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Why Deer and Other Wild Animals Don't Make Good Pets

A Fawn Waiting for Mom

A Fawn Waiting for Mom

As a rule, wild animals do not make good pets. Despite my childhood experience of catching a baby ground squirrel in the High Sierras of California, there are too many reasons to not keep captured wild animals.

When we moved to the forested foothills of California, we had one neighbor who regularly fed the deer. The deer in our area are plentiful and not deprived. They have plenty of natural food, including leaves and twigs, plants, berries, fruits, acorns, aquatic plants, grasses, and evergreen plants. Their diet varied according to the season, and they are well-adapted to a specific natural food cycle.

Despite the fact that the native deer in our area do well in their natural environment, our neighbors liked to watch them feed near their house, where they could see them up close through their windows. They would offer grain and commercially made pellet feed year-round. Soon, more deer began coming into the immediate area for the free, unlimited buffet. The herd grew to 30 or more individuals, and the deer were becoming used to people, losing all natural timidity. Some deer became so bold that they would walk right into an open garage.

Interacting With Wildlife Is Risky

Wild deer are fairly docile and cautious creatures, but meeting a 250 lb. buck with fully developed antlers or a protective mommy doe in a confined space is not something you want to do. They have hard, sharp hooves and will use them to inflict serious injury if they feel threatened.

These neighbors have since moved away. The herds have dispersed somewhat and have returned to a more natural diet. I'm sure that they are disappointed and miss the free lunch, but they are better off in the long run. Human residents will be less likely to see deer outwitting the fences around their vegetable plots and flower gardens.

Squirrels also love free lunch in the form of seeds from bird feeders.

Squirrels also love free lunch in the form of seeds from bird feeders.

Squirrel Mischief and Domestication

In another instance, I heard of a wild squirrel that once came down a chimney flue into a mountain cabin while the owners were away. Besides getting soot all over everything, it shredded the curtains and furniture and chewed into the cupboard to eat their stored cereals and macaroni. It must have been a peculiar experience for the squirrel—being transplanted into an unfamiliar world from which there was no easy escape.

Wild animals are supposed to be wild. People who feed wild animals or try to make pets out of them are really doing the animals and themselves a disservice. Besides being dangerous and destructive, there are several reasons interacting with wildlife is not a good idea.

One deer eating flowers in a patch of grass is nice to watch.

One deer eating flowers in a patch of grass is nice to watch.

Feeding Wild Animals Is Harmful

  1. Wild animals do best when kept wild: Wild animals should live by their inborn instincts; they have also evolved to eat certain kinds of food.
  2. They do not learn a "wild social structure": Their natural instincts are geared toward competition and cooperation with others of their kind. Human-imprinted animals can rarely return to their wild home, even when they become a danger or a nuisance.
  3. They can become aggressive and unhappy in captivity: Without their usual habits and surroundings, wild animals do not usually thrive. They are likely to require more attention from their human owners than the owner can give.
  4. Human owners of wild animals may not be aware of special needs: Wild animals in human care may get the wrong kinds of food or too much food and too little exercise.
  5. Animals can catch diseases from people: Historically, a monkey in a London zoo died of human measles. Veterinary care may not be available for wild species, and if it is, the costs may be very high.
Clever entertaining raccoons can be clever entertaining pests.

Clever entertaining raccoons can be clever entertaining pests.

Wild Animals Are Unpredictable

  1. Wild animals can be wild: Serious injuries occur when an animal (even one that seems docile) is frightened, frustrated, or ill. Bites, scratches, and kicks can be serious or fatal. Even small animals can be dangerous and destructive.
  2. Animals can carry diseases: Some animal or parasite-borne diseases such as rabies, bubonic plague, tetanus, and tularemia can be fatal. Others like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be very serious as well. There are over 150 known zoonotic diseases, including bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoal, parasitic, and tick-borne ailments. Many of them can be transferred to humans.

What We Should Learn

There will always be people who will try to make pets out of squirrels, raccoons, deer (even lions, tigers, and bears) without providing for the special needs of the species and without the necessary expertise to keep them healthy and happy.

My experience of capturing a baby ground squirrel when I was a child was mostly happy. We enjoyed him as a pet for many years, but at that time, we were ignorant to the fact that wild animals should be kept wild, and keeping the squirrel in captivity was probably illegal. The squirrel was used to playing with our sissy housecat and never learned to fear a potential predator. Unfortunately, after several years as a pet, he escaped into our yard and apparently met a cat who saw him as prey.

Let wild animals be wild and adopt a domestic shelter pet.

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.


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 13, 2014:

I think the real message is that problems can pop up when people try to return an imprinted, dependent animal to the wild, or when people with very little knowledge about a particular species try to make them pets. Yes, it does take dedication. People need to know what they are committing themselves to.

Breck123 on May 12, 2014:

I believe that anyone has the right to own any animal that they want to. This includes "wild" animals. Your first two stories are about animals in the wild. They are irrelevant to the argument on exotic pets. And why would an animal, in captivity mind you, need the learn the "wild social structure". Another thing, many exotics pets thrive in captivity. Most reptiles and amphibians do wonderfully in captivity. So do many birds, fish, and mammals. And for the animals that do have harder care, there are people dedicated enough to take care of them. And the general public has almost never been harmed by captive animals. For more information, I recommend that you read Melissa A Smith's hubpages.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 18, 2013:

Thanks for commenting JoyLevine. I found your comment this morning, shortly after I had been watching twin fawns chasing each other around our property. They are very cute and playful at this stage. I can see why someone would would be tempted to 'adopt' one, but isn't a good idea for either party.

They like to chase the quail chicks, too. The baby birds scatter and regroup until they find a brush pile to hide in. We are lucky to be able to enjoy them all in the wild.

JoyLevine from 3rd Rock from the Sun on July 18, 2013:

Good article and good advice. I love animals of all kinds, even the creepy crawlies. I have always agreed the best 'pets' are the ones who grace you with their presence (where you can view them up close) and then return to the wild. I have worked at a Science Center and I worked for awhile as a Wildlife Rehabilitator, so over the years I have had experiences with wild animals. It makes it hard when you don't have the contact, because it is a wonderful feeling. However you know the animal's rights and welfare must come first. Now, I simply make my yard into a backyard habitat and I have a butterfly garden that I get immense joy out of, and birds of all kinds at the feeders, ducks and waterfowl, babies, squirrels (Baby birds that is), lizards, and more. That is the best experience of all, watching my LIVE DISCOVERy channel by simply looking out the patio door. ;)

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 19, 2012:

Well, apparently it retained its wildness and was able to fend for itself. I would say this was an unusual case, where the animal chose the association.

The danger usually comes when people try to feed a deer or other wild animal, and it becomes dependent.

Wendy Iturrizaga from France on July 19, 2012:

A friend of mine had a Deer Fawn wondering into his house everyday. We assumed that the mother was dead because after his first visit the deer started to spend more and more time in the house. After a while the Deer became friends with the dog and the cat. It was a bizarre thing to enter into the living room and find a deer playing with the dog! Once it became older and bigger, it started to come less often until eventually it only stayed on the gardens where we can still see him occassionally.

independentminded on April 03, 2012:

You're welcome, Rochelle.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on April 02, 2012:

Thank you for your comment, independentminded. You are right. It often can result in tragedy.

independentminded on April 01, 2012:

It's wholeheartedly agreed; Wild animals should not be kept as pets, under any circumstances. Those who do, imho, are tempting fate! There've been horrible stories about wild animals in captivity finally losing patience and going on a rampage that results in damage to property, and serious injury or death to the wild animal's owners.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 15, 2012:

Thank you, Stephen.

StephenSMcmillan on October 14, 2011:

Great hub.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 13, 2011:

Thank you, Ciao.

Ciao on October 09, 2011:

Totally right!

Weve already taken WAY too much ,(land.etc)

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 28, 2011:

Thanks for you comment, lundmusik. Glad to see you are helpnig the government protect the deer, they were here before we were-- it's time to give back. lol

lundmusik from Tucson AZ on August 28, 2011:

totally agree with your views,,, see if you agree with the Obama administration's new program about deer crossings, at my hub on the subject,, a federal policy on deer crossings,, just what we need..

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 08, 2011:

I read your squirrel hub. Sounds like your dog knew it was a helpless baby. it's good that you knew how to find help.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on August 08, 2011:

Great hub, that I rated as interesting. I too love to watch the wild animals and find their antics quite amusing in my rural yard. Just last week I rescued a newborn baby squirrel and wrote my very first hub about it. I'm looking forward to reading more from you.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 20, 2011:

Thank you, ForestBear. We had a bear in our yard, examining the duck cage a few nights ago. That wasn't you, was it?

ForestBear on July 19, 2011:

Couldn't agree more. Great hub, I enjoyed my visit. Thank you!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 22, 2011:

That does sound very cute. Often albino animals are outcasts. Also because they ate too visible, they tend not to survive because predators are more likely to see them. It may have known it had found a safe haven.

Pickle luvr on June 22, 2011:

My uncle had an albino prarie dog once and it was really nice it followed him around like a dog and it was adorable you could pet him and he was really nice

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 10, 2011:

OK. Thanks, I think.

GrantGMcgowan on May 10, 2011:

Cool, before you can train that, you do to fight that wild. Thanks for sharing.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 02, 2011:

If people think about what they are doing, it is better for them and the animals.

Elena@LessIsHealthy on May 02, 2011:

You are fighting for the wild animals rights.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 29, 2011:

Thanks for reading, Kenzo.

Kenzo097 on January 29, 2011:

I agree with you, wild animals should not be kept as pets.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 21, 2010:

They can be almost irresistible.

gigglyemma on November 20, 2010:

Aawwwwwwwwwwwww the pics are soooooo cute

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 14, 2010:

Thanks for you professional insight, and for your good work, TigerLillyRose. It seems like there are more people moving into rural and habitat areas who need to realize that wild animals are not pets. I liked your 'kidnapping' insight. "Adopting" a wild critter is more like an alien abduction.

TigerLillyRose on October 14, 2010:

I am lucky enough to work with and live with exotic animals. These are animals two or three generations (or more) bred in captivity. Occasionally I have worked with ones wild caught. With habitat disappearing, species going extinct, private breeding programs provide the best way to continue species. Zoos are for profit, you don't want to know what some zoos do with their unwanted overstock.

I was raised with wild animals. My father tried to rehab a coyote pup that was taken from the wild. Sadly, not much was known at that time, and she would not return to the wild. I got the benefit of learning how a different species thinks. Most people expect animals to react in certain ways. A wild animal in unpredictable. When I'm raising an exotic, my world has to revolve around THEIR life. My house has to be animal proof...lion cubs do not make good house guests. If you think it's tough making your place child safe, imagine trying to make it safe for a wild animal. Our homes are full of toxins that can kill a wild animal while not even phasing a domestic one.

Even trained handlers have their stories and their scars. You have to be aware of that animal's status at all times. Is it hungry? Grumpy? Sick? Playful? That animal is your focus, because if you get stupid, you or the animal will get hurt.

I equate taking a wild animal away from it's environment just to be a pet exactly the same thing as someone kidnapping a child from their family. Except the kidnappers probably have a better chance of keeping the child healthy.

If you want a truly uplifting moment, find out when your local rehabilitators are going to do a release. We have one in Oregon that you can request to attend the release of a hawk or sometimes even an eagle. Watch that creature soar into the sky, or race for the freedom of what ever it's natural environment is. That's when you will know why you shouldn't keep a wild animal.

Please, if you are concerned about the wild things, work on keeping their habitat. There are things you can do in your own backyard, or help save the rainforest. Donate to your favorite animal rehab, you can sponsor one online and get to watch it as it recovers and return to the wild.

Some of my rehabs I'm sure are dead of old age by now, but every time I see that kind of bird,, or animal in the wild, I think, because of me, there is one more in the world.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 05, 2010:

The babies apparently have no oder -- the adults do-- that's one reason why they don't stay with them when the little ones are not strong enough to follow them.

We once had one born under the oak tree in our front meadow-- easily visible from our front windows. When the mommy came back to suckle her baby the first day, she had to lie down beside it. The tiny one was not tall enough to reach the nipple when she stood up.They grow fast, before the first week the fawn was up bounding around.

Sounds like your experience turned out well, though the deer had some adaptions to make.

Those babies are so beautiful, I can understand why people want to take care of them.

Too bad when their habitat is drastically disturbed, but deer seem to be able to do it.

doublekk from PA on October 05, 2010:

Thank you for the info about the white tailed deer no having an odor. I never knew this. I live by the woods and last summer the woods were torn up to build a new row of houses. There were deers all over the place trying to get resettled. It was heart breaking. My neighbor had a baby deer wedged under his shed. It was stuck. We got it free but it couldn't walk. I reserched what to feed it while I tried to find it's mother. We feed it once. My dog mothered it and then I found it's mom. A very happy reunion.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 17, 2010:

Thank you, katewil912 and bd60900. The temptation is strong to rescue a "helpless" animal. Usually, nature handles the situation and provides a balance we can easily disrupt.

bd160900 from San Diego on July 17, 2010:

Loved this post. thanks for writing it

katewil912 from CO on July 07, 2010:

Great hub for people to realize the dark side of some romantic ideas.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 17, 2010:

Thank you, love pets. Animal lovers need to love the wild ones from a distance.

love pets! on June 06, 2010:

Thank you for a great hub on wild pets :) keep up the quality work!!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 04, 2010:

Thank you, theherbivorehippi. I agree, but it sometimes happens accidentally to people who think they have found an abandoned baby animal. There are cases where an animal may lose a parent due to accident or hunting, but even the real orphans need some specialized care.

theherbivorehippi from Holly, MI on May 04, 2010:

Brilliantly written! Wild animals should be left in the wild! It is unfair of humans to be so selfish to take them from their natural habitat to force them to transform their natural lives and instincts! Fabulous hub!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on April 24, 2010:

Really? I like to see them living in the wild. Zoos are necessary to protect species which are being squeezed out of their natural habitat.

Thanks for the comment.

warrioRR from Rawalpindi Pakistan on April 24, 2010:

Animals are looking in cute only in zoo


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 22, 2010:

Thanks, Sophs.

This one hasn't had a comment for awhile, but I think the subject is important.

We can love and admire wild animals, but 'owning' them is always bad for them. I think zoos, that are well run and have experts guiding the keeping of wild animals are necessary for the preservation of many species, and the education of humans.

Thanks for bringing this back. I appreciate your comment.

I guess owning a hyena would be for protection against people with aggressive dogs? I'm sure there will be tragedy on both sides of the leash.

sophs on March 22, 2010:

Brilliant hub Rochelle. I came across something on the internet today, explaining how some people in Nigeria (I think it was Nigeria) were keeping hyena's as pets! Hyena's! They had them on huge thick chains and some had muzzles on. Not only is that cruel but very dangerous can you imagine walking down the street and someone coming towards you with a hyena on a leash! I'm still shocked!

Great hub, thanks for sharing :)

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 19, 2010:

Thank you, herbivore, I agree completely. People who try it really don't know what they are getting into.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 19, 2010:

letmetellyou-- bears are usually a very bad idea. I'll stick to the Teddy variety.

theherbivorehippi from Holly, MI on January 19, 2010:

Great Hub! I should never bring a wild animal in as a pet! It's not fair to them to be taken out of their environment. Thanks for writing!!

letmetellyou from everywhere on November 13, 2009:

I have read where this man raised bears for pets?! that is wild..Thank you for writing this topic.

Pets on September 18, 2009:

I learned of a story recently where a baby opossum entered the home of my in-laws, climbing two flights of stairs in the back of the house and making its way into to the kitchen. It took them 5 hours to chase it down throughout the house and catch it.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 23, 2009:

That is for sure-- I love to see the deer-- but forget about providing them expensive landscaping materials to eat.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on July 23, 2009:

I love the wild animals, we have some foxes around here that are good for eating mice and rates. I am happy that they are here. But as far as actually feeding the things, forget it. And attracting deer to you home is asking for trouble. They may be pretty but they'll gobble up your garden.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on April 03, 2009:

When you live in a non-urban area like we do, it is so much fun to see the wild animals. As much as we would like too, giving them a hug is out of the question. Too bad that wildness is being squeezed out of our lives in many areas.

Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on November 02, 2008:

So true! What people also forget is that any pet (even the domestic ones) are still animals! They can still have those instincts that could hurt others. Learn more about any animal that you have and let the wild ones stay wild. They are much happier and we enjoy them more when you do.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 23, 2008:

Yes, they can be dangerous. I did know someone who had a pet raccoon-- they thought it was entertaining to give it a sugar cube and watch the little beast "wash"-- as they often did with their food. Of course, it dissolved and left the critter wondering where it went. Thanks for commenting.

robkmf from Orlando, FL on October 23, 2008:

I once tried to domesticate a raccoon and I know what you mean. They're very violent animals.

C.S.Alexis from NW Indiana on October 23, 2008:

I was happy to see this article. I agree that leaving the wild in the wild is best. i have two dogs, both from shelters. They were the castoffs from humans who did not NEED them after all. This happens far too often. I have seen it with wild animals. They become a problem and then people do not want to finish what they started. Good for you for writing this one. C.S.

Benson Yeung from Hong Kong on October 12, 2008:

we are in total agreement. nice hub. from San Francisco, CA USA on October 09, 2008:

In college, a friend of mine found a baby squirrel in his window well with a broken leg. It was September and so he took the squirrel in for the winter and nursed it back to health. During that time the squirrel (Rocky) made a GREAT pet. Once spring came it was a painful choice, whether to release it into the wild (would it have the survival skills?) or keep it (would it be happy? bite people?).

A lot of these calls have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 09, 2008:

Oh, that would be so cool! You could enlarge it and frame it for your wall at home.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 08, 2008:

Hmmm, I guess I could do that, if I took the time.

I also have a newspaper clipping photo that shows him, the doll baby bottle and the cat. I will try scanning it-- if I can find it.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 08, 2008:

I still like your tiny ground squirrel in his sock. Someone should do a sketch of him.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 08, 2008:

Jerilee, I know you were trying to do the right thing. It happens often... and sometimes has unexpected results.

 Whenever possible, injured or orphaned animals need the help of a professional rehabber. They often can be restored to the wild,( the animals, not the rehabbers) or if they are too damaged they might be turned into educational animals.

Jerilee Wei from United States on October 08, 2008:

Very good advice and hub!  Sometimes we humans in up in situations of rescuing wild animals.  We owned a 700 acres farm for many years.  When a trespassing out-of-seaon hunter shot a mother deer, we found the newly born baby nearby.  Bottle feeding it seemed like the right thing to do.  She lived, but having a pet deer kicking in your front door because she wanted a bottle, following you several miles to the highway whenever you left, etc. left a lot to be desired.  We may have saved her life, but we did her no favor making her friendly to humans (hunters) and dependant upon us.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 08, 2008:

Oddly serious for me, but I felt I needed a disclaimer, to redeem myself from the ground squirrel capture I wrote about.  I love to see the animals every day, too.

Thanks for commenting.

Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on October 08, 2008:

I am so fortunate to live in the middle of nowhere and be able to watch the wild critters in their natural habitat from my office window. Good adivce, good hub!