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3 of the Best Small Exotic Pets to Own

Donna has been an online multi-topic writer for over eight years.

Baby sugar gliders are one of the best exotic pets to own.

Baby sugar gliders are one of the best exotic pets to own.

What Is the Best Exotic Pet to Own?

Are you interested in small exotic pets? Before you jump into ownership, there are some things you should consider. However, if you have done your due diligence and you are ready for the task, here are some fascinating facts about three of the very best small pets to own:

  1. Sugar Gliders
  2. Ferrets
  3. Fennec Foxes

Let’s discuss which animals make the best exotic pets in terms of safety, happiness in captivity, and environmental responsibility.

What Is an Exotic Animal?

According to the local government in Mendocino County, California, “an exotic animal means any wild animal not customarily confined or cultivated by humans for domestic or commercial purposes.”

Small Exotic Pets Dos and Don’ts

Before you decide to get an exotic pet, consider these questions: Are there legal, health, safety, or ethical issues involved? What will you do with the animal if you cannot keep it? Let's explore some dos and don'ts of owning an exotic animal.

  • Do consider potential health issues like an animal-transmitted disease. The technical term is a zoonosis.
  • Do check for local, state, or federal laws or guidelines for ownership. Laws vary widely from state to state and may even conflict with federal or other guidelines. Protect yourself by doing your research.
  • Do consider where the animal will be housed, how you will provide daily food and other care, and what you will do with the animal in case of a natural disaster, like fire, flood, or tropical storms.
  • Do ponder the ethics: Is it humane for the animal? Could others be harmed by your ownership of an exotic pet? Are there potential long-term environmental effects? For example, will a species be perpetuated or diminished?
  • Don't choose dangerous exotic pets that have the potential to transmit salmonella or venomous or constricting snakes, wild cats, or monkeys.
  • Don't purchase animals from unreliable sources.
  • Don't abandon or release animals; get them to a safe place like a rescue shelter or zoo.
  • Don’t introduce exotic pets into homes where there are children under five because of the health risks of zoonosis or other injuries.
I'm the perfect pet.

I'm the perfect pet.

1. Sugar Gliders as Pets

Sugar gliders have a long history (approximately 14 years) of being safe and enjoyable exotic pets. They are marsupials from the same family as koala bears (check out the facial resemblance) and originated in the rainforests of Australia and Indonesia.

They are long-lived (about 14 years) and tiny (about six inches). Their nickname is "pocket pets," which tells you they will give you years of companionship without requiring much time or space.

Pros and Cons of Keeping Sugar Gliders

What makes these cuddly little critters such awesome pets to own? They’re low-maintenance pets for grooming, feeding, housing, health care, and sanitation. Incredibly loyal, they follow their owners from room to room like a dog, and can be trained to do many tricks.

One downside is the fact that they cannot be housebroken, but on the plus side, a six-ounce pet can only make so big a mess.

Who Should Own a Sugar Glider?

These are good pets for seniors, singles, and families with older children or other pets.

2. Ferrets as Pets

Unlike sugar gliders, ferrets are familiar pets, and many would not consider them to be exotic small pets. Although they are domesticated, they are related to skunks and trace their origins back to the European polecat. Neither dog nor cat, but something in between, they qualify as one of the best exotic pets to own.

Pros and Cons of Keeping Ferrets

These playful little pets chew, scratch, dig, smell and steal, but in spite of these minor idiosyncrasies, their intelligence and personalities make them highly popular.

The advantages of owning ferrets are they are easy to litter train and can be taught tricks, while the disadvantage is their rather short life spans—about eight years—and their odor.

Who Should Own a Ferret?

These are good pets for families with no other pets, singles, or families with older children. Because of their high energy levels, they may be too high maintenance for seniors.

3. Fennec Foxes as Pets

If you’re looking for an exotic-looking exotic pet, the fennec fox fits the bill. They are diminutive in size—about two or three pounds—with gigantic ears that make them look like Yoda.

Pros and Cons of Keeping Fennec Foxes

Be aware that these little bundles of energy keep you on your toes! Daily exercise is a must; however, they are easily trained to both litter box and leash.

These small, unusual pets are a fairly long-lived species and may survive about 10 years in captivity. The disadvantages of ownership are:

  • They may damage property as they are voracious diggers.
  • They sometimes eat their litter.
  • They will bolt away from you outdoors if not kept on a leash.

Who Should Own a Fennec Fox?

The best families for fennec foxes are those without other pets or small children.

Endangered Species and Exotic Pets

There are just three of the many small exotic pets that individuals enjoy owning. Before choosing any exotic pet, check its status on endangered species lists as many popular pets, such as some types of chinchillas or hyacinth macaws, are currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Do Your Research

After you have done that, research all the legalities involved with owning small, unusual pets. When you've done all your homework, you are ready to choose the small exotic pet that will be the perfect fit for your family and lifestyle. With love, care, and commonsense ownership practices, any of these three exotic animals should provide a lifetime of joy and companionship.

However, if none of these quite fits the bill, you may want to consider an extremely exotic pet such as a Savannah monitor lizard. While they are not the most cuddly of pets, they can give lots of companionship and satisfaction.

Macaws make magnificent pets!

Macaws make magnificent pets!

Most & Least Cuddly Exotic Pets

CuddlyNot So Cuddly

Bengal Cat


Bush Baby

Bearded Dragon Lizard

Patagonian Cavy


Slow Loris


Spotted Genet

Hermit Crab

Squirrel Monkey

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach


Mexican Red Leg Tarantula




  • County of Mendocino, California, “Title 10 Animal Care and Control"
  • Los Angeles Times, “Young Children and Exotic Pets are not a Good Match"
  • Sugar Glider Information, “Thinking About Getting a Sugar Glider?”
  • Ferret Central, “Ferret FAQ
  • Fennec Foxes, “The Fennec Fox,” accessed 07/15/2010

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Donna Cosmato

What Type of Small Exotic Pet Would You Choose?

Madelyn on February 04, 2020:

I have a question, are all of these pets legal in Tennessee?

Dané on October 21, 2019:

Hi hou much aer thay???

Sally Smith1 on February 27, 2016:

I own sugar gliders. They glide on everything, they are cute and adorable.

AP on May 19, 2015:

One (admittedly picky) point of clarification:

Sugar gliders and koalas are in the same marsupial order as koalas (Diprodontia) but not in the same family. Koalas are members of the family Phascolarctidae, while sugar gliders are members of the family Petauridae. They're also in different suborders. They're about as closely related as cats and dogs, which are in different suborders of the order Carnivora.

Maximum A on October 16, 2014:

Oh, wow -just wow! I never knew sugar gliders existed. Now, I totally want one but I'm sure there are none of those in my country.

Keneisha from South Florida on September 24, 2014:

Aww I have never even heard of a sugar glider. Its the cute little angel ever. Come to me little sugar glider. I love it.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on July 20, 2014:

Thank you so much, swilliams, for the vote of confidence and for sharing this hub with your Twitterverse. I'm glad you liked it.

swilliams on July 19, 2014:

The little sugar glider is so cute! What an interesting array of animals! Thanks for sharing! Voted up! And Tweeted Out!

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on July 09, 2014:

Hi Mary, thanks for sharing with us about your sugar gliders! So glad to hear that they are loving companions.

Mary on July 07, 2014:

I have 2 sugar gliders and they are THE SWEETEST THINGS EVER! I WUV THEM! :D

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on June 17, 2014:

Thank you for reading and commenting on this hub, lotz123. Unfortunately, I'm unaware of any sources for sugar gliders in the UK.

lolz123 on June 12, 2014:

Love the sugar gliders but can't find any breeders in oxfordshire,do u know of any ????

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on April 23, 2014:

Very interesting hub, I think they all look cute. Although personally I will stick to my very special and best mate my Blue Heeler. He does so many jobs for us, entertains us, and often has us in fits of laughing with his antics to get our attention. I will miss him when his time comes to leave us very much.

shahkar-khan on November 02, 2013:

i had never heard of sugar gliders before. they are cute.

JinxValentine on October 09, 2013:

Sugar gliders are great to have. I have my own! My best friend go him for me when I graduated from college, and let me tell you, those things are adorable! He follows me every where I go, even when I go to take a bath! I have to leave the door open so he can come in, or he'll start to cry and whine. He tries so many times to climb on the side of the tub, so I have to pick him up. But other than them needing so much love, I'd have to say that they're much better than dogs or cats (money-wise). t

Friendlyanon on June 09, 2013:

Most sugar gliders aren't very nice. I would suggest a ball python, african land snail or even an axolotl for a nice, quiet and easy to care for small pet.

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on August 06, 2012:

Liked your article. Those sugar gliders look so cute!!!! My husband and I had a ferret for almost five years. He was so wonderful!!! However a negative thing about ferrets that was left out is the very high cost of vet bills asssociated with these animals. In male ferrets that are fixed, they will evidently develop adrenal disease. This can cost major buck a rues. I would strongly suggest pet insurance. Thank you again for such a wonderful article the fox is a cool idea too.

Andrew on July 26, 2012:

Thousands of Australian animals die every year while being smuggled to other countries, they are protected animals, people are not allowed to keep them as pets and there is no such thing as a legally exporting them for the American or other pet markets. Sorry, but perhaps people should be aware.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on July 26, 2012:

Hi H, Thanks for sharing your point of view about these pets.

H on July 24, 2012:

The vet in the video and the "ASGV" are associated with a large sugar glider mill broker that is well known in the sugar glider community for false information and selling animals to impulse buyers in shopping malls and the like with inappropriate setups and bad info.

Try Glider Central for better information. Sugar gliders are high maitinence pets, they are in fact very messy and their feeding requirements require fresh food every night that you make at home.

Also, I have done a ton of research on fennec foxes, and it should be noted that they scream very loudly when excited/happy (like when they see you on the morning), only sometimes can be litter trained, they steal shiney things like keys, and bite when frightened. They need a sandbox to dig in. If you do not spend hours and hours with them they will not be tame. They are certianly not easy or for everyone.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on July 01, 2012:

Hi Jennzie: I'm glad you liked this, it was fun to write. Aren't those fennec foxes the cutest things?

Jenn from Pennsylvania on June 30, 2012:

I was aware of sugar gliders but not of fennec foxes- they're so cute! I also wasn't aware that ferrets were considered exotic.

That's great that you listed all the things to think about before getting one of these pets, though. Too many times people buy these animals because they think they're cute or cool and don't really do any research before getting them.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on May 02, 2012:

Thanks for sharing your sugar glider experiences, kjrzeek1 L. I've never had one, but they look like loving pets. Thanks for the feedback.

kjrzeek1 from New Jersey, USA on April 30, 2012:

We owned a sugar glider for a short period of time but had to give it away to a good home because we did not have the time to spend with him to bond. We just had a baby and had 3 dogs at the time. My wife couldn't resist and brought the little guy home. We may try again when the kids are grown.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on April 28, 2012:

I'm glad you learned some new facts by reading this hub, aviannovice. I'm a teacher at heart! Thank you for the nice comments on my exotic pets article.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 27, 2012:

Voted interesting. I didn't know about the fennecfoxes or the sugar gliders. Thanks for the great info!

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 25, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting on this exotic pets article, Doodle Coodles!

Doodle Coodles on February 24, 2012:

i like hamsters. i also love cats i ust want to hug them sorry i have to end this comment because i am getting emotional!!

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 15, 2012:

Thanks for sharing your input on this hub, Express10. I believe you are right in that the habits of the Fennec foxes does seem similar to that of rabbits. I just think their little faces are adorable:)

H C Palting from East Coast on February 15, 2012:

This is a very interesting and informative hub. I am familiar with the ever-cute sugar gliders and ferrets but had never heard about Fennec Foxes. I found learning more about them the most interesting. In their digging and tendency to run I would say they have a couple of things in common with rabbits. I enjoyed this hub. Thanks.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 11, 2012:

Hi loriwindspirit, sounds like you have found the perfect exotic pet! Thanks for the tip on chincillas; I really didn't know all that fascinating information about them. Maybe you can work out a joint custody agreement to share Ted....?

loriwindspirit on February 11, 2012:

I hope sometime you'll write about chinchilla friends! I'd never seen one until my son and his girlfriend brought one home and now that they are thinking of moving out, I'm trying to figure out how to keep Ted for MYSELF. I am just crazy about him. They are amazing animals ( chinchillas, not the kids) and I can't believe how adorable, sweet, and SMART they are! They are also so crazy and energetic, and are odor free! If you're thinking of a rodent pet, they will be wonderful choice! Did I mention that I just LOVE Ted? :0)

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 13, 2012:

I'm glad you took time to share your thoughts on this hub, Life Style Pets! I hope this helps you make your final decision about whether an exotic pet is the right choice for you.

LifeStylePets from Florida on January 13, 2012:

Great Tips. I especially like the list of disadvantages. Helps you contemplate if the responsibility vs. companionship will weigh out for an individual. Thanks!

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 31, 2011:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on sugar gliders as exotic pets, akeezer! I hope you are able to have one as a pet one day:)

akeezer from Pallet Town on December 30, 2011:

Sugar gliders are attention loving, cute, inexpensive, and get depressed when left alone for a few days :D sounds like meeee! And now I want one even more, I wish I could get one...

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 16, 2011:

Thanks for leaving your thoughts about these exotic pets, Shaddie:) It's always nice to get feedback on hub and I appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment.

Shaddie from Washington state on December 15, 2011:

These are all interesting pets, but I would be hesitant to say they are the "best." I have known people who have kept all three mentioned on this list, however, and they are all tons of fun as long as you know what you're getting yourself into.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 10, 2011:

Hi DIY Backlinks! Thanks for sharing that tidbit about be honest, I have no personal experience with them, so that is really interesting. Love birds sound like wonderful they talk, by any chance?

I appreciate your reading and commenting my small exotic pets article:)

DIY Backlinks on December 10, 2011:

Ferrets are just down right mean or at least everyone I have encounters has been. These are all cute pets but I will stick to my dogs and love birds :)

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 09, 2011:

Hi Sembj - thank you for taking time to leave a comment about this hub on small exotic pets! I'm glad you liked the article, but I'm happier that you cared enough to let me know:)

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 09, 2011:

Thank you, Valerie, for sharing your thoughts on which small exotic pet would be the best! However, hedgehogs sound like some pretty awesome and unusual pets in their own right, and being a breeder must be really, really interesting.

Valerie on December 09, 2011:

Ive also loved to own a sugar glider.. they are sooo adorable. I can't find a breeder in Toronto though. Im a hedgehog breeder and they are so similar being nocturnal and all.. love your article! very interesting! Vote up! :)

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 09, 2011:

Hi Annette, I'm really glad you liked this hub. While I can't own all the pets I'd like to have, it is so much fun to write about the ones I would love to own! Thank you for voting this up as your support is so appreciated.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 09, 2011:

Hi homepetz...those are good points! Thanks for pointing them out as it could give individuals reasons to second-guess a decision to get a sugar glider as their small exotic pet.

Annette R. Smith from Ocala, Florida on December 09, 2011:

What an enjoyable read for pet lovers, Donna. And those sugar gliders ARE adorable. Thank you for putting together such an interesting hub. Voted up!

homepetz on December 09, 2011:

Sugar gliders are very cute, but I've read so many stories of where people have not feed them an appropriate diet and they've suffered broken bones etc. Also, they are nocturnal, which might be tricky for some owners.

Sembj on December 08, 2011:

I found the article informative and entertaining. Great job.

LyttleTwoTwo from Canada on December 08, 2011:

Anytime, I enjoy your hubs ... and you inspired me for an article.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 08, 2011:

Hi Cindy! I've wanted one of these sugar gliders for the longest time (about 20 years now!) but my hubby (like yours) thinks we have enough pets...and he is right:) I'm glad you enjoyed reading about these small exotic pets because I enjoyed writing it. I figure if I can't own one, I can at least writing about how much fun it would be to have one. Thanks for checking in and sharing your thoughts...I always look forward to hearing from you.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 08, 2011:

Thanks for reading and commenting on this small exotic pets hub, Donna! The sugar gliders are just too adorable, but there are some definite downsides that folks should weigh before getting one. I'm glad you enjoyed this one:)

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 08, 2011:

Hi little two two...nice to hear from you again! Thank you for sharing your thoughts about small exotic pets, and thank you for also clarifying that point about turtles. I totally agree with you that turtles can be excellent pets if proper hygiene practices are followed. I appreciate you pointing that out for our readers:)

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 08, 2011:

I have wanted a sugar glider for quite some time now, but my husband is against it, and it just isn't worth arguing about. After all, I have 3 cats and 2 dogs, and all but one claim me as their owner.

But they are so cute and I think I would enjoy their clinginess.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 08, 2011:

Thanks Jackie Lynnley: of all these small exotic pets,the sugar gliders are my favorites! I've been fascinated with them ever since I saw one while I was out and about. I'm glad you liked this hub, and thank you for voting it up.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on December 08, 2011:

Oh those sugar gliders... so precious! I would be afraid I'd lay on it or step on it. I had a ferret sneaking in my house killing my hamsters so they are on my ----list, lol and a fox would be OK but a cute dog would do as well. Guess I just have to check out the sugar gliders. Thank you for showing them off! Great hub, voted up!

LyttleTwoTwo from Canada on December 08, 2011:

Nice article on exotics, tonnes of useful information ... only thing I will point out .. is your comment on turtles. Like any pet or animal (AKA the ferocious rottie) they come with risks ... risks can be minimized. I have 2 turtles right now, and have had one since I was 8years old. A fair amount of information on turtles is based on the early 70's and 80's era of misinformation. If a child gets salmonella from a pet turtle, the parent or the pet owner were not properly watching the children or they failed in the hygiene department, period.

""All reptiles can be carriers of Salmonella," says Dr. Mark Mitchell, an associate professor in the exotics and zoological medicine service at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. While there are some species of bacteria that are not likely to cause disease, all Salmonella is considered pathogenic in humans.

While health officials have branded turtles as transmitters of Salmonella, it doesn't mean turtle owners across the country need to give up their beloved slow-moving, shell-covered friend. Dr. Mitchell says, "like any infectious disease, if you follow standard hygiene practices there shouldn't be a problem."" from the website

Donna Sundblad from Georgia on December 08, 2011:

Those sugar gliders are adorable. I can see why people would want to keep them as pets, but you make good points to take into consideration. Very informative and useful!

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