It’s not just dogs and cats that trot through veterinary practice doors. Some patients slither, hop, and fly to us for care. Here are 4 exotic pets that delight veterinarians when they show up for a visit.
Native to Australia, sugar gliders are marsupials that grow to an average adult weight of 5 to 6 ounces. The ‘sugar’ part of their name refers to their sweet tooth and preference for all manner of fruit. The ‘glider’ part of their name refers to a flap of skin linking their forearms and legs that allow the creature to ‘fly’ from tree limb-to-limb in search of food.
Sugar gliders are social creatures and most behaviorists agree that sugar gliders, like birds, do best in groups of at least two.
Is My Sugar Glider Healthy?
Good health in sugar gliders is distinguished by bright, clear eyes, a moist noise, pink gums, a smooth coat, elasticity to its gliding membrane, and the ability to grip with all four feet.
Good health in sugar gliders is linked to a balanced diet consisting of a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and a commercial source of protein and/or insects. Because sugar gliders can be infected by and harbor pathogens that can also infect humans (Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Leptospira, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma), cages should be kept clean and pet owners should wash hands thoroughly after handling.
A Higher Maintenance Pet
While Brookfield doesn’t want to discourage any existing sugar glider owners, we strongly discourage owners from acquiring a sugar glider for the first time. Their housing, behavioral, and nutritional needs are involved enough to require a considerable amount of time, money, and personal investment. It’s easy to fail as an owner of a sugar glider and that would be heartbreaking for everyone involved.
African Pygmy Hedgehog
Though they look like small versions of the American porcupine, African pygmy hedgehogs are not vegetarian rodents like their American look-a-like, but insectivores and, as their name suggests, come from Africa. Years of breeding have rendered the ones that people buy in pet stores, tame. They do not have quills like porcupines, rather, tough fur that feels like the bristles on a brush.
Lifespan and Behavior
APHs have short life spans, typically only 3-5 years, and tend to be shy unless well socialized. When they sense danger, APHs tuck their head and tails under and adopt a curled up ball posture that is nearly impossible to pry apart. In fact, most veterinarians can’t examine a hedgehog without mildly sedating it. Sometimes the only thing a veterinarian can see on an APH without sedation is the hair on his or her back!
Hedgehogs are happy to live by themselves in housing large enough to accommodate a reasonable amount of foraging and play. Their bedding should be something soft like shredded newspaper or wood chips. A place to hide is also essential.
Hedgehogs are omnivores and should be fed a balanced commercial diet supplemented with vegetables, fruits, and insects. Avoid raw meats to limit the risk of diseases like Salmonella.
As one licensed veterinary nurse once told me, “When I go home tonight, I’m going to watch my ferrets play for an hour or two. There’s nothing more relaxing than watching a ferret play”.
Domesticated for 2500 years!
These adorable creatures are members of the Mustelidae family, a group that includes minks and weasels, but unlike their wild cousins, ferrets are completely domesticated and would never be able to live by themselves in the wild (though an endangered, wild population of black-footed ferrets live in Western North America). They have been helping humans to hunt (typically rabbits, mice, and rats) for more than 2500 years!
Adult male ferrets, known as hobs, weigh about 4 pounds. Females, known as Jills, weigh around 2.5 pounds. Both male and female ferrets should be spayed or neutered before 6 weeks of age to keep health, behavior, and husbandry issues to a minimum. They typically live to be 5 to 6 years of age and require annual vaccination for distemper and rabies. It’s important to note that if you own a ferret and you want us to vaccinate your pet, please give us some lead time to ensure we have the right vaccines in stock.
Ferrets are funny, fearless, inquisitive and persistent, qualities that can be endearing, but sometimes perilous to ferrets naïve to the dangers of living in a home with electricity, moving parts, toxic chemicals, and so forth. The Merck manual, a veterinary staple of information, cautions that new ferret owners should ‘ferret proof’ their homes.
It’s not uncommon for ferrets to bite, not necessarily because they are mean, but because the behavior is normal to the species when interacting in groups.
Housing and Diet
Ferrets are social animals, but there is a tradeoff between owning one and spending the time you need to socialize with your animal, and acquiring two or more and being absolved of some of your social responsibilities. A ferret’s housing should be at least 3x3x2, have a solid bottom, clean bedding (not newspaper or woodchips), a place to sleep, areas for play, and a clean source of water. Ferrets can be trained to use a litter pan, but avoid clumping litter as this can cause respiratory issues. Like the other animals mentioned in this article, commercial foods are best.
Believe it or not, some people are living with pot-bellied pigs and love it. The pot-bellied pigs typically weigh in at 75 to 150lbs, but they can tip the scales at 250 depending on breeding and nutrition. Some potbellied pigs, labeled as ‘teacup’ breeds can weigh less, but buyer beware, it is not possible to guarantee the adult weight of any piglet without knowing more about his or her parents.
Pot-bellied pigs can live inside or out, but in both cases, the animals need a draft free environment that is sensitive to extremes in temperature. Since pigs can’t sweat, they are especially prone to over heating.
PBPs like to burrow, LOVE to eat, enjoy rooting, and are intelligent, affectionate, and fascinating, but without early neutering or spaying, they can develop aggressive behavior. Even neutered, attention should be paid to pigs that challenge members of their human family. Behavior issues are the number one reason why pot bellied pigs are turned over to animal welfare organizations.
Exercise and Nutrition
PBPs benefit from outdoor exercise (they can be leash walked) and should be fed twice daily with rations of a commercial pig feed and green leafy vegetables and grasses (pay attention that grasses do not contain toxic weeds). Fruits and treats can be given on a limited basis because PBP, as their name suggests, are prone to obesity.
Thoughts on Exotic Pets
Let’s be clear. We love animals. That’s why we are in this business! But there’s a reason why cats and dogs are America’s first and second most popular pet (actually, if you go just by the number of pets out there, fish top the list at 142 million, followed by 88.3 million cats and 74.8 million dogs). Exotic animals typically have housing, nutritional, and behavioral needs that are specific enough to sometimes, if not often, clash with the needs of a typical American household. If you are an owner of an exotic animal and you are happy with your choice, we support you 100%. If you are looking to acquire an exotic pet for the first time, we strongly encourage you to consult with the volunteers that work at the rescue organizations like the ASPCA. They will be able to educate you on the specifics of what you are getting yourself into. If after that, you are still interested in acquiring an exotic, they may have one in their care that you can rescue. That would be a great outcome for everyone involved!
50% Off First Exam For All Adopted Pets!
Whether you are a new or existing client, Brookfield offers 50% off the cost of your pet’s first physical examination.