ROUTLEY: Careful consideration needed for exotic pets

North Peace Creature Feature

docExotic pets can make very interesting companions. Some can fly, others slither, and some can even walk on walls. Exotic pets can include birds, snakes, lizards, small mammals (like hamsters and guinea pigs), and they are usually non-domesticated species that have come from a far-off land.

To own an exotic animal is a big undertaking. Each one has specific requirements that need to be met in order to survive and thrive. Imagine a bearded dragon originally from Australia, where the average yearly temperature is above 20 C, trying to survive in chilly Fort St. John. These animals are originally adapted to live in climates a lot hotter and likely more humid than here, and that’s why their enclosure should try to mimic the natural environment as closely as possible. Even trying to replicate the natural diet of exotics can be a challenge. While exotics can make very personable and cool pets, they need a lot of investment to make their environment similar to what it would be in the wild.

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Something often overlooked is the mental health of exotic animals. Every species has different requirements for what is needed to make them happy. For example, though reptiles are generally considered less intelligent than birds, they can still be trained to perform a variety of tasks such as target training with a clicker. Don’t underestimate the needs of the species. Most species of birds come from large flocks with intricate group dynamics or may have a mate they bond with for life. These natural inclinations can make it difficult to provide appropriate group dynamics in captivity, and many birds have a very long life span. Making an informed decision before taking on a pet is very important.

The majority of illnesses seen in exotic pets are due to improper husbandry, meaning that they are not being kept in an ideal environment meant to match their needs. This also means that the majority of illnesses are preventable. Doing research before purchasing one of these animals is paramount and can mean the difference between life and death for them. Every species has a very specific set of requirements that need to be met. Important things to consider are: temperature, humidity, size of enclosure (how big will they get?), UV lighting, type of food and ability to provide the appropriate variety of foods, and whether they can be kept with companions or if they are most happy alone.

These animals can be lots of fun and make very interesting pets, but they do need proper care. Doing your research before picking them up will make ownership a lot more rewarding and can ensure a pet companion for as long as possible.


Dr. Sydney Routley is a 2012 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She was raised in Fort St. John and first started working at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic as a student back in 2004. She enjoys mixed animal practice and has a special interest in small animal medicine as well as exotics including pocket pets, birds and reptiles. During veterinary school, Dr. Routley was a member of the WEAMS (Wildlife Exotic Medicine Society). In her spare time, Sydney enjoys traveling, fishing, fossil hunting and gardening.

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