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.

3 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

  3. 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.

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