SPECIALISED NEEDS When considering choosing an exotic as a pet, the key is research, research, research.
The vet's view
Whilst the vast majority of domestic pets in Ireland fall into the category of dogs or cats in what ever shape or form there are out there, there is a growing number of people who are opting for the more unusual pet. A huge range is becoming more and more accessible and fashionable (not that fashion should ever be a consideration when choosing a pet).
The diversity is astounding, from the vast number of different types of reptile to rodents of all shapes and sizes, to the huge array of birds now available. In essence, these can be broadly considered exotic pets. As such, they are very different in terms of their needs when it comes to being kept as domestic pets.
Exotic animals in general have the same needs in captivity as they would have in the wild, which, as you can appreciate, can be very complex and different to dogs and cats, as well as being challenging to provide in terms of logistics.
When considering choosing an exotic as a pet, the key is research, research, research. Doing as much reading up on the particular exotic you are is thinking of getting is key to success. Their needs are generally quite specialised, and you will need to consider everything from their housing and environment to their diet, availability of light and heat, their particular movements (be they day time or nocturnal creatures), the degree to which they accept and value handling and human interaction, and the availability of specialised medical expertise should it be needed.
Exotic’s homes need to allow for their natural behaviours, such as climbing burrowing and hiding. Consideration of their diet is vital – how available is their food and will there always be continuity of supply of that diet (no use in needing to source a particular animals diet, when it may be in short or non-existent supply).
An exotic’s lifespan may be quite surprising. Some breed of turtle can live for more that 50 years! Snakes too can live a much longer lifespan than one might expect. Specialist diets can be expensive over a long period, and hard to source at times.
Most exotics do not like, or tolerate well, a lot of human handling, and as such they do not thrive if continually stressed by handling. Also, they may not be immune to the germs that humans have naturally on their hands, and thus can be passed onto exotics, causing illness and disease.
Conversely, some species can carry pathogens that can be harmful directly to humans through handling or indeed indirectly when cleaning out their enclosures. They may also not like the presence of what they may consider predators, such as dogs or cats.
In summary then, while the number of exotics we are seeing coming into our practices is growing, it is worth considering doing your research when considering an exotic as a family pet. Their needs are, more often than not, quite different and more complex than Mr Woof or Mrs Puss.
Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.