Most people think about dogs and cats when they hear the word “pet,” but the world of pet ownership goes far beyond these traditional choices. Birds, reptiles, fish, rabbits, ferrets, and rodents are just a few of the many popular exotic pet types. 

The Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team can care for rabbits and small mammals—good choices for younger pet owners, people who travel frequently, or those who simply prefer a more compact pet. But don’t mistake a smaller pet for one who requires less care. Take the time to learn more about exotic pet care and how our hospital can help.

General exotic pet care principles

First-time exotic pet owners may mistakenly believe that because their pet is small and can live in a relatively small space, they will require less time, effort, or money to care for. While an exotic pet’s veterinary bills are typically lower than a dog’s or cat’s, they have other special needs that will require research and commitment to providing for those needs. Some things to consider when choosing a pet and learning about their care include:

  • Nutrition — Each species has specific dietary needs, which aren’t easily met with a single kibble diet like dogs or cats. While pre-formulated diets for rabbits and rodents exist in the pet store, these pets usually require fresh food additions for optimal health.
  • Enclosure — Exotics require escape-proof enclosures with solid flooring and proper bedding. Most pets require more space than you might initially assume, and many also need supervised time outside the enclosure in a pet-proof area.
  • Exercise and mental stimulation — How much space and time does your exotic pet need to run, play, and exercise? Are they active during the day, evening, or night?
  • Chewing needs — Chewing is important for rabbits and small rodents with continuously growing teeth. If you fail to provide the right chewing surfaces, their teeth could overgrow, or they will destroy items in your home.
  • Training — Many exotics benefit from litter box training for convenience and cleanliness, while additional training keeps them mentally stimulated.
  • Medical care — Some exotics benefit from routine spaying or neutering, and each species has health problems to watch for. Do not bring home an exotic pet with the expectation that they will never need veterinary care.

Rabbit care

Rabbits are social animals and form loving bonds with people, other rabbits, and other household pets. They require lots of free-roaming exercise time in the house or an escape-proof area in the yard, and they are easily litter box-trained to make this freedom easier. Rabbit-proofing is essential to prevent them from chewing important items, such as furniture or cords. Rabbits benefit from spaying or neutering to reduce unwanted aggressive behaviors and to ensure those rabbits living together cannot reproduce. 

Rabbits need a specialized diet that includes hay and various fresh greens. Pellets can be used to supplement the diet but should not be the sole source of nutrition. They eat continuously like horses to keep their teeth worn down and their gastrointestinal tract functioning. Common rabbit medical problems include dental disease, urinary tract disorders, gastrointestinal slow-down or blockage, parasites, and infections. Learn more about rabbits here.

Rodent care

Rodents generally require less veterinary care than rabbits because they have shorter life spans—typically two to five years. Guinea pigs need time outside their enclosure for exercise and interaction with family members, and gerbils and hamsters benefit from exercise on a wheel in their cage or in a plastic ball they can use to explore the house without the risk of getting lost. The guinea pig’s diet is similar to that of a rabbit, with fresh greens and hay making up the bulk, while hamsters and gerbils can eat commercial food supplemented with fresh treats. Rodents have a major sweet tooth and enjoy things like yogurt drops, dried fruit, and vegetables. They also love to burrow and benefit from sprawling cages with many interesting hiding places and tunnels. Rodents commonly suffer from parasites, respiratory infections, GI tract infections, dental issues, or tumors. Learn more about rodent care here.

Exotic pet care problem prevention and health maintenance

Like dogs and cats, exotic pets benefit from regular wellness examinations, health screening tests, parasite prevention, dental care, and sometimes spaying or neutering. Because they have short life spans, twice-yearly examinations are recommended to detect health changes sooner. If problems arise throughout your pet’s life, they could require dental procedures, surgery, or medications like any other pet.

Your exotic pet deserves the same veterinary care and proactive health strategies afforded to dogs and cats, which can help keep them healthy and maximize their time with you. Contact our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team to schedule an exotic pet wellness examination and husbandry consultation, or if your pet shows any signs of illness or behavior changes.