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.

13 Responses

  1. I was wanting to find out how to get licensed to foster orphan skunks, raccoons and other small animals?

  2. Jonathan says:

    You are 100% WRONG 21 states in our wounderful country support owning exotic pet with the proper permits exotic pets are not limited to monkeys and cats you can own Gators,big snakes,racoons,squirels,….. actually an idiot could walk into a PetSmart and see that this is 100% bull shit…I live in southern tx where with a permit you can own capuchin monkeys and alike also racoons rattle snakes shit you can keep the fish you catch in the ocean in your damn swimming pool if you really wanted to there is very little regulations on what you can own that being said the state does require extreme inspections of the “dangerous pets” (worded per the permit required)..and their dwelling and if you have children under 13 you will most likely be denied said permit also inclosures and habitats must be zoo quality in order to pass said inspections hope this helps get some of stupid bs straitened out I fucking hate fake research

    • Amanda Wright says:

      Whoever posted this must be named “Karen”. Glad you straightened that out Jonathan. I’ve had a few of the previously named animals as pets and I’ve been to some really cool places that have what is considered to be exotic wild animals.

    • Michelle says:

      It SAYS with proper permits. Read each sentence before over reacting

    • M Glover says:

      Look at these terrible reading comprehension skills still on display years later. Stay in school, kids!

  3. Roxanne says:

    Back in May, I found four baby skunks who’s mother had been hit on a busy street. I was able to catch three of them…unfortunately one of the tiny siblings was also hit and killed before I was able to rescue it. They are now very sweet, cuddly, healthy babies who have almost tripled in size! however they are still very small, about the size of a two/three month old kitten, and I am afraid if I put them back out in the wild they will either get run over (no matter how rural a place I can find) or that they will starve to death after having been raised and cared for in my house all this time! The problem is they have not been altered (removing their only defense!) and little miss Sassy Pants decided to feel froggy and spray me while I was cleaning their enclosure in my bathroom! Yes, plenty of room to run around, without dealing with my nosy cats or ferret who don”t understand “Do not sniff my butt!” Just because I like the smell doesn’t mean every one else does and now my entire house reeks! I removed smell off of myself but smell permeated the rest of the place and can even be smelled outside my closed front door! Where can I take them where they will be safe and cared for and unsmell my house? I love them dearly but cant get them fixed and descented because no Vet will deal with wildlife, and our local wildlife refuge is closed because of this stupid covid crap!!! I can’t bear the thought of them being hurt, starving, or getting killed after turning them out on their own when they don’t know how to survive without two meals a day (I learned what to feed them from the wildlife rehab page), cars, and flying predators! I am too softhearted and care for all critters more than any/all of the stupid, mean, cruel, selfish people out there (95% of the sorry population) who hurt them on purpose or F up their natural habitats without any regard for their well being! Please help! Thanks! Roxanne

  4. Justin says:

    Actually, foxes, skunks, raccoons are considered to be a Fur-bearing animals. They are regulated by TPWD. They can only be possessed by someone with a Fur-bearer Animal Propagation License, Scientific,
    Educational or Zoological Permit or of course a wildlife rehabber. Otherwise it is illegal to own them in Texas

  5. Kaitlyn Phillips says:

    I own a lemur in SETX and they are a wonderful choice of a pet. Dedication is all it takes.

    I hate people that are do as I say not as I do.

  6. Aaron says:

    Well damn Johnathan.
    I’m not sticking up for anyone just pointing some things out. As we read her writing we can see she is not limiting exotics to mean anything. She’s giving an opinion that those certain exotics are what she feels, poor choices. And she isn’t saying you can’t have exotics or that you need permits for all of them. The big picture that seems to be missed is that “wild caught, native” animals are considered exotics and unlike “captive bred ” exotics illegal to have. In every state it is illegal to capture and keep as a pet any native species without the proper permit. Are these laws enforced all the way? Kids catch and keep toads, frogs, bugs etc and so do adults. Fish and Game aren’t kicking down your door over it. But they could . So, slow down and read. Its cool to disagree but disagree with whats being said.

  7. Metis2007 says:

    Thank you, Jonathan. I thought this seemed like a much smaller number of States allowing exotics than I thought. I know there are several states that mat STATE you cannot own these, but if you look under the regs. You see they DO make provisions for permits for a great number of them. Thank you!

  8. I live in a subdivision that has lots of oak trees, therefore there are a lot of squirrels. I found a baby squirrel on my my back porch clinging to the window screen. I have cats and dogs that I feared would get it if given the chance. I got a blanket and caught it. I Googled everything about squirrels I could find. I have a huge oak tree in my backyard so I know this baby either fell or just decided to explore unknowing the danger it was in. The first thing I did was make a substitute for Pedialite to give it, incase it was dehydrated. Thank God I had a pet carrier to put it in with a nice warm blanket. The baby took too me immediately. I did feel it was best if I could put it back in the tree because I felt like the mother was close by. I got an 8 foot ladder and put the baby back in the tree but it just sat there looking at me. I went and sat on the porch to watch it. It acted like it didn’t know what to do. Then it went to the other side of the tree where the ladder was so I got up and went over there. It was just sitting there looking at me and looked like it was going to attempt to jump to me. One of me cats was out in my yard and I couldn’t risk something terrible happening so I climbed the ladder and the squirrel came back to me. I gave it some of the Pedialite I made and put it in the carrier. According to Google I estimated its age was around 6-8 weeks old. It had its front teeth, so I went to the store and bought everything Google said they could eat. I tried giving it raw shelled almonds, Romane lettuce, broccoli and some fruit but it wasn’t interested. The baby was more interested in being kept warm and sleeping so I let it sleep. The next morning I got up and gave it some of the homemade Pedialite from a syringe. It drank a lot. Then I held it and played with it and I ordered some infant animal bottles and some goat milk from Walmart. They can’t have cows milk, and Google said they couldn’t have plain water, I thought that was strange but I went with their information. The milk and bottles were delivered and I fed it the goat milk. It was hungry, afterwards it wanted to sleep. I’ve thought about keeping it because it’s so sweet and you would think this squirrel is a tamed animal. It loves humans and playing with us but in the long run I still think it needs to be in its natural habitat. Google Stressed that squirrels do not make great pets! Its cute and lovable now but when it gets older Google said they will change. I also have a neighbor who is crazy, literally. He hunts in his yard! He kills, squirrel, raccoons and possum! He eats them. He’s also killed many cats, including some of mine. We’ve had it out numerous times over his killing of animals in yard, hunting in a subdivision/neighborhood. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve called the police on him. They Do Not Care!!! We use to have a pack of precious friendly raccoons that came every night until they All disappeared into His Freezer. So I don’t want this baby ending up being one of those animals. I will probably call tomorrow the Dept of parks and wildlife to see if they can take it. I absolutely hate too but I don’t want this baby living in a cage for the rest of its life and just taken out to play with. It’s a hard decision to make because we already love it but I want what’s best for it.

  9. Troy says:

    You are dead wrong. Some “wildlife” need human assistance and not off of it requires a permit. Most of what you said is illegal in Texas is actually legal. There aren’t even stipulations on most of it. With the exception of a few counties, you don’t even need vet checks for most of them. You should really check in to the legal documentation before you try to make blanket statements.

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