Types of Exotic Pets

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on November 01, 2021
4 min read

Cats and dogs are popular pets, but many people are turning to more exotic species when it’s time to adopt. Since exotic pets generally require more maintenance, it’s important to do your research before adopting.

There is no conclusive definition of an “exotic” pet. Traditionally, the term has been applied to wild animals taken into captivity. However, the definition has expanded to include any non-domesticated animal brought into homes.

Some states have laws that identify certain species as exotic. State and local laws may also disallow owning some or all exotic species as pets. These laws are designed to protect exotic animals since they need specialized care.

There are several categories of exotic pet species:

Amphibians. Most need tanks with both water and “land” for your pet to feel completely fulfilled. They make wonderful pets since they are low maintenance, but should not be held or handled without special gloves since their skin is very thin. Wash youohands afterwards. Plan to feed your amphibian live or pre-killed insects to closely maintain their diet from the wild.

Some exotic amphibians include:

  • African clawed frogs
  • Dwarf clawed frogs
  • Fire-bellied toads
  • Northern leopard frogs

Birds. Birds can be easy to care for but they do thrive with attention. In addition to leafy greens, many other vegetables, some fruit, grains, nuts, pellets and seeds, are typically part of a healthy avian diet. One difficulty of proper exotic bird care is space, as adequate cages can be large. A healthy bird should get time outside its cage each day, but be sure to keep windows and doors closed so that it doesn’t fly away. Birds that have been in captivity for some or all of their lives may not be able to survive outside. Also, understand that many household items can be toxic.

Many birds, like finches and cockatiels, are considered domesticated. Some exotic birds include: 

  • African grey parrots
  • Toucans
  • Canary-winged parakeets (sometimes called bee bees)
  • Cockatoos
  • Lories (sometimes called lorikeets) 

Insects and arachnids. Before adopting an insect or arachnid as a pet, make sure you know if it is venomous or not. Most insects are considered "low maintenance" pets, requiring little care. But some arachnids, like the tarantula, live to be ten years old. Make sure you can commit to care for the lifetime before adopting.

Breeds most frequently adopted as exotic pets include:

  • Madagascar hissing cockroaches
  • Praying mantises
  • Tarantulas
  • Scorpions

Reptiles. While reptiles need less care day-to-day, their needs are more specific, making them more complex to care for than a cat or dog. It's important to remember that reptiles are not meant to be held or cuddled since they can carry diseases that are dangerous for humans. Your pet reptile should always be kept properly caged.

Some reptiles grow to be quite large, so ensure you have enough space to accommodate a large enough cage or tank for your new pet. Additionally, reptiles are cold-blooded, so you may have to invest in a UV light to help regulate body temperature. Snakes are the exception to this rule.

Nutrition needs vary by species. Snakes are carnivores, no matter what the breed. They are primarily fed thawed, pre-killed rodents. Lizards have much more specific needs based on their breed. Some eat insects, while others are herbivores or carnivores and require a broader range of options than snakes. Turtles and tortoises require a variety of fresh vegetation. You may be tempted to just give lettuce, but your pet will not get enough nutrients to thrive without variety.

Some exotic reptiles include:

  • Anoles
  • Bearded dragons
  • Burmese pythons
  • Ornate box turtles
  • Chinese water dragons

Rodents and weasels. Rodents and weasels tend to sleep during the day and be more active at night, so keep this in mind before adopting one. Some pets, like ferrets, are carnivores. Look for specialized kibble for your pet breed, and be sure to invest in vitamins and nutrients that help them thrive.

Some rodents may seem like common pets, but they are still considered exotic:

  • Chinchillas
  • Mice
  • Gerbils
  • Prairie dogs
  • Ferrets
  • Rats

Other exotic pets include:

  • Giant African land snails
  • Hedgehogs
  • Kinkajous
  • Coati
  • Primates
  • Short-tailed opossum
  • Skunks
  • Sugar gliders
  • Wallaroos
  • Genets

Check with local and state laws for any restrictions regarding exotic pet ownership.

Consider housing. Exotic pets need housing that mimics their natural habitat. While some pets, like ferrets, can roam free in your house with supervision, others cannot. Think about how large your pet will grow and invest in a cage or tank that meets his needs. If you adopt more than one of the same animal, they may need a larger home to share or separate homes depending on the species.

Veterinary costs. Do your research and find a veterinarian who specializes in the care of your pet’s species. You may want to enlist the help of a veterinarian before adopting. They can help you navigate local laws, find a reputable breeder for adoption, and ensure your habitat is appropriate for your new pet.

Nutrition. Each animal has varying needs. This is true even among breeds that are within the same animal family. Exotic pets should not be given human food unless it is cooked meat or fresh fruits and vegetables. Processed foods are highly dangerous to many species. Fresh water is an important requirement no matter what kind of pet you adopt.

Illnesses. Remember that exotic pets have different behaviors than domesticated pets. One of the biggest concerns for exotic pets is their ability to hide pain. This is a natural instinct that helps protect them from predators who seek out weak animals to prey on. Pay attention to your pet’s behavior to ensure you don’t miss any signs of illness. Regular vet visits will help your pet stay in top shape.

If you find yourself unable to care for your pet, don’t release it into the wild. Instead, seek out the help of a wildlife refuge that can take over the care of your pet.