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Before You Bring Home an Exotic Pet

by Linda Jenkinson |

When you bring a dependent life into your home whether human, mammal, rodent, or other, you have made a tacit commitment to give it the care that will keep it comfortable and healthy. Before you invest in any exotic animal, please do some research and see what it needs. If you don't know the first thing about what an animal needs, you cannot expect to live up to that commitment. Take some time to find out about your pet before you bring it home.

For instance, someone once asked me if a tortoise and a chameleon would "get along". Get along? They would probably ignore each other.

Natasha
Natasha, our Russian tortoise, undergoes a quasi-hibernation in the winter months.(Quarter on her back to illustrate scale).

Tortoises are ground dwellers, chameleons are climbers. Tortoises like a dry climate. Chameleons need high humidity. They also have completely different dietary needs. It would be foolish to keep them together since they both need totally different habitats.

We don't even keep our Russian and Sulcata (African-spurred) tortoises together.

  1. The Sulcata is captive bred. Our Russian is wild-caught and may have parasites or other pathogens that could be harmful to the Sulcata.
  2. They come from different climates and need different temperatures. Russians are a Mediterranean species. Sulcatas are African. Russians also undergo a quasi-hibernation in the winter months. Sulcatas are out and about year around.
  3. Our Sulcata, Clifford, at 10 years old already dwarfs our adult Russian, Natasha. She will continue to grow, but so slowly that future growth will probably not be very noticable. Clifford might live to be 80 years old and will continue to grow for as long as he lives.

You can neither colonize nor domesticate reptiles.

Another acquaintance asked if cold-blooded reptiles will bond with you the same as dogs and cats do. Well, they may come to recognize you and acclimate to your care, but they will never bond with you like a mammal would. However, it isn’t just because they are cold blooded. It has more to do with what is in their brain from birth than the temperature of their blood.

Your One and Only

It may be exciting to be the only one in town that adopts a certain type of pet, but problems often accompany exclusivity.

The first places you should research your pet choices are your local veterinarians' offices. Make sure that you can find a veterinarian who has experience caring for the pet you are considering. For instance, many vets are not experienced with reptiles and though reptiles are pretty easy care, there are certain conditions where they will need veterinary assistance.

Even mammals such as dogs, cats, and rabbits have different physical needs and thus may have contrasting medical problems. Take some time to research the the distinctive healthcare situations your exotic pet may experience.

Food Requirements

plantain
Picture credit Plantain:
By Iorsh at English Wikipedia

Knowing what your pet will eat and how much, now and in the future, is very important to both your pet and your bank account. While different types of dogs and cats are divided into different breeds, tortoises are divided into species. Different species have different dietary needs.

Although our tortoises can eat many of the same foods, some differences are critical. For instance, hay is not a suitable food for Russian tortoises, but it is actually a major part of the preferred diet for Sulcatas. However, clover and alfalfa hays are too rich in protein. Clifford, eats timothy hay or orchard grass.

dandelion
In the summer our tortoises enjoy fresh picked dandelion greens (Natasha also likes the flowers)

Our ten-year-old Sulcata eats a head of Romaine or leaf lettuce every other day along with several ounces of hay. Our Russian, Natasha, enjoys an occasional hibiscus flower with a leaf or two of Romaine or leaf lettuce. She only gets the flowers in the summer because they are tough to find in the Minnesota winters. Both of our tortoises love a treat of radicchio (a type of chicory), sweet potatoes, zuchinni, or carrots. Both tortoises also eat turnip greens.

These fresh vegetables are on our shopping list every week and the expense can vary appreciably, depending on the season. In the summer our tortoises enjoy fresh picked dandelion greens (Natasha also likes the flowers) and plantain leaves from our au natural lawn.

Habitat

Clifford
Clifford may live to be 80 years old and will continue to grow for as long as he lives.(Quarter on his back to illlustrate scale.)

When we first brought Clifford home, he fit in the palm of a hand and was happy to live in a 10 gallon vivarium. His home now is 6x4 feet and he is still growing.

Where will your pet live? Before you acquire your pet, find out how much space it will need to be comfortable and what equipment (cage, watering, feeding, lighting, heat, etc.) you will need to properly care for it.

Dogs and cats may have the run of the premises, but that is not practical for many exotic pets, the main reason being that most exotics are not house-trainable.

Birds have a high metabolism and what goes down quickly comes out. Although I have heard of some birds being house-trained, in my experience the bigger the bird, the bigger the mess! Tortoises and lizards are the same.

Rather than spend a lot of words on house-training, I'll point you to the best article I have read on the subject. Pets That Can Be Housetrained

In fact, researching pet care couldn't be any easier. As your read this, you are already accessing one of the greatest research tools in the world: your computer or your phone.

To learn more about exotic pets, start with these resoures:



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