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BellaOnline's Exotic Pets Editor

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Choose the Right Exotic Pet

Guest Author - Diana Geiger

You think you want a pet. You have no idea what type of animal you want. Before you purchase any pet think about time, room and the patience it takes to have a pet. If you live in an apartment and work long days, a rat might be a good choice. Obviously, a dog will not be a good pet for you because of lack of space and little time to spend with him. Maybe a parrot would make a good choice in an apartment? Many people think that parrots will make great pets if you live in an apartment and do not have a lot of time to spend with the animal. Parrots are highly intelligent and require a lot of interaction with their owners. So a parrot may not make a good pet in an apartment. A cat or even two cats could be a good choice. They love to interact with you when your home but are independent enough to make do without you. There is much to consider before buying a pet, but I think I can help you determine what pet might be best for your lifestyle.

Dogs
Man's best friend the loyal dog. All dogs require exercise. Large breed dogs need lots of room to run around. They have so much to offer. A dog that loves their owner is a loyal friend for life. Times have changed though in dog ownership. Neighbors are less patience with noise and not patient at all with the waste involved with dogs! Be prepared to follow behind Spot with a pooper-scooper! Times have also brought about innovations such as the dog litter box. Yes, you can now train your dog to use a litter box. This is for small breed dogs. I cannot quite see a Great Dane using an indoor litter box. Dogs get very lonely without human interaction. So lonely in fact it will cause behavioral problems that are very difficult to correct. Dogs can be rather costly. You start with the original purchase price and then add the cost for license, shots, booster shots, maintenance, and veterinary care.

Many illnesses and accidents can happen to a dog. Surgery, laboratory tests, and boarding costs just to name a few will add up into the thousands of dollars. A dog is a wonderful choice of pet if you have the time, love, and space to care for him. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing in the eyes of a dog the shine for the love and devotion of his owner.

Cats
Cats are an excellent choice in most households. If you have to spend, a lot of time at work cats are usually pretty forgiving as long as you give him a lot of love when you get home. A bow or two to his grace could not hurt either. Even the horrid litter box and the odor that comes along with the litter box is not much of a problem anymore. The new crystal litters are such a blessing to the cat owner. If you do work long hours you might want to consider two cats. This way they can keep each other company when you are not home. Be sure to have a cat tower, scratching pole and green plants to chew on that way they will hopefully leave your stuff alone. Cats do like to scratch up walls and couches, they will most likely use a scratching pole, but do keep in mind they can destroy your beautiful couch while you are away.

Houseplants can also be a problem with cats. First many plants are poisonous to cats and second you could come home to find that your one big plant is now lots of little plants all over your floor. Cats also cost a great deal to keep. Some local governments require cat licenses. They also need shots and then booster shots each year. The cost of cat food is not cheap and you should feed a high-quality cat food. Serving your cat a low quality food will cost you plenty of money in the end with urinary tract infections and other problems that occur because of feeding the incorrect food. Cats can have accidents and get sick, as with any pet, veterinary costs will always be involved in pet ownership.

Fish
Fish can fit into any lifestyle. They have their virtues in that they are quiet, need no vaccinations, and are utterly beautiful to watch. Starting cost can be quite expensive. First, you need to decide if you want salt water or fresh water fish. Gather all the information you will need to care for them properly. You must know how to correct chemical imbalances and ph problems in the tank, this must be correct before the fish are introduced to the water. There are accessories you will need to purchase for the fish tank. You will need a filter plate, filter, and gravel, plants that will keep algae under control, a heater for temperature, a thermometer, and a decholorinator to remove chlorine, a hood, and a light. After the tank is together, add the water then adjust the temperature and adjust the ph levels.

Check the water again in 24 hours to make sure the balances of ph are stable and the water is the proper temperature for the variety of fish you want. You will need to learn about fish diseases and have the proper medications on hand. After the initial start-up cost, fish are not expensive to keep, food, chemicals, medications and the power to maintain the filtering, lightening and temperature of the fish tank. Fish may not be cuddly but they are excellent stress reducers.

Birds
One of my favorite pets is the bird. There are so many varieties and sizes of birds. Each bird variety is different in how you care for them. Pet birds range in size from the tiny little finch to the giant hyacinth macaw. The cost for the pet bird also ranges exorbitantly. The cost of a finch may be as little as $10 compared to the cost of a hyacinth macaw, which could cost $20,000, or more.

Small birds are good pets if you live in an apartment. Large parrots can also be pets for the apartment dweller, if you have plenty of quality time to spend with the parrot. Parrots tend to be very noisy. Their deafening screeches will easily travel through apartment walls. Parrots are also very messy.

Parrots are highly social, and extremely intelligent. They will need to spend plenty of time interacting with their owner. Parrots have a highly complex social structure in the wild. This socialization must be substituted for in the domestic bird. Parrots also need a large variety of stimulating toys to play with. Rotate the toys frequently to keep the bird from growing bored. Spend plenty of time each day talking to your bird; giving it supervised freedom from its cage, and playing with your bird.

Along with the initial cost of the bird, you will need to purchase a cage. Choose your bird's cage carefully. You do not need to spend thousands of dollars on a "bird entertainment system" but you do need to pick out a cage that is safe for your bird to live in, the larger the cage the better. Watch out for small parts that can be ingested. Make sure that the cage is secure.

Parrots are master criminals and can escape easily from their cages. Make sure that the cage is primed and painted with a non-toxic substance. Birds do not need vaccinations but they do get ill and can have accidents so make sure you have access to a good avian vet before purchasing a bird. Bird proof your house before bringing your new pet home. Most of the following advice will apply to small birds as well as large parrots. Your home has many unsafe things in it. Non-stick cookware can emit toxic, fatal odors into the air and kill birds. Many houseplants are poisonous and will make a bird very sick or even kill it. Open boiling pots on the stove have taken many precious pet's lives as do open toilets and open containers. Ceiling fans and fireplaces must be off and out before a bird is allowed to roam free. Parrots have extremely long life spans and may out live you. Make sure you have plans if this should occur. Never let your bird out unless it is supervise.

Rodents
Maybe an ideal pet for you could be a rodent, though there is a great deal of difference between a rat and a hamster. Rats rarely bite and hamsters can be quite nippy. There are also guinea pig and a mouse to take into consideration. Rodents take up little space, do not need to be walked, and are very quiet. Rodents are very inexpensive to keep and require no vaccinations. However, they too can become ill, have accidents and can require vet care.

All rodents have similar care in that they need a safe secure cage. Of course, a rat will need a larger cage compared to the mouse. Rodents will need an exercise wheel, toys, chew toys to keep their forever-growing teeth worn down, water bottles, food, and non-toxic bedding.

In the wild rats are highly social. I highly suggest purchasing two rats of the same sex. While there are some social species of hamsters, most are not social and should be kept in separate cages. Hamsters react to stress much more acutely than rats. While hamsters are good pets for children when they are together, they should be supervised. Hamsters can become afraid and deliver a nasty bite to the child and children could accidentally injure the hamster.

Supervise your rodents play at all times. There are many harmful and dangerous perils in a home. As with birds, toxic fumes can kill a rodent. There are also poisonous houseplants to watch out for, and places for the rodents to drown like open containers with liquid in them. Rodents are ideal for our urbanized society.

The Exotics

Domestic Skunk
The domestic skunk can be an ideal pet. While they are not legal yet in all states mostly because of misconceptions about the skunk and the fact that there is not a legal rabies vaccination approved as of yet. Many states will require a permit before you purchase a skunk. Check your country's laws and local laws before purchasing a skunk. Domestic/Pen Raised Skunks are at no more risk of contracting rabies than any other domestic animal. Skunks can be stubborn, strong for their size, intelligent, friendly, and highly curious.

It takes a patient person to own a skunk. They have their scent glands removed before they are sold. They are very quiet animals. They require both cat and dog vaccinations. They can never be caged and must have free range of most of the house. The skunk's diet is highly specialized, and they can never be fed cat food. The skunk requires the same healthy diet that we do. Most of us that have skunks end up eating much healthier because we have skunks in the house. Skunks are highly sensitive to fumes, pesticides, cleaning agents, and deodorizers. Skunks love to play and are very loving. Skunks can be very destructive. The skunk is a very different and unique animal. It is certainly not a pet for everyone. Did I mention skunks are stubborn?

Sugar Glider
The Sugar Glider is a marsupial from Southern Australia. They make sweet, affectionate little pets. They love human attention and love to play. They sleep in the daytime and play at night so this may make an outstanding pet for a nocturnal human. These little sweeties require a healthy specialized diet.

They cannot consume fat. The majority of their diet is fruit and vegetables (75%). They should receive protein (25%). It is unsafe for the sugar glider to roam free in your home. It is also unsafe for your home. They do chew on drapes and furniture. Keep the sugar glider out of the sunlight. Bright light can permanently blind them. Provide a proper enclosure for them. A cage should be no smaller that 24" inches in diameter and 38" tall for not any more than 2 animals. Bigger is better. They make excellent pets for the family that has time to spend with them. They are highly intelligent and social animals. Having two sugar gliders is better than one. Check out the laws in your area before purchasing a sugar glider.

Hedge Hog
Affectionately know as the "Yuppie Puppy" since its popularity as a pet is a recent occurrence. Hedgehogs are around 6 inches long and have quills on the top portion of their bodies. Their undersides are soft fur. These pets are also nocturnal. These little armored animals need to be caged. They require an exercise wheel and toys. Check the legalities of hedgehogs before purchasing. They do not take up a lot of space, and are very quiet.

Unfortunately, people grow disenchanted because they are difficult to handle and many hedgehogs become ignored and lonesome. The hedgehog is another pet that can be special for the right person.

Ferrets
I enjoy the sweet devious little ferret. They are loving and playful little animals. They are relatively quiet except for occasional chuckles. They take up little space and use a litter box. They should be caged and let out when they are supervised. They are explorers and this can get them into mischief and can lead to serious injuries. Make sure your home is escape proof before bringing your new pet home. They can get out the smallest of holes. Some of their means of escape may be a dryer vent, a heat vent, or even a mouse hole.

I kept my ferrets in an extra bedroom. If you use a cage, let them out frequently for exercise and play. If they are housed in a cage, make sure the cage is no smaller than 2 X 3 feet and 2 feet high. Add hammocks for them to sleep in. Ferrets require a high protein, high quality food. There are commercial ferret foods available. However, they can be fed a high protein kitten good (not cat food) such as Iams. Ferrets require vaccinations.

Ferrets should be spayed and neutered and their scent glands removed. You will usually buy them descented and neutered. Check legalities before purchase. They are not legal in all places. Ferrets make outstanding pets.

Primates
Monkeys are one of the most intelligent animals on earth. They are also the most difficult animals to keep as a pet. It is very expensive to keep a primate happy and healthy. A monkey that does not bite is extremely rare and their teeth are sharp. Monkeys are impulsive, unpredictable, and excitable. They can never be toilet trained. Monkeys should not be kept singly. They are social animals and socializing with you is not enough. They will become lonely and become sick or die. Having a monkey is like having a 6-month-old baby (basic needs) or a toddler (intelligence and agility) but for the next 20 to 40 years.

The cage needs to be big, the bigger the cage the better. Do not use anything less than a 12-gauge wire. A safety entrance must be included to prevent the escape of your monkey. Monkeys need light to survive, so provide them with a Vita-Lites (replicates natural sunlight) Primates need this light for their skeletal development. Variety is an important key to feeding a primate. Feed him a commercial primate diet, supplemented with fruits, nuts, cooked vegetables, wheat products and eggs. They also enjoy insects like crickets, grasshoppers, and mealworms.

Monkeys need a complete health exam once a year. They need their TB test to protect their health and you and your families? health. Also needed are a parasite examination and a complete blood screening. Find out the vaccination requirements for monkeys.

Monkey's are like children and can get into anything. Watch medicines, poisons, anything that is dangerous to a child, is more dangerous to a monkey because he can more readily get into things.

Be sure to check with your state, county, city, subdivision, and other local government agencies to see if primates are legal. If they are in fact legal in your state, it may be illegal in your county, city, or even neighborhood.

Please do considerable research before you purchase a monkey. If it seems like I am trying to persuade you away from buying a monkey as a pet, I am. With many exotic pet purchases, animals suffer. Luckily the cost of a monkey is prohibitive in it self and is less likely to be bought on a whim.

Arachnids
An arachnid is a spider and they have eight legs, insects have six legs. Spiders are not for everyone and they have very special needs. They can bite, though venomous, most species do no more harm than a bee sting. Like a bee sting, it is possible to be allergic to the spider's venom and you can go into anaphylactic shock. Any animal taken out of the wild deserves the largest enclosure possible. A fish aquarium makes an excellent enclosure. The top should be screen, cheese clothe or mesh so that the aquarium has ventilation. Keep the cage out of direct sunlight. Glass containers especially can get very hot which can kill the spider. Spiders are carnivores and predators. The spider crushes its prey with its powerful mouthparts.

A favorite arachnid of mine is the tarantula. The Grammastola Rosea, or Chilean Rose, is the most popular choice because of its easier disposition. Tarantulas are delicate creatures. When handling them be very careful that they don't fall, they can be skittish and a short fall can injure them severely or even kill them. Tarantulas do not like roommates. They are not social critters, so they must be kept one per enclosure.

A spider could be an excellent choice of pet for the right person. Protect your pet from other people, and protect other people from your pet. There could be liabilities in owning a venomous pet.

Reptiles
This would include snakes, iguanas, geckos, and many more pets that are reptilian. Reptiles have very specialized care from proper nutritional requirements, lightening, heat, humidity and enclosures.

People view snakes as requiring minimum care. This is not true at all; snakes require very special care from temperature to housing, diet, and health. What makes a snake make a good pet? They are quiet and docile, and most snakes are easy to handle. They are also clean and odorless. The owners must accept responsibility for keeping these animals in a safe and secure habitat. In most areas, the government regulates snakes. Check into the legalities before purchasing.

Snakes are carnivorous. They are not vegetarian. A snake is fed once a week. Younger snakes should be fed more often. Find out what the best food or the foods that the species of snake that you are purchasing requires. Many snakes eat rats and mice. Make sure you have his home ready for him before you bring him home. You want to make 100% sure that the enclosure you are planning to use is escape proof. Make sure the cage is easy to clean, is ventilated, and is of adequate size. A good formula to use is 3/4 square foot of floor space for foot of snake. One end of the cage should be heated with a hot rock or an under tank heater. The other side should be cooler so the snake can choose to cool down when he needs to. A snake could make a good pet for some people.

Iguanas are not easy to care for. The iguana has become a very popular pet but few people are aware of the difficulty of caring for them. Iguanas are very expensive to care for. They require a very large cage, a varied fresh diet, proper temperatures, and UV lighting. Adult iguana's can become very aggressive. Iguana's can also grow up to six feet in length. An iguana needs a leafy green diet that is high in calcium. Serve the iguana no less than eight different leafy greens a day. These greens can be supplemented with fruits twice a week.

A baby iguana needs a cage that is at least 40 gallons or larger. Adult iguanas can grow up to 6 feet in length. As the iguana grows, he will need a larger cage. An adult will need a cage that is at least 8-feet tall and 12-feet wide.

Pet iguanas often suffer from Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). The symptoms of MBD are swollen limbs and jaw, rubbery bones, brittle bones, recessed jaw, lethargy, and death. The cause of MBD is improper UV radiation, diet too low in calcium or too high in phosphorus. MBD can also be caused by too low of temperature so that the iguana cannot digest his food.

Be prepared for your iguana before you purchase him! Of any exotic pet species, I believe it is the iguana that has suffered the most in people's homes because of their need for highly specialized care.

Summary
Pets are wonderful companions for us. I know my home is not complete without several. People must take into consideration their finances, time they have to spend with a pet, space availability, and tolerance levels for destruction and noise. Other things to consider if the pet is nocturnal and you sleep at night when will this pet receive the attention he needs? How tolerant are your neighbors to noise? I have given you insight to various possibilities and you can see each pet is unique in terms of personality and care requirements. Research your choice of pet before purchasing and have his cage and necessities completely ready for him before bringing him home. This will alleviate much stress to your new pet. More than anything else love them and interact with them. You will have an outstanding companion for a long time.



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