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Why Animals Do The Thing

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF AN EXOTIC PET?

Rachel Garner

“What do some of these posts mean by ‘exotic pet’? does it mean those that aren’t domesticated? cause I have pet domestic rats who are bred and meant to be pets, but they’re referred to as exotic pets by vets and such and I don’t understand why owning them would be bad since they’re domestic and can easily be owned in a way that’s healthy for them?”

 Someone shot us this really good ask privately on the tumblr, and agreed that I could make a text post out of it because it’s something I really wanted to share with everyone. This is actually a really interesting thing to point out - the term ‘exotic pet’ is often used interchangeably, but it means two different things in different fields. 

When I (or zookeepers, wildlife rescue, etc) talk about exotic pets, we’re referring to animals that are not genetically domesticated and/or have not been commonly genetically modified to be pets for a long time. So rats are definitely not exotic pets, in that definition. It also is a term used to apply to animals whose husbandry needs are different from “normal” pets - e.g., foxes being destructive and stinky, wolf hybrids having unexpectedly not-domestic behavioral tendencies and getting grounchy around mating season, parrots needing a huge amount of mental enrichment. 

However, ‘exotic animal’ has a different meaning in the vet world. Most vets are trained exclusively on cats and dogs, and they can make the choice to specialize in other areas; generally, those are small animals like rodents, reptiles, birds, large animals, or ‘exotics’. In that case, exotic animals are defined as ‘not common companion animals or domesticated livestock’. However, in common parlance, small animals/herps/birds are often also referred to as exotic animal specialties by non-vet people.