Based on numbers alone, dogs and cats are America’s perennial favorite pets. However, exotic species, such as reptiles, amphibians, backyard poultry, and small mammal or “pocket” pets (e.g., rodents, ferrets, rabbits) are quietly rising in popularity as more people discover that these fascinating and complex creatures have distinct advantages as pets. 

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Ensuring your exotic pet’s health, safety, and comfort begins with a thorough understanding of their unique needs. To help you get started, the Urgent Pet Care of Omaha team has outlined the most crucial exotic pet care concepts.

Exotic pet environmental needs

Your exotic pet’s housing is more than a place of confinement—it’s their habitat and ecosystem—and must be carefully designed and maintained to ensure the right conditions for them to thrive. Key features include:

  • Security — Exotic pets, such as rodents, small birds, and reptiles, can be prey for curious dogs and cats, or may escape unsecure enclosures.
  • Space — Some reptiles and parrot species grow to astounding sizes, so knowing your pet’s requirements and being able to adjust their enclosure as they grow, to ensure they have adequate space, is vital. 
  • Lighting — Natural and artificial light are necessary for appropriate circadian rhythms. Reptiles and amphibians need broad spectrum ultraviolet light for vitamin absorption and metabolism.
  • Temperature and humidity — Exotic pets need a specific temperature and humidity range for optimum health. 
  • Substrate — Many commercially available pet bedding materials, such as cedar shavings, corn cobs, and walnut shells, are harmful if consumed, while dusty or moldy substrates can cause respiratory and eye problems.  
  • Structures and enrichment — Boredom and inactivity can lead to health-damaging stress. Ensure your exotic pet has appropriate opportunities to exercise their natural behaviors, such as climbing, stalking, sunbathing, swimming, or soaking. 
  • Resource access — Your pet’s food and water should be fresh and easily accessible and their bowls and water bottles cleaned frequently to reduce illness risk.

Establish a daily care routine to ensure your pet’s habitat is consistent and healthy by observing your pet’s behavior, noting the climate (i.e., temperature, humidity), providing food and water, and cleaning thoroughly. 

Exotic pet nutrition

Your pet’s diet should be species-appropriate and balanced to avoid macronutrient, vitamin, or mineral deficiencies. Unfortunately, mimicking an exotic pet’s natural diet can be challenging. Pelleted diets are convenient and safe for many species, but should be supplemented with additional vegetation and protein based on your pet’s specific needs. Ask your veterinarian for help in formulating a healthy diet specific to your exotic pet.

Omnivores and herbivores should have daily access to plant materials such as grass hay and leafy greens for optimal digestion and hydration. However, many fruits and vegetables contain harmful sugars or oxalates and must be fed in moderation. 

Omnivorous and carnivorous pets generally need supplemental protein sources that may include crickets, mealworms, earthworms, mice, or rats.

Like dogs and cats, exotic pets should also receive precise portions based on their weight, body condition, and life stage. Under- and over-feeding can lead to serious health issues.

Exotic pet handling

Inappropriate exotic pet handling techniques can cause life-ending injuries or stress, and pets who struggle or are poorly restrained may escape from their owner’s hold, or bite and scratch and cause physical harm. Pets who are challenging to handle are less likely to receive appropriate husbandry or veterinary care, so exotic pet owners should learn how to safely and humanely catch, hold, lift, and transport their pet. You can learn proper techniques from your exotic pet veterinarian,  local breeders, fanciers, clubs, and online tutorials.

Knowing these basic skills will help you feel more at ease while handling your exotic pet, which will in turn reduce their stress. Build trust by taking time each day to interact with and handle your pet. 

Exotic pet wellness care

Like cats and dogs, exotic pets should receive annual wellness veterinary care, including a wellness examination, parasite screenings, and any necessary blood work. Although your pet may appear healthy, veterinarians who specialize in exotic pets can identify subtle illnesses such as overgrown teeth, abnormal shedding patterns, overgrooming, parasites, respiratory issues, or stool or urine changes that you may not recognize.

Remember, exotic pets often do not look visibly sick or painful until their illness is in the final stages. Routine veterinary visits give your pet the benefit of early diagnosis and disease prevention, and establish a health baseline that can help guide your pet’s care in the future.

Exotic pet illness signs

Exotic pet owners must vigilantly monitor their pet’s daily habits and behavior, and note any abnormality or change. Fortunately, these captivating creatures make this task a pleasure rather than a chore.

Illness signs can vary by species and individual, so always contact your veterinarian about any unusual behavior changes. Commonly reported signs include:

  • Inappetence
  • Decreased thirst
  • Changes in urine or stool (e.g., color, consistency, frequency)
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Altered grooming habits (i.e., over- or under-grooming)
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Abnormal development
  • Inactivity
  • Lameness
  • Tumors
  • Swelling in the body or limbs
  • Skin lesions
  • Bloated appearance

Exotic pets make excellent companions for pet lovers who appreciate their unique needs and challenges, and are willing to put in the necessary time and effort. Their reward is an extraordinary pet ownership experience like no other.

If your exotic pet needs after hours care or is experiencing an emergency, Urgent Pet Care Omaha is ready to help. Contact the location near you for timely, knowledgeable, and compassionate veterinary care.