Dogs and cats make delightful companions, yet there’s a curiosity about exploring alternative options for furry, winged, or scaled pets that are not only enjoyable but also legally permissible to own. Having an exotic pet can prove to be immensely fulfilling, provided you are familiar with the distinctive requirements and social behaviors of these more unconventional animal friends.
You may already know some of the more common exotic pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and parakeets. But if you’re wondering about more unusual creatures, we thought we’d give you an idea of other options in the exotic pet world.
Top 5 Unusual Exotic Pets
These pets each have special and unique needs and are fun and exciting to learn about and interact with.
#1 – Axolotls. For those who prefer aquatic and/or more hands-off pets, one of our favorite unusual pets is the Axolotl. These peculiar pets stand out among other Amphibians as they reach their adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis like most Amphibians. In short, this means the Axolotl is born in and spends its whole life in the aquatic, gilled juvenile stage. Pet Axolotls should be captive-bred, but their original wild ancestors are found in only two freshwater lakes in Mexico, Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco, making them a very uncommon critter. Axolotls range from 6-18 inches in size and are characterized by a wide head with lidless eyes and long “feathery” external gills on each side of the neck giving them quite an unusual appearance. Due to the location of their eyes and mouth, they often look like they are smiling!
- Axolotls are mainly solitary animals, a single Axolotl in captivity will do very well in a 20-40-gallon aquarium in a temperature range of 60-66 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Axolotls are long-term pets and have been known to live for 15 years.
- They are carnivores and need to be provided with a quality high-protein diet. Generally speaking, they are not picky eaters and do quite well on a mixed diet of common aquatic feeders such as bloodworms (sparingly), earthworms, and sinking salmon pellets.
- A great way to keep your Axolotl healthy and happy is to make sure all of their requirements are met–this includes a simulated day and night cycle, stable water temperatures, and enrichment in the forms of animal-safe fake plants and large rocks they can swim and hide around (but not eat!). Good water quality is also essential!
- The majority of common health problems in Axolotls stem from issues with diet or water quality and/or temperature. However, they can also become sick from bacterial or fungal infections, ingestion of foreign material, or buoyancy issues. Having them evaluated by an experienced exotics expert annually, or at the first sign of issues, can help keep them happy and healthy.
#2 – Hedgehog. Hedgehogs are gaining popularity as small exotic pets and for good reason. They are easy to care for, fun to handle, and make adorable companions. Some domestic hedgehogs are native to central and eastern Africa, but most are a hybrid species. In the wild, these insectivores live off of small insects, grubs, snails, spiders, and other small invertebrates.
- Hedgehogs are not social animals and do best when housed alone. They can be handled gently and regularly to help them socialize with humans, and they can learn to crawl into your hands, take treats, and be carried around for short periods. If startled, they will curl up into a ball to protect themselves.
- Cages made for guinea pigs and rabbits can be suitable for hedgehogs, but the floor covering should be soft to protect their sensitive feet, which can be susceptible to infection. Paper material, a fleece dog crate pad, or towels changed out frequently make suitable cage floor coverings.
- Hedgehogs are active at night and need extensive and regular exercise to prevent obesity and ensure mental well-being. They will need a large, enclosed running wheel in their cage to help them get needed exercise and activity, as they can run several miles a day.
- A typical healthy diet for a hedgehog should be a commercial, balanced, formulated hedgehog pellet, supplemented with live crickets and mealworms. Hedgehogs will also enjoy fresh vegetables as part of their regular diet. Be sure to feed the recommended amount to your hedgehog to prevent obesity, another common health issue for these little animals.
- Hedgehogs need regular veterinary care to help prevent dental disease, parasites, and skin or foot injections. Spaying or neutering your hedgehog is also recommended to avoid tumors and other diseases.
#3 – Bearded Dragon. Bearded dragons, or “beardies,” are medium-sized lizards native to Australia. They are named for the beard-like collar of spikes around their necks, which they display when startled or fearful. They are generally very docile in captivity and learn to enjoy being handled. They are also interesting to watch.
- Bearded dragons are usually active during the day. They require a 55 to 75- gallon tank and a secure screen top. Since they are semi-tree-dwelling animals, a tank should include branches for perching, rocks, half-logs for climbing, and a hiding spot or two.
- Heat must be provided for bearded dragons, and you should monitor temperatures inside the cage. Your beardie will need a temperature gradient of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a basking spot of 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Beaded dragons need a UVB light source, which can be purchased at a pet store. The light source must be shined through the screen top since glass filters out some UV rays. Use a light timer to keep a consistent 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark schedule.Bearded dragons also need a constant humidity of 35 to 40%.
- Feed your bearded dragon a combination of insects, leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit about once every 24 hours. Consult your veterinarian about quantity, as this depends on your dragon’s size. Insects should be gut-loaded (fed a nutrient-dense diet to pass to your pet) and dusted with a calcium and vitamin D powder to supplement your bearded dragon and prevent metabolic bone disease.
- Like other reptiles, bearded dragons are susceptible to respiratory infections, intestinal impaction, and metabolic bone disease (which can cause bone softening and fractures). Schedule regular wellness care with our Exotics team to keep your bearded dragon happy and healthy.
#4 – Ducks. Recently, chickens have become popular backyard pets, but ducks have many of the same characteristics and are a bit more unique. There are a variety of duck breeds, and some make better companions than others. Housing, food and water, sociability, zoning laws, and noise should all be considered before purchasing a pet duck, but they can be wonderful companions with the proper preparation.
- Ducks live to about ten years of age and are happiest when living in a group. Pekin ducks are generally friendly and calm, although any duck will be most tame if handled consistently from a young age. Ducks are generally only aggressive if they are guarding a nest or their young.
- Ducks are outdoor pets but can benefit from secure housing for nighttime in inclement weather and to protect them from predators. They don’t need perches like chickens, but will be happiest with a water source, ideally a pond or a small pool. Ducks need clean bedding to walk on and lie down on, and straw is ideal. Regular cleaning is a must since ducks produce a lot of feces.
- Ducks are omnivores and should be provided with a balanced, commercially prepared duck pellet, and supplemented with fresh vegetables, leafy greens, earthworms, mealworms, and other insects. Free-range ducks will keep your garden and yard free from slugs and snails. Like any pet, ducks always need access to fresh, clean drinking water.
- Ducks are susceptible to several health conditions caused by stagnant water, unclean environments, poor nutrition, and contagious diseases. As always, consult your veterinarian to ensure your pet ducks stay healthy.
#5 – Green-cheeked conure. The dazzling colors, playful personality, and sweet temperament of the green-cheeked conure make it a great choice for a unique exotic pet. Bird lovers know that this small parrot is quieter than most, but they are also curious and affectionate, making them a good choice for bird beginners.
- These beautiful, highly intelligent birds live in large flocks of 10-20 and are native to South America. Although not known as great talkers, some can learn to do tricks.
- Your conure will need a large cage at least 24 inches square and 30 inches high, and as with all parrots, the bigger the cage, the better. Because they fly several miles a day in the wild, they will need ample supervised exercise and social time outside their cage each day, ideally between 2 and 4 hours. Many conure owners have an exercise gym on top of the cage where birds can stretch their wings freely.
- In the wild, conures eat fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, and the occasional insect. Birds will need a wide variety of fresh food daily, along with a commercially prepared bird pellet.
- Your green-cheeked conure will need to be checked regularly by a veterinarian who is an avian specialist to ensure optimal health. Several common parrot illnesses can affect them, and they will also need to have their beak and nails trimmed regularly.
At BEVS, we love these little creatures, and helping you learn more about your exotic pet is an honor. Please call us with any questions at 802-863-2387. No referral is necessary.