for keeping exotic pets

The usual animals such as cats, dogs, and goldfish have become cliché for many animal enthusiasts, so much so that they would set their eyes on rarer species. Another reason why the exotic pet market is thriving is because many rich people use exotic pets as status symbols or objects of luxury. Keeping a rare monitor lizard in your backyard will make your neighbors think you’re a big shot!

However, some collect special animals out of a sense of fascination. Having a fondness for creatures stigmatized due to their appearance is a good enough reason to keep exotic pets. It’s also a plus if you’re taking care of animals that need to be protected.

Know the laws

Even if you’re keeping exotic animals for righteous reasons, you’re still subject to wildlife protection laws that govern pet owners. Many exotic pets belong to endangered species and knowing what to keep and what to leave alone is vital to avoid violating any of these laws.

Before you start your collection of exotic pets, review local and national regulations on the transport and ownership of animals that belong to endangered groups. In the United States, owning such animals is permissible so long as you’re registered with the proper permits in your state. In Delaware, for instance, you are required to apply for a permit at the Poultry and Animal Health Section of the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

Some states like California enforce total bans on keeping exotic pets, including big exotic cats such as tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. However, the ban is not absolute because the state allows certain species of snakes and lizards.

Aside from these laws, you will need clearance if you plan to ship the animals from overseas. Under USDA, CDC, and Customs rules, you will need to have the animal checked for potentially invasive diseases.

You must also review the destination state’s laws on allowing the entry and transport of non-endemic species. There’s a lot you need to take in just to own an exotic pet, but learning the legalities will help you steer clear of problems that won’t end well for you.

Research about the animals you’re getting

Exotic animals are nothing like the domesticated creatures we know and love, it pays to know as much as you can about these creatures. You don’t want to keep a hedgehog, fennec fox, or capybara as a pet if you don’t know how to deliver their needs.

You don’t have to be a zoologist to understand their unique eating patterns and defensive mechanisms. All it takes is knowing where to get the information you need about caring for and protecting exotic wildlife.

It’s a good thing that there are websites out there meant for serious and responsible pet owners. If you’re planning to collect the world’s rarest snakes, consider checking out sites like Reptile Direct where you can find helpful resources, ranging from care guides and quick animal profiles.

You can also join local and online communities of exotic collectors, where you can get practical advice from more experienced pet owners.

Get an expert to help you out

Because they’re not common in your area, it will take a long time for these animals to acclimate. Their behavior and feral habits are also worth considering since some animals may have a hard time trying to adjust to their new environment.

While you can get valuable details about handling such animals online, getting an expert to help out will make the process less stressful on your end. With their expertise, a veterinary professional can help you familiarize yourself with an animal’s dieting habits and the risks they pose, especially when they are handled improperly.

In addition to a veterinarian, you may also need an expert who specializes in the species where the animal belongs. They may have unique needs and getting a professional will take away the guesswork in making sure an exotic animal settles comfortably in their new home. Even if you fancy yourself an animal expert, it takes a certified professional to make sure that your exotic pet lives longer and feels more at home.

Keeping Exotic Animals

Keeping exotic animals as pets or in captivity requires careful consideration, knowledge, and responsibility. Here are some important factors to keep in mind if you are considering or currently keeping exotic animals:

  1. Legal Considerations:
    • Research and understand the laws and regulations regarding the ownership and care of exotic animals in your area. Many jurisdictions have specific rules governing the keeping of certain species.
  2. Expertise and Education:
    • Educate yourself about the specific needs, behaviors, and requirements of the exotic species you are interested in keeping. Understanding their natural habitat and behaviors is crucial for providing proper care.
  3. Ethical Sourcing:
    • Obtain exotic animals from reputable sources that prioritize ethical and legal practices. Avoid supporting the illegal wildlife trade, which can contribute to habitat destruction and the decline of wild populations.
  4. Proper Enclosures:
    • Create appropriate enclosures that mimic the natural environment of the species. Consider factors such as temperature, humidity, lighting, and space requirements. Ensure the enclosure is escape-proof and safe for both the animal and handlers.
  5. Diet and Nutrition:
    • Provide a well-balanced and species-appropriate diet. Consult with a veterinarian or an expert in exotic animal care to determine the nutritional needs of the specific species.
  6. Veterinary Care:
    • Establish a relationship with a veterinarian experienced in treating exotic animals. Regular check-ups are essential to monitor the health of your exotic pet and address any potential issues.
  7. Enrichment:
    • Enrich the environment to stimulate the animal mentally and physically. This can include providing toys, hiding spots, climbing structures, and other items that encourage natural behaviors.
  8. Social Needs:
    • Consider the social requirements of the species. Some exotic animals are social and may benefit from the company of their own kind, while others may prefer solitude. Research and cater to the social needs of your specific pet.
  9. Behavioral Observation:
    • Pay close attention to your exotic pet’s behavior. Changes in eating habits, activity levels, or appearance may indicate health issues that need attention.
  10. Emergency Preparedness:
    • Have a plan in case of emergencies, such as natural disasters or health emergencies. This includes having a first aid kit, knowing the location of a nearby exotic animal veterinarian, and having a contingency plan for evacuation if necessary.
  11. Educational Outreach:
    • If you have the opportunity, use your experience to educate others about responsible exotic pet ownership and the conservation of wild habitats.
  12. Lifetime Commitment:
    • Understand that keeping exotic animals is a long-term commitment. Many species have long lifespans and may require care for decades. Ensure that you are prepared for the responsibility before acquiring an exotic pet.

It’s crucial to approach the care of exotic animals with the utmost responsibility and respect for the well-being of the animals and their natural habitats. Always prioritize ethical and humane practices, staying informed about the specific needs of the species in your care. If in doubt, seek guidance from experts, veterinarians, or organizations dedicated to the welfare of exotic animals.

Prepare a proper habitat

To make sure your pet lives long, you will need to prepare living quarters that mimic the environment the animal is used to. This could be one of the costliest parts of owning an exotic pet because you need the environment to be comfortable and close to the animal’s preferred climate.

If you are building a terrarium for the creature, make sure it’s large enough for the animal to forage around. Binturongs or bearcats, for example, will require an enclosure that’s at least seven to ten feet high with ample vegetation to climb on.

Large snakes like Brazilian rainbow boa constrictors thrive better in enclosures that are at least eight feet long. On the other hand, animals such as tarantulas are more comfortable staying in small glass terrariums where they feel more secure and protected.

Aside from physical features, you will need to set the right temperature for your enclosure. Animals that live in arctic conditions such as penguins feel more comfortable when temperatures are set to at least 40°F. Providing the perfect living conditions for exotic animals will cost a lot of time and money, but it’s all worth it if it means keeping these creatures alive and ready for mating.

Invest in quality food

Ensuring proper nutrition is part of your responsibility as an exotic pet owner. You can’t feed such animals with just about anything. Some animals may require an abundance of protein, while others have a greater need for phosphorus and calcium.

Geeding these pets isn’t something you can take lightly, so take your time to research the best meal options to give your pets. Limit the amount of processed food you provide, as exotic wildlife will receive better nutrition from fresh meat and vegetation.

In case you don’t know what food is best for your pet, consult a veterinarian and look for reliable sources of raw ingredients. Don’t forget to add vitamin supplements that will help increase the lifespan of your pet.

More importantly, make sure that you provide your exotic pet with the appropriate serving sizes, taking into account their size as well as their age. You may also need to diversify your pet’s meals so it gets healthy servings of each nutrient source.


Owning an exotic pet can be satisfying, but it’s not for everyone. Knowing how much time and patience is needed to keep an animal alive, you need all the help and advice you can get to become a responsible owner.

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