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Why Exotic Animals Should Not Be Pets

Have you been to the zoo lately and dreamed of owning a tiger? How about a bear? Or a monkey? It may just be a fun fantasy for you, but there are many across the country who take their dreams of owning an exotic animal and make them come true. But most people are not equipped to own them.

What is an exotic animal? In the United States an exotic animal could be a(n):

  • Anteater
  • Leopard
  • Tiger
  • Elephant
  • Foreign domestic cow
  • And more

Here are just a few of the problems that arise when exotic animals become pets:

They require research and special care.

All pets require some type of research. What type of collar should you get your dog? How do you take your cat for a walk?

If you’re buying a specific breed of dog, it’s important to know what to expect. For example, a border collie will require plenty of exercise (and then more on top of that), but a pug is a bit more relaxed.

The research that goes into safely and successfully owning an exotic animal is very different from owning a dog or a cat. Each animal—tiger, snake, monkey, etc.—requires special:

  • Care
  • Habitats
  • Enrichment
  • Diets
  • Maintenance

Many homes and yards are not equipped to safely house an exotic animal. Some owners attempt to avoid providing the proper care by declawing, chaining, or abusing. Just like any animal, if an exotic pet is not given the care it needs, it may become aggressive, depressed, or ill. Owners who have taken on exotic animals often become overwhelmed by the care they need, and the animals are given to zoos or sanctuaries.

They can be dangerous to you, others, and the ecosystem.

Another reason exotic animals shouldn’t be pets is the danger they present—to the owner and to the public. Since 1990, big cats have killed more than 19 people in the country. This does not include the hundreds of injuries that have been reported and gone unreported. Big cats, snakes, monkeys, and other exotic animals are wild, not domestic, and can be extremely dangerous. Often, they don’t adjust well to captivity.

Exotic animals are much easier to acquire now due to the Internet, and some estimate that there are almost 5,000 tigers kept by people across the country. Unfortunately, the animal attack rate has stayed steady over the last 20 years. Born Free USA, an advocate organization against the ownership of exotic animals, keeps a list of attacks on owners, which have involved mountain lions; kangaroos; snakes; reptiles; and even kinkajous, rainforest animals related to raccoons.

If an exotic pet escapes its enclosure, it can present a serious risk to the public. This is especially true if the exotic pet is kept in an enclosure too small for its needs and isolated from its kind or any interaction. In 2011, 49 animals were killed in Ohio after the man who owned them set them free and then took his own life. Some were put down by police and other law enforcement, a big cat was hit by a car, and one monkey—likely infected with the herpes B virus—was unaccounted for several days after the event. Witnesses described the animals showing aggressive behavior and lions attacking the other exotic pets at the preserve.

Snakes are a common exotic animal that are often released or escape from their enclosure, as seen in Florida. The Everglades is fighting a battle against the Burmese python, a snake that doesn’t belong in the state or even the United States. Some of the pythons may have gotten away from a facility after Hurricane Andrew, while others may have been released when they became too large to care for, or they simply escaped. Difficult to find, they are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem and have nearly wiped out the local raccoons, opossums, and rabbits.

They pose potential health risks.

Exotic animals can pose serious health risks to the community. Monkeys, for example, bite to show dominance, which may cause infection or bone deformities. Macaque monkeys often carry the herpes B virus, adding another layer of danger to their bites. Transferred through saliva, it is usually fatal for humans. Monkey pox, Ebola, and other illnesses can also be transmitted via monkey bites.

Reptiles, such as turtles and snakes, also have the potential to be a health risk; that’s primarily because 90% carry salmonellosis. It’s estimated that 93,000 cases of the illness in the country are due to reptiles, and the animals don’t show symptoms. To avoid catching salmonella, always wash your hands after handling reptiles, a reptile’s cage, or anything a reptile has touched. Never put a reptile near your mouth. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems avoid all reptiles.

Owning exotic animals could be against the law.

There are several federal, state, and local laws either prohibiting or regulating the sale and ownership of exotic animals in Texas and the United States. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) prevents the sale of endangered species but does not stop private possession. The Public Health Services Act prohibits importing primates for personal use.

Texas requires citizens to have a license or permit to obtain and possess an exotic animal. A person interested in getting a permit must submit several materials, including:

  • The location the animal will be kept
  • Photos of their enclosure
  • Liability insurance
  • Veterinary inspections
  • Fees

Each certificate must be renewed annually.

While it is not against the law to own exotic animals in Texas as a whole, that’s not the case in Houston. The city bans any animal considered wild by nature. This includes lions, foxes, gorillas, elephants, and venomous reptiles.

Spend time with exotic animals!

Almost everyone can agree that exotic animals are amazing to watch and learn about. While it’s probably not a great idea to own one, there are several places to see and even interact with them in a safe manner.

Check out:

  • Zoos
  • Aquariums
  • Sanctuaries

Owning an exotic animal may seem like a fun and exciting idea, but there are several reasons why they should stay in the care of very educated owners, zoos, or the wild, and the examples listed above are only a few. If you are still interested in owning an exotic animal, do careful research into every aspect of owning the pet, including your local laws and the animals’ needs, diet, and behavior, so you can ensure that you and your pet stay healthy and happy.

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The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital

Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital serves Katy, TX and the surrounding areas with a dedication and passion for our animal friends that is unmatched. Our veterinarians are highly trained, experienced, and compassionate when it comes to giving your pet the care they deserve. If your companion is in need of emergency care, a dental cleaning, grooming, or just a check-up, we would love to see them! Call 281-693-7387 to make an appointment quickly and easily.

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