Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Exotic Pets With Easy Care Requirements
Which exotic animals make the best pets? Do low-maintenance, unique animals exist? These are all common questions that don't really have objectively 'true' answers. All pets require the owner to provide some degree of care, and there are no pets that are for everyone.
Effectively addressing this question strictly depends on what the owner is willing to provide for the animal, what the owner expects of the animal, and what they are willing to spend. The more uncommon your pet is, the more you will likely spend on vet care from a veterinarian that specializes in exotics and 'wildlife.'
First off, what IS an exotic pet?
- Most animals that are not domesticated or are uncommon are considered exotic.
- Some animals that are technically exotic (not domesticated or little change from their wild ancestors) are not viewed as such, like many birds and fish.
- Ferrets, pygmy hedgehogs, and chinchillas are sometimes considered exotic pets, but they are domesticated, which differentiates them physically and mentally from their wild ancestors.
For the sake of avoiding recommending less 'exciting' animal species, 'semi-domesticated' animals (different from wild ancestors but not to the extent of dogs), parrots, and reptiles won't be listed here, however many common pet species are popular yet demand higher care than they are typically given, such as parrots. Exotic pets listed here will be considered easier due to:
- Lower house destruction potential (or lack of need to free roam in the house)
- Non-excessive social needs (most birds and mammals will need some)
- Reasonable housing needs
- Easy to meet nutritional needs
- Small size
- Many other qualities that make it simpler to provide them sufficient well-being
Commonly Desired Pet Qualities
- Reasonable caging requirements (no outdoor or large cage requirements)
- Little or no smell
- Little or no destructive tendencies (house manners)
- Low aggression
- Enrichment needs are easier to provide
A hedgehog is not a rodent, nor are they related to porcupines. They are in a subfamily known as Erinaceinae (originally known as insectivores.) Hedgehogs deserve the number one spot on this list for being the easiest to care for while being 'exotic' (although the forms you'll find in pet stores are somewhat changed from the wild forms, making them domesticated).
- Hedgehogs are not social, so only one should be housed per enclosure. This makes them pets that are not subject to separation anxiety, and they are fitting for people who travel.
- They are suitable for those who do not want a long-lived pet since their lifespan is an accommodating 5–7 years.
- Hedgehogs have a simplistic diet that can be composed of a high-grade prepared food and/or fruits and insects. They are common enough that many pet stores sell food for them.
- Hedgehogs can be somewhat temperamental, but they tame down with the right handling and habituation.
- The proper quarters for a 'hedgie' need only consist of a properly-sized terrestrial enclosure.
Hedgehogs can even be the pets of children because of their ease of care. Just be sure to be prepared for the cleaning involved with their frequent defecation.
2. Rodents: Chipmunks, Degu, Spiny Mice, and Prairie Dogs
There are many rodents that are also exotic pets—some more interesting and unusual than others. These include:
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- Degus. These look like large gerbils but are actually more closely related to chinchillas and guinea pigs. Degus are highly social, and it is recommended that they be housed with more than one individual. They should have sufficient space to meet their exercise needs.
- Flying squirrels. They are easier than sugar gliders, have reasonable caging requirements, and are highly affectionate with their owners.
- Prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are typically only born in the spring. They are affectionate pets that can be harness-trained. They are social, so the owner must spend some time with them. The cage should be adequately-sized. The prairie dog's diet is simple and includes fresh hay, grasses, pellets, fruits, and vegetables. The Oxbow brand of prairie dog food is good. In terms of aggressive tendencies, this species may have the most problems in that area when it comes to strangers (people the animal hasn't been raised with). Be aware of their strong territorial instincts.
- Chipmunks. As an active squirrel species, chipmunks will require the most space relative to their size. A taller bird flight cage is recommended, and they must have many opportunities for enrichment that encourages foraging. They aren't the best pets for handling, but they are more interesting than the typical hamster. Some breeders have produced white Siberian chipmunks.
- Spiny mice. These small little pets are not the domesticated mice commonly sold in stores, but they demand similar care. An omnivorous diet, spacious glass aquarium, and an exercise wheel are essentials.
- Patagonian cavies. Patagonian cavies also deserve a mention here. They are best suited as outdoor pets, which is doable if you have a farm-type home or a large backyard. These rodents are very large.
There are a few different species of exotic rodent species, but some are hard to acquire in the United States due to a recently imposed embargo on species from Africa. Such species include bushy-tailed jirds, jerboas, and Gambian pouched rats.
3. Short-Tailed Opossum
It may look like a rodent, but the short-tailed opossum is actually a marsupial like sugar gliders, koalas, and wallabies. Unlike sugar gliders, which have more involved care, opossums are solitary and must be housed alone. Their housing requirements are very similar to that of a nice, spacious gerbil enclosure (with levels), with exercise wheels, hamster water bottles, and typical rodent bedding that meet their physical requirements.
They need an omnivorous diet that is higher in animal protein. This can be a mix of prepared diets for hedgehogs, ferrets, and dogs with the addition of insects, vegetables, and fruits.
4. Non-Domestic Canines: Fennec Fox and Domesticated Fox
Both the fennec fox along with specifically Russian domesticated silver foxes appear on this list, but with a note of caution. Their non-domesticated traits might make them a challenge for a person expecting tame dog and cat behavior.
The fennec and silver fox are canids, meaning they are active predators. So they will need space just like a domesticated dog. If caged, it should be sizable, and they should be allowed out of the cage frequently. The smallest recommended cage for fennecs is a multi-level ferret nation cage. Their behavior is more 'cat-like,' in that they are more independent. They can also be noisy and play rambunctiously.
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One of the biggest issues with domesticated foxes is finding one—they are rarely offered now. If you do find one, be prepared to spend upward of $2000–$7000. Foxes that are not silver, such as the white arctic fox or the red fox, are not domesticated and are much cheaper ($200–$400), but they have undergone little or no selective breeding. Some silver foxes that are referred to as domesticated have actually been domesticated for the fur trade, and not for companionship.
Many owners report that non-domesticated foxes have an extremely strong smell, thus only making them suitable for the outdoors. True domesticated foxes do not have an offensive smell, have a tamer personality, and more easily accept humans as companions (reportedly).
Skunks surprisingly make good pets, when de-scented of course. Skunks should have a proper omnivorous diet (typically dog food, fruits, and vegetables) and exercise time outside of their cage. Like ferrets, they are playful and should not be cooped up all the time. Provide toys and make sure they don't mistake your property as such! Unfortunately, male skunks may be prone to aggression upon maturity, so be sure to have them neutered.
Being an exotic mammal, the skunk as a pet is not legal in every state because they are rabies vectors. However, they do not inherently carry rabies and can only contract the virus from another rabid animal.
6. Arthropods: Hissing Roach, Tarantula, Scorpion, Millipede, and Land Crab
They are not cuddly, but pet bugs will often fascinate the young and old.
- Cockroaches. Even animals like cockroaches can require more demanding care, but Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which are often the species you see utilized in movies, are very simple to care for and will live around 3–5 years.
- Tarantulas. Not all tarantula species are suitable for beginners—the best species for the novice include the Mexican red knee, Chilean rose, and curly hair tarantulas. These are not aggressive, have living requirements that are easier to accommodate, and have simple diets (supplemented insects.) Small aquariums around 3–5 gallons work well for these species. These pets are also wonderful for scaring conventional people.
- African millipedes. These are easy to keep, requiring around a 5-gallon aquarium, forest substrate, and vegetables to eat. Since they prefer to eat decayed vegetation, it is even OK to leave it alone for a while. The substrate must be kept moist by spraying occasionally.
- Scorpions. These may appear intimidating, but the emperor scorpion is a non-aggressive species that can be held and enjoyed, unlike other scorpions. They should be housed in a 10-gallon aquarium that is heated properly. They feed on supplemented insects.
- Giant land crabs. Giant land crabs, such as the beautiful Halloween crab (also called moon crabs), are interesting and uncommon. They are scavengers, cleaning up vegetable and animal matter. They are a great pet to discard your kitchen scraps with and feed old pet food to.
7. Hybrid Cats: Savannahs and Bengals
Savannah cats are a hybrid of the serval and the domesticated cat. The generations of these animals vary from F1 (53–75% servals) to F6:
- F1 will be a challenging animal, perhaps a little easier than a full-blooded serval; however, they are just as tall. They are also horrendously expensive. The lower generations of these animals provide a great substitute for the cheetah look in the package of a mostly domesticated but interesting cat.
- F3 (12.5 % serval) and down may make good pets. They are mostly domesticated cats but with a more dog-like, exciting personality. They can be trained to walk on harnesses and do not need to be housed outside.
- Note: The higher the serval percentage, the more likely potential challenges may arise.
Bengal cats are basically domesticated cats, but with a more interesting personality as well. They have been produced with the genes of the Asian leopard cat. However, they are more commonly sold with lower wild gene heritage, which makes them domesticated as pets. They are perfect for people who want the look of an exotic animal but not the destructive tendencies of one. They will, however, have higher energy needs that should be met.
Difficult Exotic Pets
In contrast, there are plenty of exotic pets that are difficult to care for. By the standards of most, there are a few animals that can be declared not easy to care for:
- Non-domesticated felines (with the exception of some hybrids) often spray indoors and destroy furniture, requiring an escape-proof enclosure.
- Large non-domesticated canines and other large carnivores require experience, outdoor enclosures, and other special accommodations.
- Non-human primates are extremely high-maintenance socially and psychologically.
- Other smaller exotics like porcupines, genets, sloths, wallabies, kinkajous, tamanduas, and coatimundis require large caging relative to their sizes and may be harder to promote the well-being of under traditional animal care standards.
These animals often stress more easily and are difficult to re-home. One should steer clear of these more difficult but undeniably interesting animals if they are not willing to put up with the undesirable instincts of wild species.
A Closing Note About Exotic Pets
Exotic pets aren't for everyone. Before any animal is obtained, the potential owners should extensively research the care of the species from multiple sources.
- Some zoos publish detailed care manuals on some of the 'more exotic' species.
- Exotic pet forums are an excellent resource for reading the experiences of seasoned pet owners and you may even be able to converse with them and ask questions.
These are imperative steps to take to ensure that you know what you're getting into so you can care for your animal for the duration of its life.
- Exotic Pet Care: The Spotted Genet
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- Everything You Need To Know About Pet Cheetahs
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why are hedgehogs illegal in California?
Answer: Hedgehogs are illegal in California mainly because of ignorance and lack of public pressure for our rights. Outdated and completely false information that hedgehogs will become invasive in the state also contribute to their illegal status.
Question: What is the best exotic pet?
Answer: That depends on you. Most snakes are easy to care for, don't need a lot of space, eat once a week and aren't demanding socially. Of course, if you like pets that care about you, they are awful.
Question: Are you allowed to keep a red-shouldered hawk or a red-tailed hawk in Vermont?
Answer: Native birds of prey are Federally illegal unless you obtain a falconer's license, which is hard to get.
© 2013 Melissa A Smith
Amelia on April 14, 2020:
I really want a Hedgehog (never gonna happen) (T_T)
blash i ca on January 13, 2020:
I am confuzzled cause I don't have a wild pet.
biscut on December 29, 2019:
Can u do somthing on reptiles? thx!
Animal Lover Hiiiii! on September 12, 2019:
Are monkeys good pets and are they North Carolina? =) ? =/ =o Answer? Thanks ! :))))
Bamboo smoker on July 28, 2019:
I wish aquariums had more insects. There are infinite possibilities because they mutate so fast, and so many new domesticated forms could be made. Like, dragonfly larvae, or water scorpio. I simply haven't seen any other insects you can use in aquariums.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 16, 2019:
Very informative. Thanks.
Gabby on January 22, 2019:
Yah i want a skunk but it is not legal in Cali
Drizzy on August 15, 2018:
i wish exotic animals were legal in California :-(
Madison Gariepy on July 22, 2018:
I have always wanted to get a caracal but they aren't allowed wear I live, when my sister and I am older we will move somewhere with a reserve or somewhere you can own one, it's my dream to own hundreds of exotic felines and canines. I might even start my own reserve or sanctuary
Lauren Eaton on July 15, 2018:
I really want a hedgehog. I recently learned that hedgehogs are illegal in some states. One of which is California, where I live. I don't understand why it is illegal, for it is legal in other states. There isn’t really a reason for hedgehogs to be illegal in California. Hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rats are acceptable pets, so why aren’t hedgehogs? California’s warm climate is the perfect environment for a hedgehog to live. Hedgehogs are quiet, friendly, low-maintenance animals that would make great pets. Unlike the other small animals that are legal here, hedgehogs do not have dander and are actually hypoallergenic and would make great pets for people that want a small animal but suffer from allergies. Hedgehogs are already legal in numerous states and should be legal pets in California too. Overall, there are no downsides to letting Californians own hedgehogs.