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Thinking of Getting an Unusual Pet?

Pets enrich our lives. All pets require love and proper care. Some people yearn for a pet, but cannot fill the needs of a typical dog or cat, or perhaps allergies prevent them from living with a furry pet. The alternative is an unusual pet.

Each kind of animal has it's own unique needs. Before you bring any animal into your life, first find out what kind of needs the animal has. Then take some time to honestly appraise your ability to fill those needs. What is an unusual pet?

Any kind of animal that you are not familiar with. Most people are familiar with cats and dogs. But if you have never cared for a cat before, then a cat is an unusual pet for you. Unusual pets can be non-domesticated (not "wild") animals. Colorful tropical fish are not domesticated, but make fine pets for the right person.

What is a "wild" animal?

Any animal that is not domesticated, and not kept as a pet. Some "wild" animals are large cats, monkeys, and elephants. "Wild" animals do not make good pets, and should not be kept as such. They have special needs that are difficult to meet. They may also have very strong instinctual drives, their natural behaviors may cause problems when interacting with people. When inexperienced, unprepared, or ill-equipped people try to keep "wild" animals as pets, the results are disastrous for the pet and the person. A very large animal or a "wild" predatory animal can be very dangerous. Small children are especially at risk. Their size and movements make them look like prey (dinner!). Large constrictor snakes MUST be kept away from infants and toddlers.

What is a domesticated animal?

An animal that people have raised, kept, and bred for a long, long time. Domesticated animals are related to their wild cousins, but changed by human intervention. They lack the strong instinctual urges that enable wild animals to survive in the wild. Large domesticated animals need special facilities. A city apartment wouldn't be the right environment for a horse, a pony, or even a miniature horse.

How will I know if an unusual animal is right for me?

Learn all you can about the animal BEFORE getting one. Often it isn't easy to find out about an exotic animal. A responsible breeder can give you information and advice. If the breeder or person selling the animal cannot or will not answer all your questions, think twice before accepting the animal. You may end up with a perfect pet, or a perfectly awful problem. Sometimes you must accept an animal that you are not prepared to care for in order to save it's life. In this kind of situation the best thing to do is start learning about the animal right away, and be prepared to find a suitable home if you find you cannot provide for the animal.

Where can I learn more about an unusual animal?

Libraries and the Internet are two good places to find information about the exotic animal that interests you. Look for and contact groups or clubs devoted to that animal. A club can provide comprehensive care information, assistance with a specific situation, and guidance in finding supplies and sources for your unusual pet. The best source of information is people who have experience with keeping that animal as a pet. You may also want to check with your local city officials to make sure you can legally keep the animal in your home.

You may quickly find that the animal has specific needs that you cannot meet, or quirks that make them unsuitable for your home or family. Large parrots are beautiful animals, but they are also very messy and very loud. They large beaks can cause serious damage to cages, toys, woodwork, furniture, and fingers. They require a lot of time and attention. A cheerful parakeet is a quieter choice for apartment dwellers with noise-sensitive neighbors, and a safer choice for families with small children.

Or, you may find that you are more and more anxious to get your new pet! If so, take a moment to honestly appraise your ability to provide for the animal not just over the next few weeks and months, but for the animals full lifespan. Visit, if you can, people who own adults of that species or breed. Most important, pay attention to the possible drawbacks in owning that animal. It's easy to overlook potential problems when a pet is small and new. When the novelty wears off and the animal becomes an adult, mildly annoying habits can become serious problems. Find out if that kind of animal must be spayed or neutered in order to be a good pet, and be prepared for this necessary expense.

I've decided this pet is for me. What's the first step?

Preparation! Obtain any necessary supplies. Make sure you have a place for the animal to sleep. You'll need feeding dishes, food, and toys. For small pets you'll need a cage or other home that offers a suitable habitat. If your animal is going to spend time outside, you'll need an appropriate run, fenced yard, or other means of preventing the animal from escaping. Don't forget any special equipment that you'll need for that particular kind of animal, for example, a sleeping pouch for a sugar glider.

Ok I have all the supplies. What's next?

Find a vet that is willing and able to provide health care for your animal. Not every vet knows how to properly treat an unusual animal. Some prefer to handle only "cats and dogs" type pets. A vet that treats that kind of animal may also know where you can obtain that kind of animal. Make sure you know how to contact your vet after hours, just in case. Also, find out if your vet is affiliated with a 24-hour emergency clinic. Make sure you know how to get to the clinic and the vet's office. Prepare maps and directions, and keep them in a safe but easily accessible place. Program the vet's and emergency clinic's phone numbers into your phone, or post them on your refrigerator or other obvious, easily found place. You may want to add the Animal Poison Control Hotline phone number, too.

Where should I get my pet?

Please consider adopting your pet from a rescue, if possible. Choosing a rescued animal is often less expensive than purchasing an animal from a breeder. Plus, you are giving a home to an animal who desperately needs one. The rescue operator can provide you with advice and assistance when you adopt your pet, both now and in the future. Many rescues have both adults and babies available for adoption. Be prepared to undergo a screening process when adopting an animal from a rescue. A good breeder will also ask you lots of questions. If you are obtaining your animal from out-of-state, contact your state Department of Agriculture to find out about any legal requirements, and be prepared to complete the necessary paperwork.

Should I get an adult or a baby?

Everybody loves a baby. Babies don't come with any "learned" bad habits, but they will have all the instinctual behaviors. If that animal has a short lifespan, like gerbils, then you will get the most time and enjoyment out of a baby. On the other hand, adults are often calmer and easier to manage. Adults may also be spayed or neutered, house broken, and possibly trained. Adults may have a little more trouble adjusting and learning to trust again, but they can still be wonderful pets. If the animal has a particularly long lifespan (some large birds like cockatoos and macaws can live to be more than 90 years old!) you and your pet will have plenty of years to share together.

Helen Morrison