While cats and dogs make wonderful pets, many people enjoy welcoming an exotic creature into their home. Exotic pets are popular for their gorgeous colors, unique species, and intriguing personalities, but they require more specialized care than your typical cat or dog. Do your research prior to purchasing an exotic pet, to ensure you have everything in place to keep them happy and healthy. Before bringing them home, you will need to consider these requirements:

  • Enclosure type
  • Temperature and humidity levels
  • Lighting 
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Habitat decor and substrate
  • Handling and restraint methods
  • Exercise
  • Necessary veterinary and at-home care
  • Potential diseases and parasites

Without proper planning, your new exotic pet may suffer from health issues caused by inadequate nutrition, lighting, heat, or humidity. Each species has vastly different dietary and environmental needs to ensure their health and well-being, and, as part of your pet owner responsibility, prior research is vital for the appropriate care of your new pet. 

Common illness signs in exotic pets

As with any pet, regular veterinary care is a core component of responsible exotic pet ownership. Annual wellness exams, along with an understanding of illness signs in exotic pets, are essential to keep your unique pal happy and healthy. If your exotic pet’s habitat or diet does not meet their needs, they will likely experience health problems, some of which can be resolved through a simple husbandry change, but others will require urgent veterinary care. Monitor your exotic pet closely for subtle signs of illness, injury, or disease, as these pets are excellent at hiding issues until they become severe enough to notice, which can be too late. Indications that your exotic pet is under the weather include changes in the following aspects:

  • Appearance — Pets who are ill can appear unkempt, with changes in the skin, fur, or scales. Snakes who suffer because the humidity is too low can have difficulty shedding, and will retain their eye caps, while hair loss in small mammals may indicate an external parasite infection. Lumps, bumps, lesions, wounds, or weight loss or gain are also signs that something is amiss with your exotic pet’s health.
  • Eating and drinking habits — Although some exotic species can be housed together, many require solitary habitats, to avoid fighting and other issues. Exotic pets who are housed alone are more easily monitored for their eating and drinking, but you must also keep an eye on the appetite and thirst of a pet housed with other animals. Changes in hunger and thirst are key signs of illness, which can quickly escalate to a life-threatening issue, if your pet is not eating or drinking.
  • Stool and urine — Your exotic pet’s stool and urine are incredibly important for overall health evaluation. The feces’ consistency, color, and odor can be clues to hidden health issues, while a change in urine amount or color can also indicate a problem. Monitor your exotic pet’s stool and urine for changes from the typical day-to-day appearance.
  • Behavior — You know your exotic pet best, and are familiar with typical behavioral quirks. If anything is out of the ordinary, such as your normally docile blue-tongued skink suddenly becoming aggressive, or you notice hiding, lethargy, excessive digging, or less climbing, your exotic pet needs veterinary care. These subtle behavioral changes are often the only indication that your pet has a medical issue.
  • Breathing — While small rodents typically breathe much faster than cats or dogs, rapid breathing, wheezing, and squeaking while breathing are signs of an underlying issue. Small pets can perish when respiratory issues are compounded with stress, so take care when handling your exotic pet, if they are experiencing breathing problems.
  • Posture — If your small mammal is hunched, or your snake is demonstrating excessive vertical posturing, your pet may be sick or painful. 

Closely monitor your exotic pet for the smallest change in their behavior or habits, as these can be clues to a hidden illness or injury. Remember—exotic pets are better at camouflaging medical issues than dogs or cats, and spotting a problem can be tough. But, with a proper habitat and diet, and regular care and attention, you can quickly pick up that your exotic pet requires medical care. 

Exotic pets are unique creatures who require specialized care, to ensure they remain in optimal health for their natural lifespan. The Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital veterinarians are devoted to understanding and providing gold-standard care for exotic pets. Experience the difference a highly skilled, well-trained exotic veterinarian can make in your pet’s life by scheduling an appointment for a wellness visit.