Non-Traditional Pets: What You Should Know

By: Ariana Finkelstein, DVM

TVMA Member
San Antonio, TX

Published June 2014

Have you ever thought of owning a non-traditional pet or wondered what it’s like owning one? If the answer is yes, read on.

What are Non-Traditional Pets?

These are animals that are not your typical dogs and cats. In American households, they generally include birds, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils.

Some people have reptiles as pets. Some reptiles kept as pets include lizards (bearded dragons, water dragons, iguanas, anoles), snakes, turtles (red-eared sliders) and tortoises (African spurred tortoise, Russian tortoises, box turtles). Certain amphibians are also kept as pets, like the white’s tree frog.

Less common non-traditional pets include hedgehogs and sugar gliders. Even less common are pot-bellied pigs, miniature horses, dwarf goats, backyard chickens, etc. Some of these are not allowed in the city limits, so check with your municipality before considering them as pets.

Wildlife are Not Pets

Some non-traditional pets can be very poor choices to own. These include callitrichids (marmosets and tamarins), capuchins and other monkeys and apes, lemurs, capybaras, skunks and raccoons.

It is important to note that in Texas, as well as in most states, owning wildlife is illegal. Wildlife is defined as any undomesticated, native animal living in the wild, including those hunted for food, sport or profit. In Texas, these include skunks, raccoons, white-tailed deer, cottontails, jackrabbits and squirrels, among many others. Since these animals are found in the wild and are native to the environment, they are not allowed to be owned. There are some exceptions to the rule, but these animals require appropriate permits from the U.S. Department of Fish and Game. Without proper permitting, they are illegal to have in your possession. Keep this in mind before you decide you want to hand raise a baby rabbit or squirrel. Please contact your local wildlife rehabilitation expert for more information. In the wild, do not take animals away from their nest/home! Often the parents will return!

Choosing a Veterinarian for Your Non-Traditional Pet

All non-traditional pets have special needs and requirements to consider, such as caging, lighting and food. Just like dogs and cats, non-traditional pets also need to see a veterinarian. A pet exam for newly adopted animal is recommended to make sure they do not have parasites and to ensure you receive all the information you need to know how to care for your new pet. Annual exams are also recommended.

You may consider finding a veterinarian who specializes in these species and consulting with them even before you get your non-traditional pet. You may need to find a different veterinarian than your dog’s or cat’s veterinarian to see some of these pets. Some veterinarians will prefer to see the non-traditional mammals (e.g., ferrets, rabbits and rodents). Some may see parrots and other bird species, while some may see only reptile species. Some may see all species. There are specialty certification programs available for veterinarians who want to specialize in non-traditional species. Several animal hospitals are dedicated to their specific care and do not see dogs and cats at all.

Ariana Finkelstein, DVM currently practices at Mission Pet Emergency in San Antonio, Texas.