Should I get an Exotic Small Pet?
Author: Christine, of Crittery Exotics
Exotic pets are become more popular, with many considering the exotic rodents and small mammals such as african pygmy dormice, fat-tailed gerbils, jirds, african pygmy hedgehogs, sugar gliders and tenrecs amongst many others. Proper research is essential. The question 'should I get an african pygmy dormouse?' for instance, is always no! African pygmy dormice are colony animals and should never be kept alone.
Are you ready for an Exotic Pet?
- Housing There are many cages and supplies available for small pets being sold that are not suitable for any pet. All rodents need a decent amount of space, with 80 x 50cm of unbroken floorspace being a good guide for a dwarf hamster, or trio of mice, and 100 x 50cm for syrian hamster or more active rodent. Jirds need a 4-foot tank and degu, chinchilla and rats need a much larger free-standing cage over multiple floors. You also need to think of additional costs such as heating and UV lamps. You need to consider bar-spacing, heating, space and the individual requirements for your species. African pygmy dormice need an arboreal setup, as they need the height to climb for example. Jirds need space to burrow and degu and chinchilla's must have a metal cage as they cannot have plastic.
- Cost Initial cost of your animal(s) is higher as are the housing requirements for your large cage, tank or vivarium. Ongoing costs for diet and enrichment will be higher and you must have savings available to allow for Vet fees. Exotic vet prices are much higher and treatment can be more expensive and difficult to manage. Chinchilla's for example, can frequently need regular tooth trims. Don't forget to factor in pet-sitting for your exotics!
- Diet Are you squeamish? because many exotic rodents must have livefood. African pygmy dormice need livefood, a seedmix, fruit and a nectar source. A lazy asian garden dormouse may leave locusts hopping around the enclosure if they aren't hungry enough so you may well get insect escapees. Tenrecs must have livefood in their active months and a calcium supplement dusted on their bugs or added to water. None of these are cheap ongoing costs.
- Handling many exotic rodents and small mammals, such as african pygmy mice, african pygmy dormice, asian garden dormice and zebra mice are not easy to handle. Some are best considered 'watch-only' pets. Fat-tailed gerbils, jirds, african pygmy hedgehogs and tenrecs can all become handleable with regular sessions but this does take more work than a mongolian gerbil or hamster that has been well socialised. African pygmy hedgehogs ball-up, huff, pop and hiss if poorly socialised - you have to put regular patient time into keeping them used to you.
- Mess African pygmy hedgehogs must have a large wheel in their cage, but they will poo on it, and everywhere. Many exotic small pets do not litter-train readily. Due to their diet, African pygmy dormice poo is sticky and will make wood that hasn't been treated very smelly, very quickly. Pets such as jirds and chinchillas may have drier, less smelly, poo but are experts at flinging substrate out their cage and you will need regular sweeping to keep your rooms clean from their activities.
- Bonding and Pairing some exotic small pets must not be kept alone. A sugar glider missing a companion will become quickly depressed and self-mutilate. Pairing up new animals can be difficult, and some animals it can be extremely difficult to find. Are you prepared to drop everything to hunt down an expensive new companion of the right sex and age to bond with your lonely pet? can you afford the variable but always expensive cost? you must!
- Ethics you must make sure that your exotic small pet(s) are sourced from an ethical place. In some countries, wild-caught animals might be available for sale. Breeders with poor ethics also exist across every species, so you must make very sure that your exotic small pet(s) are coming from a reputable place.
- Heartbreak some exotic small pets must have company, and fights can happen between animals - sometimes due to factors within your control such as overcrowding, breeding, or food availability. Sometimes these can happen without warning, and be very brutal. Exotic small pets that have been extensively inbred may have more health issues.
Why Should you get an Exotic Pet?
Exotic small pets often have a longer lifespan with the correct care. They provide a unique learning experience and it is fascinating to watch them, African pygmy dormice are excellent hunters and hearing them sing in the evening is wonderful. A playful african pygmy hedgehog can be great to watch out in a playpen, even if some of them may not like to stay with their human and be more interested in exploring. Sugar gliders have very complicated care needs but can bond well with their owners. There are many reasons, unique to each species, that make keeping them an amazing and interesting experience as long as you can provide for all their needs.
It is best to do your research and concentrate on just one species to begin with. Remember to keep learning, as new information is coming to light all the time! See our Exotic small pet species list to work out what animals you can provide the care needs for.