Help Save Exotic Animals

 

Exotic Pets

Many people appreciate the mystic and beauty of exotic animals such as reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals of non-native species or individuals of native species that have been raised in captivity. They succumb to the temptation of purchasing critters, reptiles, amphibians and other exotic animals, often on impulse. Too often little thought is put into the care and commitment necessary to properly provide for these animals. Parents frequently purchase the animals as learning aids or entertainment for their children who are far too young to be responsible for an intelligent, emotional, living being.

Most critters, reptiles, amphibians and exotic animals are mass produced by the pet trade...just like puppies from puppy mills. They are viewed by the pet trade businesses as money making objects. Profit is placed above their welfare. They are denied veterinary care, exercise and socialization. Many are captured from the wild and transported long distances. They are packed into crates and trucked or flown hundreds of miles to brokers and pet stores...often suffering or dieing in the process.
Life in captivity for these animals often leads to neglect, pain, emotional distress and death. Many suffer from malnutrition, unnatural and uncomfortable environments and extreme stress from confinement. While they may look cute and cuddly, wild animals are wild and have very special husbandry requirements. The stress of captivity, improper diets, and unnatural breeding practices to pump out “products” takes its tole on these fragile animals. Trauma and injuries are common, and they are tossed aside when their novelty fades.

Pet shops treat animals as if they are no different than pet supplies or bags of animal food. They have no standards for whom they peddle the animals to. Internet businesses ship live animals to anyone with a credit card.
Although some of us may treat our companion animals well, many are treated poorly and neglected. Most spend only a short time in a home before they are dumped at a pound, given away or released into the wild. Selling these animals denies homes to millions of homeless and unwanted animals who await adoption in animal shelters.

If you have the time, resources and compassion to make a home for a critter, reptile, amphibian or exotic animal, adopt rather than supporting the inhumane pet trade industry. Like dogs and cats, millions of mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, reptiles, exotic animals and "pocket" pets are available through humane societies, shelters and rescue groups each year.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs, or cavies, are found naturally in the Andes mountains in South America. They were domesticated in South America around 5,000 BC and used as a source of food. The domestic guinea pig is a subspecies of the Andes guinea pig and therefore cannot be found in the wild.

Guinea pigs are small, furry herbivores that can live 7 years or more. They communicate with high pitched squeals. Wild guinea pigs eat grass and small plant matter. They also supplement their diet by eating their feces, soft pellets that offer vital nutrients.

Guinea pigs are very social animals and prefer to be among other guinea pigs. They are also territorial and may not like having their cage cleaned. They often will urinate and drag themselves along the cage floor after cleaning to remark their territory.

Perhaps because of the perilous misconception that guinea pigs make great “starter pets” for children, these fragile animals have become popular “pocket pets.” Despite their popularity, guinea pigs aren’t worth as much as a bag of dog food to the stores that peddle them. Sick guinea pigs rarely receive treatment, many are shipped to pet stores too young to be weaned and many arrive with mites.

If you’re willing to open your home to one or, preferably, two guinea pigs, adopt from a shelter or rescue group. Before you do, be prepared to care for your guinea pig for as long as seven years or more and to spend at least $20 per week for supplies.

An exotic-animal veterinarian will need to see the guinea pig annually and can also help with regular nail trimming—a must.

If you are housing a male and female together, you must also first have them sterilized. However, spay/neuter surgeries are more dangerous to perform on small animals, so it is preferable to house females with other females and males with no more than one other male—three or more males together will fight.

Provide your guinea pig with the following:
  • High-quality, soft timothy hay for nesting and snacking—for young, pregnant, or nursing guinea pigs, alfalfa hay is recommended
  • Timothy hay-based guinea-pig food pellets (not rabbit pellets), in a heavy food bowl
  • Small amounts of fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, apples, and alfalfa hay, and a small salt block (no sweets, meats, or dairy products)
  • A source of vitamin C, which is available in various forms from pet supply stores—some commercial guinea pig food come stabilized with vitamin C, and kale, cabbage, melons, apples, or vitamin supplements are also safe sources of vitamin C
  • A gnawing log, such as an untreated fruit-tree branch, to wear down incisors
  • A cage that is at least 30 inches wide, 36 inches high, and 36 inches long for one guinea pig, but you should make it as large as you can, preferably with two levels for exploring, little ramps, and a “bedroom” made out of an upside-down box with a cut-out doorway
  • Since guinea pigs do not climb or jump, they can also live in open enclosures, such as a plastic “kiddie” pool, as long as other animals, including small children, will not have access to the pool
  • Daily cage or enclosure cleanings, removing all substrate and wiping the floor with an antiseptic cleaner and then drying with a paper towel
  • A brick, rough stone, or cinder block for wearing down nails
  • Daily exercise in a safe, securely enclosed room
  • Fresh water in a bottle with a sipper tube—check the tube daily for clogs
  • Weekly combing and brushing—essential for long-haired angoras

Birds In Cages

Birds' instinctive yearning to fly is thwarted when they are confined to a cage. Even in a large aviary, it is virtually impossible to provide birds in captivity with a natural existence, since naturally changing temperatures, food, vegetation, and landscape cannot be recreated indoors, nor, of course, can the birds fly freely. As a result of the horrific travelling conditions they are forced to endure, many birds captured in the wild die long before arriving at their destination.

Because birds seem so very different from us, we can easily overlook their intelligence, abilities and emotions, as well as their sense of fun.

In fact, birds are highly intelligent. Crows use tools like twigs to pick up food. Some even make her own tools. Crows are known to use cars to crack open walnuts - the birds wait until cars stop at road junctions then place the nuts in the road, knowing that when the lights turn to green, the cars will roll over the nuts and crack them open. When the lights turn red again, the crows hop back into the road to eat the nuts.

Birds remember exactly where they've hidden thousands of seeds each autumn and find their way back to their stashes using the sun, stars, landmarks, and the magnetic pull of the earth to guide them.

Crows have about 300 different calls but not all crows understand each other. Just like us, they have different accents. Crows in the United States don't understand some calls that their British cousins make, and vice versa.

Birds make sounds that we don't usually hear, like the hushed chatter and whispering between two nesting crows. They take turns 'talking,' in the bird equivalent of a conversation.

Birds grieve and take care of one another. After a car killed the mate of a coucal (a member of the cuckoo family), he refused to leave her side or stop trying to revive her. A robin that crippled his rival in a fight was seen feeding him and keeping him alive. Another witness watched as a pair of terns helped lift an injured member of the flock by his wings and carry him to safety.

Birds dance, play 'hide-and-seek', and have even been seen sliding down snowy slopes then climbing back up to do it over and over again for the sheer joy of it - just as we do!

Yet thousands of birds are still taken away from their families and flocks every year, packed up as if they were plastic dolls, and sold at bird shows or through pet shops. Many don't survive the journey, and those who do are likely to be destined for a life of misery.

For people who have aviaries or who have the space for pairs or groups of birds to fly indoors, adoption from sanctuaries, rather than buying birds from shops or breeders, is recommended by animal campaigners.

Rabbits

Rabbits are small mammals found naturally in several parts of the world. Rabbit habitats include woods, meadows, grasslands, deserts and wetlands. These intelligent, social animals live in groups, and the best known species, the European rabbit, lives in underground burrows, or rabbit holes. Rabbits are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.

Rabbits are herbivores who feed on grass, nuts and berries, vegetables and fruit. They dig burrows to hide and store food. Their large ears allow them to easily detect predators. They can see nearly 360 degrees, with a small blind spot at the bridge of the nose. They survive predation by burrowing, hopping away in a zig-zag motion, and, if captured, delivering powerful kicks with their hind legs. Their strong teeth allow them to bite in order to escape.

Rabbits are fast breeders with the average gestation period just over a month and the mother giving birth to an average of 6 babies. Rabbits give birth and raise their babies in burrows.

Rabbits have no place in the “pet” industry. These complex animals are often purchased on a whim, especially in the spring, and potential caretakers rarely understand the specific needs of their new companion. Once the novelty has worn off, many bunnies are neglected, relegated to outdoor cages, dumped at shelters, or simply turned loose in the wild, where they have little chance of surviving. Hundreds of organizations and shelters are trying to deal with this growing problem.

Dealers and “pet” stores usually request 4-week-old bunnies because they require less space and are “cuter,” but bunnies of this age are ill-prepared to be weaned from their parents. Many people who purchase these young, small bunnies do not realize that the average weight for an adult rabbit is anywhere from 2 to 20 pounds. Federal regulations apply only to those breeders or “bunny mills” that do at least $500 of business with a particular pet store, and enforcement is lax, so the rabbits that you see in the store may not have been properly transported or cared for.

Rabbits are social creatures with gentle natures and individual personalities, and they need just as much attention as a dog or cat. They are not suitable companions for young children. Rabbits require specific foods, stimulating environments, and veterinarians who have specialized knowledge of their species.

If—after careful consideration—you have decided to welcome a rabbit into your home, adopt from your local humane society or rabbit rescue group.

Rabbits can live up to 10 years and require annual checkups by a veterinarian. Bunnies need lots of company and can become withdrawn and depressed if not provided with plenty of love and companionship. Rabbits do get along with dogs and cats if they are all safely socialized.

If you plan to adopt two rabbits, consider a neutered male and a spayed female, as they are usually more compatible than two fixed same-sex bunnies. It is crucial to have your new companion spayed or neutered immediately. Otherwise, males mark their territory, females run a high risk of uterine cancer, and the already serious overpopulation crisis becomes worse.

RABBIT-PROOFING

Rabbits cannot tolerate extreme heat and must be provided with shelter from the cold. They prefer to live indoors, where they can participate in their caretaker’s everyday life, but before you let your new friend into your home, there are a few things you need to do to ensure his or her safety and happiness. Bunnies are natural chewers and they love to play, so be sure to provide plenty of toys. Untreated wood; straw; wire cat-balls; keys; paper towel rolls; and hard, plastic baby toys work well, but even with all these fun toys to play with, bunnies are drawn to electrical and phone wires, books, baseboard molding, door jams and plants. You’ll need to cover or redirect wires and move the rest of these items up and out of the way before bringing your bunny home. You’ll also want to setup a large box or basket filled with shredded paper for your new companion to dig in. Not all rabbits are chronic diggers, but those who are will take their natural digging instincts out on your rugs and other furnishings unless you’ve supplied an alternate digging spot. And while you’re setting up, don’t forget that rabbits also need a safe, quiet haven such as a cardboard box or plastic carrier with a towel inside. Wire cages are not suitable for bunnies.

LITTER TRAINING

Litter training is possible at any age—since rabbits like to relieve themselves in one place—and older rabbits tend to be quicker students than youngsters. Even if you plan on giving the bunny the run of the house, you’ll need to conduct litter training in a relatively confined space. Fill a litterbox with paper pulp litter. Do not use clay, as it is deadly for rabbits’ delicate digestive systems. Place the litter box in the corner of the cage or room. Try encouraging your rabbit by putting some of his or her droppings into the box or try using timothy hay or treats. Rabbits learn easily, and before long, you will be able to leave litterboxes in different locations around the house.

DIETARY NEEDS

The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be grass, timothy or oat hay, and fresh vegetables. You may also try giving a limited amount of pellets and a small amount of fruit to him or her. Dark leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, parsley, watercress, bananas, apples, pears, and pineapples are all good choices. Stay away from iceberg lettuce (too much water) or large amounts of cabbage (can give a bunny gas). Like dogs or cats, rabbits may be prone to begging at the table. As tempting as it may be to give your rabbit a taste of whatever it is that you’re eating, rabbits have digestive systems that are easily disrupted, so you should stick to his or her normal diet. Check with your vet before you add other treats.

GROOMING & HANDLING

Although rabbits clean themselves much as cats do, rabbits do not have the ability to cough up hairballs, so it is imperative that you groom your rabbit at least once a week. Most rabbits love the attention and grooming prevents digestive problems later in life.

Rabbits are instinctively nervous when lifted off the ground. Because of the delicate structure of their spines and the power of their leg muscles, struggling rabbits can actually break their own backbones. Never lift a rabbit by the ears or with just one hand under the stomach. Rabbits do not like to be carried around as cats or dogs might. It is best to get down on their level to interact with them, but if you must pick your rabbit up, make sure that you are supporting his or her hind legs and rump at all times and using your other hand to support his or her chest.

Once acclimated to your home, bunnies will come to you, jump into your lap, and even sleep with you.

Ferrets

The domestic ferret is believed to be native to Europe, a subspecies of the polecat. They were domesticated about 2,500 years ago to help farmers hunt rabbits by crawling into rabbit burrows and scaring the rabbits out of their holes. In the wild, ferrets feed mainly on mice, small rabbits and small birds.

Most ferrets sleep 18 hours a day, about six hours at a time in between playing and eating for about an hour. They are often most active at dusk and dawn.

Pet stores typically purchase extremely young ferrets, who are as charming as all baby animals, in order to increase their sales. To meet this demand, ferret breeders often prematurely spay, neuter, and de-scent ferrets, which can result in medical problems and even premature death. During shipping, many ferrets die or become ill. In such cases, pet stores merely ask for replacements.

The novelty of having a ferret, often purchased on impulse, can quickly wear off. When ferrets become too difficult to handle, they are often abandoned outside or entrusted to overcrowded animal shelters.

If you are willing to open your home to a ferret, adopt from a shelter or rescue group rather than supporting the inhumane pet industry. Ask your local Wildlife Department, Fish and Game Department, humane society, or veterinarian about the legality of keeping a ferret where you live and whether you will need to obtain a permit if you adopt one.

If you have young children, be sure to monitor their interaction with the ferret as closely as you would with a dog. If more than one ferret will be living in your home, expect “dominance fighting” to take place in the beginning. Fortunately, ferrets can usually coexist peacefully, and even amicably, with cats and dogs. Of course, supervision is a must, for safety reasons. Ferrets aren’t typically compatible with birds, fish, rabbits, reptiles or rodents.

LITTER TRAINING

Even for a ferret with free range of the house, a cage is a smart thing to have on hand. A cage or other enclosure can help your ferret learn how to use a litter pan. Although ferrets generally don’t take to using litter as quickly as cats do, they can learn. Start your ferret out in a small area, such as the cage, and expand his or her space gradually as he or she learns. Train ferrets with praise and treats—never use punishment. Once your ferret has learned to use litter pans, place them throughout your home. Don’t use clumping litter, which can easily be inhaled and can also cause rectal blockages.

DIETARY NEEDS

Ferrets must eat a high-protein cat food, but keep in mind that most ferrets dislike fish flavors. The food must contain at least 32 percent protein and 18 percent fat. Unless your ferret is overweight, make food available to him or her at all times. Vitamin supplements such as ferretone and linatone and small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t strictly necessary, especially if you provide a high-quality cat food, but they can contribute to good health if they are supplied in the proper amounts. To help your ferret pass indigestible objects that he or she may ingest, such as rubber bands or Styrofoam, you may also want to give him or her small doses of a cat-hairball remedy regularly. Chocolate, licorice, onions, and dairy products are not recommended for ferrets. Ask your veterinarian for more information about food and supplements.

KEEPING YOUR FERRET HEALTHY

Spaying or neutering soon after your ferret turns 6 months old is a must. Neutering greatly decreases a male’s odor, preventing him from marking his territory in your home and making him less aggressive (males “in season” may kill other ferrets). An unspayed female who doesn’t breed while she is in heat may die of anemia. Do not let your ferret reproduce and add to the overpopulation crisis. De-scenting is not necessary and may be harmful.

Brush your ferret’s teeth twice a week with a small cat toothbrush and an enzymatic toothpaste to control plaque and tartar buildup. Nail-trimming is best left to a veterinarian, unless you are confident that you won’t nick a blood vessel. Do not declaw your ferret.

Ear-cleaning should be done once every month with a cotton swab dipped in sweet oil or an alcohol-based ear cleaner. Ear mites are common parasites. Your veterinarian can recommend treatments. Do not use dips or sprays to combat fleas. These products are very dangerous.

FERRET-PROOFING

Maintaining a ferret-proof home can be even more arduous than baby or child proofing. Unlike children, ferrets don’t learn to avoid hazards as they grow older. Imagine having to baby-proof your home for 10 years—ferrets can live that long!

Exercise caution, especially with the following tempting, potential dangers in your home:
  • Cabinets and drawers, which ferrets can open
  • Heaters and furnace ducts
  • Recliners and sofa-beds (ferrets have been crushed in their levers and springs)
  • Anything spongy or springy, such as kitchen sponges, erasers, shoe insoles, foam earplugs, Silly Putty, foam rubber (including the foam rubber inside a cushion or mattress), Styrofoam, insulation, and rubber door stoppers—swallowing these items will often result in intestinal blockage
  • Human food—even ferret-safe human foods, including fruits and vegetables, are harmful in large quantities
  • Filled bathtubs, toilets, and water and paint buckets, in which ferrets can drown
  • Toilet paper and paper towel rolls, in which ferrets’ heads can easily become wedged, resulting in suffocation
  • Plastic bags—if you choose to let your ferret play with bags, cut off the handles and cut a slit in the bottom
  • Tiny holes behind refrigerators and other appliances with exposed wires, fans, and insulation
  • Your dishwasher, refrigerator, washer, and dryer
  • Common—and often poisonous—houseplants

Ferrets love to rip the cloth covering the underside of box springs and climb inside, where they may become trapped or crushed. Put a fitted sheet on the underside of the box springs and anchor it in place with small nails or brads, or attach wire mesh or a thin piece of wood to the underside of the box springs.

HOUSING

When you aren't home to supervise your ferret, you may decide to enclose him or her in a ferret-proof room or in a roomy, metal mesh cage—one that is at least 18 inches long, 18 inches deep, and 30 inches wide, though larger enclosures are preferable. Whatever you decide, your ferret will appreciate ramps, tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, a “bedroom” made out of an upside-down box with a cut-out doorway, and hammocks made from old jeans or shirts. Line the cage bottom with linoleum squares, carpet samples, or cloth cage pads, and use old T-shirts and sweatshirts for bedding—never use cedar or pine shavings, which are toxic to small animals. Don’t let the temperature in their living quarters climb too high. Even at 80ºF, ferrets can get sick. They are more comfortable in temperatures around 60ºF.

Don’t forget that ferrets can go for walks on a leash attached to a harness.

Fish In Tanks

Fragile tropical fish, born to dwell in the majestic seas and forage among brilliantly colored coral reefs, suffer miserably when forced to spend their lives enclosed in glass aquariums. Robbed of their natural habitat, denied the space to roam, they must swim and reswim the same empty cubic inches.

The popularity of keeping tropical fish has created a virtually unregulated industry based on catching and breeding as many fish as possible, with little regard for the fish themselves.

In the Philippines, the source of most saltwater fish sold in the U.S., many fish divers collect their prey by squirting cyanide or other poisons into the coral reefs where fish live. Meant to stun them so that they will drift out of the reef for easy collection, the cyanide kills as many as half of the fish on the spot. Many others die from cyanide residue after being purchased. The poison also kills the live coral where the fish live, which can take thousands of years to grow back.

Most of the freshwater fish sold in the U.S. are easier to breed than their saltwater cousins and are bred on "fish farms." These breeding centers, seeking new market niches, create fish breeds that would never occur in nature. Treating fish as ornaments instead of as live animals, some fish breeders "paint" fish by injecting fluorescent dye into their bodies to make them more attractive to buyers.

FISH FACTS

Fish are wonderful creatures with individual personalities and attributes that most people know little about. They communicate with each other, form bonds, and grieve when their companions die. Fish communicate with one another through a range of low-frequency sounds from buzzes and clicks to yelps and sobs. The sounds, audible to humans only with special instruments, communicate emotional states such as courtship, alarm, or submission. Sadly, the pumps and filters necessary in many home aquariums can interfere with this communication. "At the least, we're disrupting their communication; at the worst, we're driving them bonkers," says ichthyologist Phillip Lobel.

Most fish enjoy companionship and develop special relationships with each other. One South African publication documented the relationship between Blackie, a goldfish with a deformity that made it nearly impossible for him to swim, and Big Red, the larger fish who shared his tank. Big Red daily put Blackie on his back to swim him around, and when they were fed, Big Red swam Blackie to the surface, where they ate together.

Fish enjoy tactile stimulation in their relationships and often gently rub against each other. Divers tell of gaining the friendship of fish by lightly scratching their foreheads they've found that the fish then recognize and regularly approach them.

Don't support the pet fish trade by purchasing fish. If you must have fish, adopt - never shop.

If You Already Have a Fish

If you already have fish, biologists say there is no safe way to return them to their natural environment because of the difficulty in locating such a habitat (often in a far-off country) and the possibility of introducing disease to the other fish there. However, you can make their lives easier by duplicating their natural environment as closely as possible. While no confined fish can live a natural life, the following tips will help make them as happy as possible.

The more space that fish have, the happier and healthier they will be. Allow a minimum of 12 square inches of water surface per inch of fish.

Treat tap water properly before putting it in the aquarium. Even trace amounts of chlorine can cause breathing difficulties, nervous spasms, or even death. The type of chemicals you should use depends on your area's water; consult with a local tropical fish supply store to determine the proper treatment.

Before putting the fish into the aquarium, let the filter and pump run for two weeks to allow bacterial cycling and other environmental adjustments.

Different types of fish require different pH levels. Check the pH level daily for the first month and weekly thereafter.

A filter is necessary to remove waste particles and noxious chemicals from the water. An air pump will provide oxygen.

Fish need a constant temperature, usually 68 to 74 degrees. A 74-degree temperature is right for most fish, but you should check with a fish supply store for information specific to your fish. An automatic aquarium heater will monitor the water temperature and turn the heater on or off as needed. Attaching a small thermometer to the tank will tell you if the heater is functioning properly.

Clean the tank regularly, about two to three times a week. The natural waste of fish emits ammonia, which can accumulate to toxic levels. Also be sure to clean the glass well with a pad or a brush so that algae don't grow there.

Never empty the tank all at once; fish are most comfortable with water they are used to, even if it is dirty. When cleaning the tank, change only 10 to 25 percent of the water at a time.

Plants provide oxygen, shelter, and hiding places, and fish enjoy snacking on them as well. Provide live plants, not plastic ones.

Create places for your fish to hide and explore. Ceramic objects, natural rock, and plants all work well. Make sure that all objects are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before putting them in the tank. Do not use metal objects, as they will rust.

Be aware of the environment outside the aquarium. Suddenly switching on a bright light in a dark room can startle fish, and vibrations from a television or a stereo can alarm and stress them. One study found that fish repeatedly exposed to loud music can develop fatal liver injury.

Keep all harmful chemicals away from the aquarium's vicinity. Cigarette smoke, paint fumes, and aerosol sprays can be toxic if they are absorbed into the aquarium water.

Place the aquarium in a spot where temperature and light are constant and controllable. Tropical fish supply stores may be able to advise you on the best degree of light for your fish to live in. Remember that direct sunlight and drafts from nearby doors or windows may change the water temperature, and fumes from a nearby kitchen or workshop may injure your fish.

Don't overfeed; uneaten food and waste material are broken down into ammonia and nitrites, which are toxic. One expert recommends sprinkling in only as much food as your fish can eat in 30 seconds.

If your fish seems sick or lethargic, take him or her to a vet. Fish can be medicated, anesthetized, given shots, and operated on, just like other animals. Bring along a separate sample of the tank water when you go.

Most fish enjoy companionship. If you have a single fish, check with friends and neighbors to find another loner whom you may be able to adopt (but don't support the fish trade by going to a dealer). 

Hamsters

Hamsters were found in Syria in 1839 and have been held captive as “pets” and test subjects since the 1940s. They are believed to have originated in the deserts of east Asia. They inhabit semi-desert regions around the globe where soft ground allows burrowing.

In the wild, these nocturnal animals spend most of their evening digging and foraging for food. During the heat of the day they live in underground burrows, consisting of numerous tunnels and chambers with separate eating and sleeping rooms. They are solitary animals. Some will fight to the death to defend their territory.

Hamsters eat nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, berries and grass. They use their large cheek pouches to store food until they return to their underground burrows.

Many hamster species are fast runners, capable of escaping most predators. They can easily retreat into their burrows because the size and shape of their hind feet allow them to run as quickly backwards as forwards.

More than 20 different species of hamster live in the wild. The Russian dwarf hamster is the smallest. The common Syrian hamster is the largest.

Because of their size, hamsters are mis-perceived as being “low maintenance” animal companions. But being solitary animals and nocturnal, bonding with humans can be a challenge. Hamsters often bite and do not make good companion animals for children.

Like all rodents, they can carry rabies and other diseases and, if released into the wild, pose a threat to established ecosystems.

If, after carefully considering these factors, you are sure you want to bring these delicate creatures into your home, avoid pet shops and adopt from a shelter or rescue agency.

Hamsters require proper housing, food, temperature, and exercise and prefer to be alone or with their own kind. A large wire-mesh cage with a solid base works best. More than one hamster in a small space often leads to deadly fighting. Colorful plastic cages may be enticing, but they are difficult to clean, and hamsters may chew their way out.

You’ll need a water bottle, nonwood-based bedding such as straw or shredded white paper, chew toys and an exercise wheel. Wooden ladders and toilet paper rolls also make great toys.

A hamster’s diet should consist of a variety of greens, fruits and seeds, some of which are available in packages formulated for hamsters or birds.

Their teeth never stop growing, so it is imperative that these animals be provided with hard, digestible items to chew.

Do not let hamsters become too cold or they will go into hibernation.

Hamsters live to be between 2 and 4 years old.

Gerbils

Gerbils are small rodents, similar in many ways to hamsters and mice. They are naturally found in the sandy plains of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Originally known as desert rats, they were commercially introduced to North America and bred as “pets”.

Gerbils have long tails that they are able to shed, allowing them to escape predators. Their tails also help them balance when standing on their hind legs.

They have sharp claws they use for burrowing into desert sand to escape predators by quickly disappearing under the sand. Gerbils build extensive networks of tunnels and rarely surface other than to find food and water.

Over 100 different species of gerbils live in the wild. Most “pet” gerbils are Mongolian gerbils, found in their natural habitat in the 1860s and first captive-bred in the 1930s. Most gerbils are diurnal (active during the daytime), though pet gerbils are often more nocturnal.

Because of their size, gerbils are mis-perceived as being “low maintenance” animal companions. Gerbils often bite and do not make good companion animals for children.

Like all rodents, they can carry rabies and other diseases and, if released into the wild, pose a threat to established ecosystems.

If, after carefully considering these factors, you are sure you want to bring these delicate creatures into your home, avoid pet shops and adopt from a shelter or rescue agency.

Gerbils do not like to be alone and live in families of up to 20 members in their natural habitat. If kept in a solitary environment, a captive gerbil will become depressed. If you’re planning to adopt gerbils, two males or two females from the same family will bond together.

Their dietary needs include a variety of greens, fruits and seeds, some of which are available in packages formulated for hamsters or birds. Their teeth never stop growing, so it is imperative that these animals be provided with hard, digestible items to chew.

A large wire-mesh cage with a solid base works best. Colorful plastic cages may be enticing, but they are difficult to clean, and gerbils may chew their way out.

You’ll need a water bottle, nonwood-based bedding such as straw or shredded white paper, chew toys and an exercise wheel. Wooden ladders and toilet paper rolls also make great toys.

Only use solid exercise wheels for gerbils, since their long tails can become entangled in wire wheels.

Do not let gerbils become too cold or they will go into hibernation.

Gerbils live for about five years.

Iguanas

Iguanas are native to the jungles of the Caribbean and central and South America. Green iguanas are forest lizards who live high in the South American rainforest tree canopy. Young iguanas live lower in the canopies, while older adults reside higher up in the tree tops. Iguanas bask in the sun, with little need to visit the forest floor below other than when female iguanas lay their eggs.

The green and brown scales of iguanas allow them to blend extremely effectively into the surrounding forest. Iguanas will remain extremely still, going unnoticed, until predators pass by. They often chose basking spots on tree limbs hanging over water so they can dive into the water to escape predators. Iguanas are excellent swimmers and go beneath the water surface to avoid predators.

Iguanas have excellent sight able to detect movement from incredibly long distances to seek out prey and detect approaching predators. They use visual signals to communicate with each other through a series of rapid eye movements. They are considered omnivores, but most iguanas in the wild tend to eat an herbivorous diet. They feed on ripened fruit and leafy green plants.

These large, docile lizards are often a popular choice as exotic “pets”.

Green iguanas are some of the most frequently abandoned companion animals, likely because people find out too late what is required to care for them. A properly cared for iguana can live for more than 20 years and grow to be more than 6 feet long. The enclosure for a full-grown iguana should be at least 18 feet long, humidified, and maintained at a particular temperature with specific timetables for darkness and ultraviolet light.

Common problems for captive iguanas are metabolic bone disease from calcium deficiency, mouth rot, respiratory disease, abscesses, and ulcers. Wild iguanas do not suffer from any of these illnesses. They’re also strict vegans, limited to a very specific range of greens and fruits. 

Costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year. It takes about a year of daily interaction to socialize an iguana, and even then, sexually mature males will be very aggressive six months out of the year if they see their own reflections or if confronted with other iguanas.

There is a health risk associated with keeping any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.

Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.

Turtles

Turtles are reptiles with hard shells that protect them like a shield. Their upper shells are called a ‘carapace’. Their lower shells are called ‘plastron’. The shell is made up of 60 different bones all connected together. Many turtle species are able to hide their heads inside their shells when attacked by predators. Their hard shells enable them to live without fast reflexes and elaborate predator avoidance strategies.

Turtles are highly intelligent and social animals. They sometimes switch between monogamy and promiscuity in their sexual behavior. They enjoy playing. They have good eyesight, hearing and an excellent sense of smell. Their shells contain nerve endings, aiding in their sense of touch.

Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through their skin so they can remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time. They can even hibernate underwater.

The largest turtle is the leatherback sea turtle, which can weigh over 2000 lb. Several species of turtles can live to be over a hundred years of age, including the American Box Turtle.

Some turtles lay eggs in the sand and leave them to hatch on their own. The baby turtles make their way to the top of the sand and scramble to the water while trying to avoid predators. In some species of turtle the temperature determines if the egg will develop into a male or female. Higher temperatures lead to females; lower temperatures lead to males.

Most of the North American species of turtles available in pet stores have been taken from their natural habitats. Other species are usually captive bred—most likely in Louisiana, which has dozens of turtle factory farms. Most states have laws either banning or restricting the sale of turtles, so it is likely that any you see at a pet store have suffered illegal capture or were raised in less than humane conditions. Since parasites, bacteria, and fungi prey on weak or stressed turtles, the health of a store-bought turtle is questionable.

Just like any other reptile, a turtle’s needs are very specific: thermostatically controlled temperatures, enough water to swim in, a large housing area, and a varied diet. The average lifespan of an aquatic turtle is 25 years, while a land tortoise could outlive you.

There is a health risk associated with keeping any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.

Welcoming a reptile into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure. In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.

Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.

Mice

Mice are small rodents found naturally in nearly every part of the world, including parts of Antarctica. There are around 40 different species of mouse, ranging in color and size dependent on their environment.

Mice are often thought of as pests because they can damage crops and spread diseases through their parasites and feces. But, they are an important part of the ecosystem, including as a source of food for small mammals, reptiles and birds.

The gestation period for female mice is less than a month, with an average litter size of about six babies. Baby mice, or pups, are born with their eyes and ears closed and with no hair. They are weaned at around three weeks old.

Mice, just like dogs, are supplied to pet stores by mass breeders, who aggravate the problem of these species’ overpopulation and the resulting abandonment and abuse. Shipped to distributors in small, cramped containers that are breeding grounds for parasites and viral and bacterial infections, mice often reach the pet store ill, malnourished, and/or pregnant. Small animals represent a small profit for pet stores, and their deaths represent a minor loss. Their living conditions in pet stores generally reflect this.

Prospective guardians of mice should keep in mind that they may require veterinary treatment and that this can be as expensive for them as it is for cats or dogs.

Mice are social but territorial animals. A lone, caged mouse will languish, but two or more crowded together without adequate space may fight.

A 15-gallon aquarium or a wire enclosure of equivalent size is a minimum requirement for two animals, and you should never mix males and females or different species.

If you are determined to have a mice, adopt – don't buy. Adoption is a far better choice than supporting a pet store. Like all other companion animals, mice are often abandoned to local humane societies and animal shelters.

You will need to provide mice with a habitat with the following specifications:
  • Bedding material at least 1-inch thick but no cedar or pine shavings, as these are toxic to small animals
  • No direct sunlight or drafts
  • Fresh food and water, but no cheese, milk, or other animal products—clean the feed dish daily and the water bottle before each refill
  • A mineral block, for honing teeth
  • An exercise wheel
  • Paper towel rolls, shelves, tree branches, old socks, etc. for toys and chewing

Snakes

Snakes are elongated, limbless and flexible reptiles. They are found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. There are over 3,000 different known species of snake. Around 375 species are venomous. Python reticulates are the largest species, reaching over 28 feet in length.

Snakes are carnivores (meat eaters). They feed on a variety of prey including rodents, termites, birds, frogs, reptiles and even small deer. They cannot chew, so they must swallow prey whole. Their flexible jaws allow them to eat prey bigger than their heads, and their unique anatomy allows them to digest large prey.

Some species of snake use venom to hunt and kill their prey. Some kill their prey by tightly wrapping around it and suffocating it, a process called constriction.

Snakes do not have eyelids. They have only internal ears. They smell with their tongues. Some water snakes can breathe partially through their skin, allowing them to spend long periods underwater. Snakes shed their skin several times a year in a process that usually lasts a few days.

Snakes are cold blooded and must regulate their body temperature externally by sunning themselves or retreating to cool areas. They hibernate during the winter. Most species lay eggs, but some give birth to live young. Some species care for their young.

Depending on the variety, snakes can live for decades and grow to lengths in excess of 28 feet.

Captive snakes require at least a 30-gallon tank, frequent checkups, and care by a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. Fresh water and a spotless environment must be provided at all times. They are susceptible to a variety of parasites as well as blister disease, respiratory and digestive disorders and mouth rot. Strictly controlled daytime and nighttime temperatures and the careful application of pesticides are required in order to guard against mite infestations.

There is a health risk associated with keeping any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.

Welcoming a reptile into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure.

In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.

Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.

Rats

Rats are found naturally throughout the world. They originated in Asia and migrated around the globe as accidental passengers on human voyages. They are one of the most widely spread and adaptable animals on the planet.

The two most common species are the black rat and the brown rat. They are generally much larger than mice. Rats usually live in small, dark places. They are scavenger animals and omnivores, feeding on plant and animal matter.

Rats are often viewed as pests in both urban and rural areas, but they are an important part of the ecosystem, including a source of food for many birds, reptiles and mammals.

Rats can carry and spread diseases, though they rarely spread diseases to humans. When they do, it is usually caused by infected fleas living on the rats.

Rats are fast breeders and give birth to large litters. They are able to reproduce at only 5 weeks of age. Mother rats give birth to 6 and 10 babies after a gestation period of 22 days.

Rats were first bred as “pets” in the 1800s. Just like dogs, rats are supplied to pet stores by mass breeders, who aggravate the problem of these species’ overpopulation and the resulting abandonment and abuse. Shipped to distributors in small, cramped containers that are breeding grounds for parasites and viral and bacterial infections, rats often reach the pet store ill, malnourished, and/or pregnant. Small animals represent a small profit for pet stores, and their deaths represent a minor loss. Their living conditions in pet stores generally reflect this.

Prospective guardians of rats should keep in mind that they may require veterinary treatment and that this can be as expensive for them as it is for cats or dogs. Further, most domestic rats carry Mycoplasma pulmonis, which can develop into active respiratory illness and pneumonia if it is triggered by stress or illness.

Rats are social but territorial animals. A lone, caged rat will languish, but two or more crowded together without adequate space may fight. A 15-gallon aquarium or a wire enclosure of equivalent size is a minimum requirement for two animals, and you should never mix males and females or different species.

If you are determined to have rats, adopt – don't buy. Adoption is a far better choice than supporting a pet store. Like all other companion animals, rats are often abandoned to local humane societies and animal shelters.

You will need to provide rats with a habitat with the following specifications:
  • Bedding material at least 1-inch thick but no cedar or pine shavings, as these are toxic to small animals
  • No direct sunlight or drafts
  • Fresh food and water, but no cheese, milk, or other animal products—clean the feed dish daily and the water bottle before each refill
  • A mineral block, for honing teeth
  • An exercise wheel
  • Paper towel rolls, shelves, tree branches, old socks, etc. for toys and chewing

Geckos

Geckos are small to medium sized lizards naturally found in temperate and tropical regions. They are more commonly found around the Equator and in the Southern Hemisphere. Some species also live north of the Equator in warmer regions. They live in a wide variety of habitats including jungles, rocky deserts, rainforests, mountains, grasslands and even urban areas.

There are over 2,000 known different species of gecko found in a wide variety of colors and markings. They range considerably in size. Geckos are able to walk up vertical surfaces because they have feet covered in tiny hairs that stick to surfaces like suction cups.

They are carnivorous reptiles, feeding on insects, worms, small birds, reptiles and small mammals. Some geckos eat plant matter such as moss.

Snakes are the main predator of geckos. Large spiders, mammals and birds also feed on geckos.

Female geckos lay 2 sticky eggs with a soft shell that quickly hardens. Within 1 to 3 months, depending on the species and habitat, babies hatch.

Many gecko species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and pollution and the exotic pet trade. Geckos are very popular reptiles in pet stores. These small, frail-looking lizards can often live up to 30 years and require a very particular environment without the slightest variance in temperature. They feed on insects and baby mice.

There is a health risk associated with having a gecko. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a gecko into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease.

Welcoming a gecko into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure.

In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.

Purchasing a gecko caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a gecko as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.

Companion Animals Facts

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