Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Wallabies as Pets
Wallabies are medium-sized macropods that are closely related to kangaroos, wallaroos, pademelons, quokkas, and less closely related to marsupials like bettongs, rat-kangaroos, and potoroos.
They are found on the Australian continent (Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea) of which they are indigenous. Wallabies are charismatic animals that most people can identify with, being so similar to their larger cousins that have come to symbolize Australia.
There are several types of wallaby found in the pet trade, including:
- Bennet’s wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus)
- Tammar or Dama Wallaby (Macropus eugenii)
- Agile Wallaby (Macropus agilis)
The species most commonly kept in captivity is the Bennet’s wallaby. Wallabies are relatively common for exotic mammals and there is even an albino color variant that is caused by a recessive gene. Although they are somewhat rare, they are becoming more common in the United States.
Do Wallabies Make Good Pets?
Wallabies breed easily in captivity and may be the most commonly-exhibited marsupial in zoos. Relative to other uncommon exotic pets and based on the criteria of the typical pet keeper, wallabies can make good pets when kept as mostly outdoor animals.
Like most exotics, the wallabies that make the best pets are those which are hand-raised and human-socialized. This process is essential for the wallabies to adapt to captivity and persistent human handling.
One study assessing the traits of several exotic mammals concluded that wallabies (agile and tammar), along with Asian palm civets and sika deer, make the best pets based on their experimental framework. Of course, there are several factors to consider that will affect the pet quality of wallabies and most other exotic pets, such as reproductive status (are they neutered or spayed?), degree of socialization, and sex of the animal. Unlike kangaroos, wallabies are too small to cause severe injury, although some males can be quite larger than females.
Still, wallabies have a powerful kick that should not be underestimated. While they are relatively easier to care for, inadequate husbandry can make them prone to infection.
Essentials for Raising Joeys
Most new wallaby owners will start with acquiring a young, furred joey which will be approximately 6-8 months old. They will wean at 13-15 months depending on the species.
Baby wallabies should be maintained in specially made suspended, thick pouches that have an inner lining made out of wool, cotton, or another insulation material. This pouch should be regularly cleaned.
The temperature should be maintained at approximately 32-36 degrees C (89-96 F), which should be higher for joeys without fur and lower when they become furred (28-30 C or 82-86F). It is better to keep fully furred joeys insulated rather than heated artificially, although supplementary heating may be used at night depending on the temperature.
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At a younger age, joeys will spend most of their time in this pouch, however, the caretaker can gradually allow them out after feeding time, offering a variety of forage. Joeys in the pouch should be mentally stimulated and exercised by being carried, groomed, and exposed to a variety of solid food. There are many other important aspects of care, such as:
- Young joeys may need to be given an artificial teat to suck on which is important to them psychologically.
- Keep the joey's pouch well insulated using blankets or liners instead of artificial heat and feel the baby with your lips to ensure they feel warm. Joeys are overheated if their head is thickly furred and their body fur becomes fine in texture.
- Newly-furred joeys must be fed every four hours, 6-7 times per day. Each feeding should take approximately 5-8 minutes and be followed by defecation.
- Even more so than adults, young wallabies are prone to infection, so keep their environment free of feces, urine, and spilled milk.
- Joey milk should be heated with hot water to achieve a tepid temperature. Avoid overheating which may change the chemical composition of the milk.
- In conjunction with bottle feeding, furred joeys can be offered water from a bowl to lap up, which will take them some getting used to.
- Joeys are ready to be weaned when their stool changes from light and soft to dark brown and firm, which indicates they have developed gut flora for digestion of solid food.
Legality of Pet Wallabies
Unfortunately, like most uncommon exotic pets, wallabies are not legal in all states in the United States. They tend to be legal in more states than primates, exotic felines and canines, venomous reptiles, bears, and other commonly prohibited species. In general, states that ban these marsupials have laws that restrict most non-traditional pets based on that factor alone.
Some states, like Colorado, specifically exempt wallabies from exotic animal possession bans. Legislation for exotic animals is constantly changing and is sometimes not even known by the officials who are supposed to enforce them, so it is the responsibility of a potential wallaby owner (and other uncommon exotic pet owners) to ensure their pet is legal by calling the authorities and to preferably get it in writing.
How Much Do They Cost?
Exotic mammals can be relatively costly. Depending on the species, color, and age of the wallaby, their pricing tends to start around $1000, with $2000 being the norm for captive-bred babies, but they can also cost up to $4000.
The cost of the animal is only the beginning, however, as the construction of a proper pen, sleeping quarters, and interior elements, as well as veterinary care, will also drive up the price.
Housing a Pet Wallaby
While babies can live indoors temporarily, adult wallabies should be housed (at least partially) outdoors in a large pen that has the space for their high activity level.
Different wallaby species may sometimes be successfully housed together, however, be aware that different species may try to interbreed.
Being especially prone to stress, their enclosure should offer security as well psychological stimulation. Stressors can include (among groups) insufficient resting sites, feeding stations (sometimes more dominant male wallabies will gain priority with feeding), and cover.
Size of the Enclosure
Opinions differ on how large a wallaby's pen should be. Regardless of the dimensions chosen, there should be enough room for the animal to forage, travel to different enrichment sites, and have hopping room without being inhibited by barriers.
The height of the barriers is also extremely important to prevent escape. Underground fencing should prevent animals from digging to escape (or digging predators from entering). A good size to reference is two meters (six feet) high with 0.5 meters (around two feet) below ground. The size of the spacing between the fencing should also be the proper size to prevent the animals from getting their heads caught between the grid.
Other considerations involve the location of the enclosure and storms that may down trees and destroy fencing, which can result in escapes.
The proper substrate should be non-abrasive and have ‘give’ to it which is important for the health of the wallaby’s feet. Such substrate can include grass, sand, dirt, or some mulches. It should also have a depth that allows the wallaby to make a space in it to rest comfortably. A grassy yard is a good choice and mediums such as concrete are inappropriate for permanent housing. However, if this will be used, substrate like straw should be added to prevent pressure foot sores. Hard surfaces should also be cleaned frequently.
Vegetation can be strategically arranged in the enclosure to provide enrichment, enclose barriers that a spooked animal could potentially run into, provide shade, and be a barrier during inclement weather. An additional visible screen in front of the main fence approximately three feet high will also help prevent traumatic injury and stress-related illness.
Within the wallaby’s enclosure should be a shelter for the animal to escape the elements and the stressors of everyday life. This nest box can be filled with material such as straw for the wallaby’s comfort.
To prevent infection and contamination from rodents and other pests, droppings and food scraps should be removed routinely. This can be accomplished with the use of a daily rake. Food should be offered most often in a suspended feeding trough, rack, or hopper to prevent infection.
Replace dirtied straw, spot clean soiled areas around the enclosure, and check the perimeter for weeds, sharp branches, and areas along the fence that may need repair. Hose down water troughs and any sections with hard flooring and occasionally scrub with an animal-friendly disinfectant.
Food and Feeding for the Captive Wallaby
Wallabies are macropods and have differences from other herbivorous foregut fermenters, so initially, their diets should be formulated with their species' wild diets as a model.
Agile wallabies in the wild spend most of their time grazing when this resource is available, which is mostly in the autumn and winter seasons. Bennet's wallabies may spend up to 15 hours per day browsing. Macropods tend to prefer plant species high in nitrogen. The preference of the yellow-footed rock wallaby is forbs and grasses, which comprise the majority of its diet when available.
The base diet for wallabies should be composed of grasses when available and a commercial kangaroo pellet or cube. Some owners may also feed cracked corn or wheat and alfalfa.
It is important to avoid foods that have sharp pieces because this can result in a condition called “lumpy jaw”, which is common in captive macropods. This applies to whole grain crops and some abrasive pieces of alfalfa that can cause trauma inside the cheeks. Soft, supplementary foods fed in excess may cause the wallaby to chew vertically instead of horizontally which may also result in lumpy jaw.
To supplement the diet, root vegetables such as sweet potato, carrots, and produce like apples can be offered occasionally as hard vegetables help clean the gums and teeth of grass pellet remnants and also provide vitamin A. Softer fruits like banana and pear may get caught in the teeth and cause infection.
Supplementary salt licks containing vitamin E may provide essential minerals that replace what the wallaby would receive from dirt in the wild.
Parsley and spinach can also be offered sparingly.
Changing the food frequently helps to provide enrichment.
Alfalfa (lucerne chaff)
Bamboo (Miscanthus giganteus)
Vitamin E supplement
It is extremely important to keep all captive animals mentally stimulated through enclosure design, interactive objects, scents, and more. Of course, outdoor access and natural browsing opportunities provide significant psychological benefits, but animals should also be provided with an interesting environment to live in.
Having more than one wallaby can be enriching, but field and captive studies have noted that Bennet's wallabies tend to disperse in large spaces instead of forming social groups, with interaction between males during breeding season being antagonistic.
Wallaby enclosures can be outfitted with furnishings that encourage foraging behavior such as logs and leafy branches, available browse extra trees to provide cover, ledges to jump on, deep substrate for digging, and fallen leaves, which some wallabies enjoy digging through.
Scatter-feeding other foods allows for extra foraging opportunities, but contamination with fecal matter needs to be taken into consideration. Wallabies may also enjoy playing with balls, stuffed animals, filled burlap sacks, and other objects.
Health Problems in Pet Wallabies
These are just some of the potential health issues wallabies can contract in captivity, which is why consistent and proper husbandry, including maintaining cleanliness, is essential.
- Candidiasis: Also known as thrush, this is an infection by naturally-occurring and opportunistic Candid species that manifest when the animal is stressed from various factors (antibiotic use, sudden change in diet, poor hygiene).
- Coccidiosis: Poor hygienic practices can lead to infection from this parasite when oocysts are ingested from infected animals. This is a serious disease that can result in sudden death. Prevention involves good practices such as daily cleaning and keeping food off the ground outdoors.
- Pneumonia: Stress, food aspiration, and improper temperature can lead to a bacterial infection which causes this disease that can be fatal in severe cases. Lethargy, loud breathing, and depression are common symptoms. Concurrent conditions may include diarrhea and septicemia.
- Other infections: Symptoms such as diarrhea can be a result of an overgrowth of the following common pathogens: E. coli, Salmonella, bacterial overgrowth from the gut flora, toxoplasmosis, and Cryptosporidium.
- Lumpy Jaw: This causes necrosis of the jaw tissue and some parts of the head and it is a result of infection by the bacterium Fusobacterium necrophorum, which is possibly associated with the consumption of soft foods.
Where Can You Buy a Wallaby?
Wallabies are relatively common for exotic pets and are absolutely never taken from the wild to become pets in North America. While you are unlikely to come across wallabies in a pet store, locating breeders online is not difficult; although babies typically won't be immediately available and you may be placed on a waiting list.
- Chapman, Michelle Elizabeth. The social behaviour and captive management of Bennett's wallabies, Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus. Diss. University of Tasmania, 2003.
- Fall City Wallaby Ranch. "Caring For A Wallaby".
- Koene, Paul, Rudi M. de Mol, and Bert Ipema. "Behavioral ecology of captive species: Using bibliographic information to assess pet suitability of mammal species." Frontiers in veterinary science 3 (2016): 35.
- Miller, Adrienne. "Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby Husbandry Manual". Roger Williams Park Zoo.
- Miller, Margaret A., et al. "Outbreak of toxoplasmosis in wallabies on an exotic animal farm." Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation 4.4 (1992): 480-483.
- Phillips, Rhian. "Husbandry Manual For Bridled Nail-tail Wallaby". Western Sydney Institute of TAFE, Richmond..
- Sadler, Shayne. "Husbandry Guidelines for Agile Wallaby Macropus agilis Mammalia: (Macropodidae)." Western Sydney Institute of TAFE, Richmond.
- Smith, Joseph A. "Macropod nutrition." Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice 12.2 (2009): 197-208.
- Staker, Lynda. The complete guide to the care of Macropods. Lynda Staker, 2006.
- Valley Stables and Exotics. "Bennet's Wallabies".
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.
© 2020 Melissa A Smith