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The 5 Best Exotic Pets You Can Own

Updated on February 11, 2016
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa is an exotic pet owner, zoo attender, and plant-obsessed person and doesn't think there is anything wrong with that.

You’ve probably heard many seemingly credible organizations state that “exotic pets make bad pets”, repeatedly, until it becomes an unquestioned, always adhered to dogma. What you might not know is that the mentality of ‘good pet bad pet’ is perhaps more of a useless idea in determining what is right for you than the principal of domestication.

Nearly any animal can be considered ‘hard to care for’ or ‘easy’ depending on who you are, what you want, what you have, how you plan to care for it, and what you’re willing to put up with. A “good pet” is a state of mind. THERE ARE NO BAD PETS (with maybe the small exception of animals that fare poorly in captivity). There are only pets.

For instance, an expensive pet is not an issue for a rich person, or one that pools their resources. A destructive pet is not an issue for a person who can provide a large enclosure or special room for their species. What about ‘dangerous’ animals? If the animal, like for instance, a pet tiger is exclusively caged (just like in zoos and animal ‘sanctuaries’) this isn’t a huge problem either.

However, considering that most of the population isn’t really what I would consider ‘pet people’, the term ‘good pet’ can have a real meaning in that context. A true ‘pet person’ contributes much of their time, money, space, and vacation plans around the ownership of their animals. These are the people who suffer most in the face of ridiculous pet bans.

What some might consider a 'bad pet'. A baby serval.
What some might consider a 'bad pet'. A baby serval. | Source

What is a good pet to you?

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Most non-pet people seek pets that are economical for the middle class keeper, are not destructive (if they are house pets), are handleable and interactive, and most people also want a pet that poses little danger to members of the household (ironically, one pet that is extremely low maintenance, tame, not labor intensive and takes up little space is a pet snake, an animal that many people condemn the keeping of).

However, many individual domesticated animals do not measure up to these desired standards, and because of the burning expectation of shining ‘pet quality’ that befalls on the so-called domesticated animals, euthanasia is sometimes carried out. This is the darker truth that advocates of ‘domesticated only’ tend to ignore when decrying the abandonment issues of the exotic pet trade. Why exactly should the two animal ‘groups’ be treated any differently?

My spotted genet would be considered a ‘bad pet’ by most. He hates being held, is highly skittish, energetic, and food aggressive. But for me, he is a better pet than an animal that I consider boring. I actually enjoy the challenge of owning a ‘difficult’ animal. I have my own personal scale for judging my idea of a ‘good pet’, and in describing it I will also share the reason why people would seek out exotic pets in the first place.

Meerkats also make 'bad pets' for the general public. They are rare in private ownership in the United States.
Meerkats also make 'bad pets' for the general public. They are rare in private ownership in the United States. | Source

Exotic animals (or unique, uncommon, whatever the term means to you) are obviously fascinating and unique to own in comparison to traditional pets.

I ‘grade’ pet quality by not just how much maintenance goes into the care of an animal, but what you get back from it (also, lethality is a deal breaker). Hence, my spotted genet’s undesirable attributes are offset by how unique and interesting he is, and in my opinion, a pet that is not interesting, yet requires a lot of work in the form of cleaning such as with various popular small pets—this would be a ‘bad pet’ in my eyes. Overwhelmingly, these are the pets that are enjoyed by the majority of pet keepers.

If you, the reader, are looking for a list of exciting exotic animals that are best suited for your lifestyle and your specific needs, you won’t find it here. A good pet is and always will be an opinion based on what you want from a pet. For me, a pet that is unique is of the utmost importance, but I will list those that are also manageable from a cleaning, interactive, and safety perspective.

  • Note: To make this list more interesting I will only include less popular or more 'exciting' pets, therefore no reptiles or common birds, although many common birds often don’t receive the care they should in captivity, making their pet quality suspect.
  • Second note: Animals may differ in their personalities and behavior! Do not buy any exotic pet without understanding the potential for the undesirable unexpected.
  • Third note: I don’t own all of these animals, and this is not a care sheet. If you want to pursue any pet at all, research their care thoroughly.

Source

1. Wallaby

There are currently two common species of wallaby in the pet trade, the Bennett’s wallaby and the smaller dama wallaby (kangaroos on the other hand are large, and any large animal obviously presents a higher threat of injury).

Both are animals that require outdoor housing, so if you cannot house animals outside (like myself) then this is a ‘bad pet’. Otherwise, if there are not unfair zoning laws where you live and you can provide an enclosure with high fencing, a wallaby is an extremely intriguing, affectionate, and distinctive pet.

For people who like to bond with their pet and don’t find my spotted genet’s anti-social fearfulness to be appealing, wallabies that are reared by humans from an early age are big contrasts. Wallaby owners carry their babies in specially made pouches, just as the mother does, and this bonding process is paramount to their behavior as an adult.

Since many people look to pets as ‘surrogate children’, this requirement of keeping wallabies might be a lure instead of a deterrent.

However, if you are unable to spend a lot of time with the animal due to work and other time constraints, this is a pet to avoid. Another plus to wallabies is their legality. Not being carnivores, they tend to be legal in some states that think they’ve banned ‘exotic pets’, such as New York (you must still check with your city, township, or neighborhood ordinances).

Secure enclosure importance

"Indy", the wallaby featured in the adjacent video, has been missing in New York since spring. The animals are harmless and pose no danger to the public, but the animal is in grave danger with the incoming winter weather. It is extremely important to properly contain animals that don't have a homing instinct.

Pet wallabies

Pet traits
1 (lowest)
2
3
4
5
Interacts with keeper/sociable
 
 
 
 
x
Cleanliness
 
 
 
x
 
Uniqueness/ interesting behavior
 
 
 
 
x
House manners
 
 
x (must have outdoor pen)
 
 
The wallaby scores high in personality, interest value, and relative cleanliness. Some wallabies can partially be house-trained.
Source
Female green aracari
Female green aracari | Source

2. Green Aracari

There are a few aracari species that are kept as pets, such as the collard, curl-crested, and fiery-billed aracari, but greens are said to be the 'easiest' species, suitable for even bird beginners. Aracaris are small toucans (piciformes) with astonishingly large beaks for their size. They are not parrots, but softbills.

This term does not apply to the texture of their beak, but the foods they eat. While the strong hookbills that are more popular in captivity (the ones capable of snapping jewelry) eat foods like seeds (in the wild, but in captivity they should have pellets), toucans eat fruit, and sometimes some animal protein, particularly in the breeding season.

This brings us to our first good pet quality, the aracari's beak is actually hollow inside, and aside from the very tip of the beak, it cannot break the skin. The tip of the beak can pinch hard enough to surprise you (they love to tinker around with everything), but it has yet to cause any skin damage to me yet.

My green aracari as a baby

In comparison to parrots, the green aracari is quiet, mostly 'chattering' as opposed to screaming. However, they send off alarm calls on occasion. Most important, aracaris are very affectionate. Many love to snuggle with their owners and they will try to sleep in your shirt pockets. Their inquisitive nature and affable personality (when they're not scared) can make them a formidable pet that will earn their keep.

However, they are MESSY. Being fruit eaters, they will produce liquidy droppings with a higher frequency. If their cage isn't 90% covered, your walls will be adorned with bits of fruit. Green aracaris will literally take a piece of fruit, carry it to another part of the cage, and shake it off their beak. Sometimes they will even regurgitate it and do this! The compensation? The mess is not smelly. Cover the cage and beware when the bird is around rugs, and despite this offense, the green aracari is a fascinating addition.

Pet green aracaris

Pet traits
1 (lowest)
2
3
4
5
Interacts with keepers/sociable
 
 
 
 
x
Clealiness
x (messy! but most birds are)
 
 
 
 
Uniqueness/Interesting behavior
 
 
 
 
x
House manners
 
x
 
 
 

Bonuses

  • Safe for children, can't bite hard
  • None of the 'feather dander' present in parrots
  • Not as loud as parrots

Source

3. Fennec Fox

This exotic pet is a dream for many people. This is because foxes are adored by many, and this small-sized canid appeals to those who enjoy pint-sized pets. The fennec fox's large ears add to its cute appeal.

Due to the fennec fox's chihuahua-like size, this is an exotic pet that doesn't require a room-sized enclosure, and unlike other foxes, such as the red fox, they have little or no odor, so they can be house pets and meet their energy requirements indoors as well. While many people keep them in large ferret or cat cages, it should be understood that they cannot be permanently caged (like a hamster), as one wouldn't do with a cat or dog.

Nearly all pets require time outside of their cages to exercise and play unless their enclosure is large and elaborate.

Although people who want exotic pets are hopefully those who enjoy interaction with them, so this shouldn't be an issue. Being foxes, fennecs are instantly an interesting and rewarding pet to own. Some people successfully get them to wear harnesses and can take them on walks, however doing this outdoors isn't recommended, as if they should make their way out of the leash, they are extremely difficult to catch.

More fox facts

  • The fennec fox is the only carnivore on this list due to its small size, making it unlikely to pose any significant danger to people and pets.
  • The fennec fox is the only 'wild' canid that has a legal exemption for ownership in New York state. Other small foxes that are not exempted, despite a completely similar 'threat' to the public, include the bat-eared fox, pale fox, and swift fox.

Pet fennec foxes

Pet traits
1 (lowest)
2
3
4
5
Interacts with keepers/sociable
 
 
 
x
 
Cleanliness
 
 
x (not smelly, but may not liter train
 
 
Uniqueness/Interesting behavior
 
 
 
 
x
House manners
 
x (supervised free-roaming only)
 
 
 
The good news is that fennec foxes, being desert foxes, have dry droppings, so inappropriate elimination is half an issue. High marks are given however for interest value!
Source

4. Patagonian Cavies

This larger relative of guinea pigs are actually rodents, even though they might resemble a cross between a deer and a rabbit. Cavies, also called maras, are rodents, but unlike most animals in this group, they are diurnal.

As one might expect with rodents that are closely related to guinea pigs, they are easy and inexpensive to feed. Unexpectedly, they are trainable (including somewhat consistent litter training for those that live indoors) and aren't very timid even around strangers.

All of this of course is dependent on how they are raised, which is the case with most animals and especially those without a long breeding history for tameness. However, as indoor pets, these are not free-roaming animals unless the house is 'rodent-proofed'. Maras may enjoy chewing on expensive furniture.

These animals can weigh up to 15-20 pounds, so they are relatively large, but nowhere near as huge as capybaras, another exotic pet that is semi-aquatic. They have mild or no smell, are not inclined to bite, and have firm droppings that are easy to clean. For an exotic pet, a hand-raised baby is not too expensive (in the low hundreds). For a comparison, fennec foxes currently sell for 2-3 thousand dollars.

Source
Pet traits
1 (lowest)
2
3
4
5
Interacts with keepers/sociable
 
 
 
 
x
Cleanliness
 
 
x
 
 
Uniqueness/Interesting behavior
 
 
 
x
 
House manners
 
 
x
 
 
Click thumbnail to view full-size
A baby muntjac deerAn adult femaleAn adult male
A baby muntjac deer
A baby muntjac deer | Source
An adult female
An adult female | Source
An adult male
An adult male | Source

5. Muntjac deer

Imagine if you could have your own 'bambi' as a house pet. These small ungulates, complete with fangs and stubby antlers (in the males), may not look exactly like the familiar white-tailed deer in adulthood, but their compact size (for a deer) and inoffensive smell make them suitable for living in households.

While many breeders of this species typically keep them outdoors, keeping the Reeve's muntjac deer as a house pet is achievable if the owner is diligent in working with them. Do not let the photos of babies fool you, they grow on average up to 1 foot and 8 inches high at the shoulder and can weigh 22-40 pounds as adults. This is still quite small relatively speaking so they are pretty manageable.

Although they might be the size of a large cat, expect them not to be like any pet you're familiar with. Walking on small hooves, they need a carpeted house to get around. They might be destructive in that they can chew on furniture, but they can be 'somewhat' potty trained (that is, they might pick a spot(s) and stick to it, so you can place puppy pads there. This is the case with many exotic pets).

As with most pets, a bit of flexibility is required in living with a muntjac indoors, but if this suits you, this interesting pet should be extremely rewarding and enriching. This is, once again, my opinion, and this animal is on my list of 'to obtain'.

Note: Many websites are filled with misinformation about exotic pets like muntjac deers. Always get your information from those who've dealt with the animal (and aren't attempting to sell you one). Preferably those with more than one.

Source
Pet traits
1 (lowest)
2
3
4
5
Interacts with keepers/sociable
 
 
 
 
x
Cleanliness
 
 
 
x
 
Uniqueness/Interesting behavior
 
 
 
 
x
House manners
 
 
x
 
 
A small pet deer as a house pet! It doesn't get much cooler than that, so their high energy level and unruly chewing can be overlooked.

Runners up!

  • Skunks
  • Coatimundi
  • Savannah cats (although they are hybrids)
  • Tamandua

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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Another great article! I laughed at your description of your Aracari because one of my parrots does the same thing. He loves guava, unlike my other bird that is into açerola cherries, and when he takes the fruit he tears it apart and flings the pieces all over my walls.

      Does it make him a bad pet though? Not at all. Just makes me clean the walls more often.

    • SilentMagenta profile image

      SilentMagenta 2 years ago

      I enjoyed your article. I plan to get a pet pig or a sloth once I get settled in my apartment.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image
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      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      DrMark1961-- Yes, parrots can be messy too, and the toucans need to eat fruit everyday. Unfortunately my walls are painted and the paint comes off when I wipe it down, so after I cover the cage completely I will be re-painting. It is also in my rug, my room is not designed for this messiness!

    • Melissa A Smith profile image
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      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      SilentMagenta-- Thank you. Pigs and sloths are VERY different from each other. Keep me posted if you get the latter, they have very complex diets and need a lot of room to climb. I'm shocked both animals are allowed in your apartment.

    • SilentMagenta profile image

      SilentMagenta 2 years ago

      @Melissa A Smith I don't know about both but I'm getting one or the other. If I have to sneak them in I am having one.

    • craftybegonia profile image

      craftybegonia 2 years ago from Southwestern, United States

      I love animals. We have 3, two dogs and a cat and they are all pretty spoiled. You are right about bad pets. There are no bad pets. But I draw one line: Dangerous exotics. I know of two experiences that did not turn out too well. I guy who bought over the mail a Taiwan Cobra who wound up biting him and he nearly died, and that of child who lived not too many miles from us. She wanted a tiger. Her dad gave her one. One day, she was playing with her tiger and the tiger did not want to play, so he slashed her neck open and the little girl (an only child) bled to death. People should be careful in their choices!

    • Melissa A Smith profile image
      Author

      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      craftybegonia-- No, I still don't believe there are bad pets. Do you think no children have been killed by dogs? Horses? The child died due to the owner's negligence. Tigers are not pets for children, period. Only thoroughly trained people should be interacting with them, if anyone. The same goes for highly venomous snakes, training is a requirement. Keeping them is like akin to being a participant in extreme sports. There are NO guarantees that something won't go wrong but these people do not consider their sports 'bad'. Do you happen to know the name of the tiger victim?

    • profile image

      jesuswasafake 2 years ago

      Dealing with large/exotic/wild animals is not without its risk. Amateurs should not be discouraged from the dream of such an animal, but rather encouraged to seek all available knowledge and training in interacting with such an animal. Why should we limit ourselves to a select few who have such credentials to be interacting with such pets? If you desire a large/exotic/wild animal for companionship, personal growth, and entertainment (not at the animals expense of course), then by all means do I encourage you to seek greater knowledge, as well as understanding, in the ways of such animals. (That is, why crush young dreams of owning such an animal because others are ignorant as to interacting with such animals? Do not just say such animals are meant for zoos only, but encourage young dreams to become part of that field of science.)

      Every choice in life has risks. Do not forget the animal is just that, an animal without reason as humans have, and with a limited way of communication. It should be the duty of mankind to not push such animals lower (hate/misunderstanding/bans) but to raise them up to a higher level. Is it not lonely being at the top, that we seek companionship with animals?

      Also, if you had not already looked up craftybegonia's tiger girl story, here is one similar.

      http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=861&dat=...

      All that said, I am glad to have stumbled upon Ms. Smith's articles as they have became quite the fodder for my and my SO's animal dialogue.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image
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      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      Thanks jesuswasafake

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 2 years ago from American Southwest

      I have had a skunk (that was fun) and know someone who had a coatimundi. I decided 25 years ago that I would like a wallaby as a pet, but all this time had no idea it was possible. Actually it wouldn't be reasonable in the housing I've lived in, but it's nice to know it theoretically could happen! Thanks for the explanation!

    • Melissa A Smith profile image
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      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      No problem aethelthryth

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      AP 2 years ago

      I'd definitely write a different list, but I'd agree that all of your top five animals are good exotic pets, in the sense that they're friendly relatively easy to care for. On the other hand, your runners-up list quite surprises me.

      Coatis are famously prone to biting. They're often sold with their canine teeth removed, and even then can inflict damage. They're in the same family with racoons and kinkajous, and like those animals are destructive when left alone.

      Tamanduas are cuddly, but very difficult to care for properly. I get the impression from everything I've read that while they're less demanding than, say a marmoset or even a fennec, they're very difficult to keep healthy.

      I know you've already suggested prairie dogs as an alternative to meerkats, and hedgehogs as a short-lived pet, so I won't bring those up. Nor will I bring up parrots, which most people don't consider exotic (even though most species are unsuitable for most people) and which would merit a list on their own.

      But do you mind if I ask why mousebirds, nine-banded armadillos, hedgehog tenrecs, and Virginia opossums didn't make the shortlist? All of those species are cute, curious, and non-aggressive, all have relatively easy care requirements as exotic pets go, and all can be kept inside a house without inflicting significant damage on the house or their psyches.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image
      Author

      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      I think you are taking this article too seriously. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of animals people might keep as pets, surely you can't expect me to list all of them? I've never even heard of mousebirds, and in fact what makes a good pet is entirely subjective. Plus I have not owned every existing pet, someone else told me about coatis. I've honestly never heard of their teeth being removed but I will keep that in mind. If someone can't keep the animal with their teeth maybe they should just pick another species.

    • profile image

      AP 2 years ago

      This would not be the first time I've been told I take things too seriously. I thought that in this article you were trying to find animals that demonstrate some "exotics" are as easy or easier to properly care for than your average domestic. If that were the case, then tamanduas with their delicate care requirements and coatis with their nasty bite (and I agree, if you need to mutilate an animal to handle it, you probably shouldn't be keeping it) are rather more difficult than your average domestic.

      If you haven't heard of mousebirds, you should definitely check them out. They look a bit like cockatiels (though I think they're cuter), and while my experience with cockatiels is that they tend to bond towards one person and become aggressive towards everybody else, mousebirds seem to be friendly to everyone. Even the ones in zoos let you get really close, and I've heard the hand-raised ones referred to as "velcro birds," because they like to just hang out on your clothes. I hear that they're also less messy than parrots or toucans, though I've yet to keep one myself (hoping to get one this fall).

    • Melissa A Smith profile image
      Author

      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      I wanted to make a list of the more 'interesting' animals outside of the usual (parrots, reptiles, ect.). I thought people might be interested in the unique species out there, maybe I'll alter it in the future and take coatis off, especially if it gets a lot of traffic. It's basically click bait, my pets need to eat :-)

    • profile image

      Pips 7 weeks ago

      Do you have any articles on squirrels or any links to such articles?

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