Exotic Pet Care Guidelines

We believe that education is a vital part of preventative medicine. That’s why we encourage everyone to establish a strong relationship with their veterinarian. Our clients know our commitment to educating pet owners is sincere – and our future clients will discover that on their first visit!


If you are looking for or already have a bird, reptile, rabbit, or other small mammal, one of the best things you can do is ensure it has the best chance of being healthy. Educate yourself by knowing what you should feed your pet, how it should be kept, and what signs you should look for to detect illness. By establishing a relationship with a veterinarian who is experienced with these unusual animals, you should be able to have many of your pets. Here are a few points to consider in providing the best care for your exotic pet.


Malnutrition is one of the problems most often seen in exotic pets, and offering the correct diet is critical for your pet’s health. We know a lot of patients on poor and/or nutrient-deficient diets that have resulted in the development of illnesses. Whether it is a rabbit, bird, chinchilla, ferret, iguana, or any pet, what they eat can determine how healthy they are and, in some cases, how long they live. Rabbits and guinea pigs, for instance, require an unlimited supply of timothy hay because of their high fiber requirement for normal gastrointestinal function. They also need certain fresh vegetables and fruits, but there are limits on what and how much should be fed. Ferrets have a specific formulated food that should be fed, and other small mammals or rodents have specific requirements.

Birds are sometimes even more difficult to feed properly. It is almost impossible to replicate birds’ exact diet in the wild, especially when it depends on what part of the world the birds are from. There are several formulated (pelleted or extruded) diets currently on the market for birds, and a lot of exceptional work in the field of avian nutrition has been accomplished over the last 25 years. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also vital for them but within moderation. Seed-based diets seem to be the most common diet provided to pet birds, but they are one of the least nutritionally balanced. In general, seeds lack many of the necessary vitamins and minerals to keep your bird healthy. Seed-based diets can also be very fattening. Converting your bird to a healthier diet should be a slow, gradual process monitored closely with your veterinarian’s help.

Reptiles also have very specific dietary requirements. There are some reptiles that are herbivores (eat plants only), carnivores (eat animals only), omnivores (eat both plant and animal matter), or insectivores (eat insects). Care should be taken when feeding herbivorous reptiles, as exposure to animal-based proteins (in dog food, cat food, or monkey chow) can damage their kidneys, resulting in an illness that is often life-threatening.

Finding the particular dietary needs of your reptile, bird, or small mammal can lead to a healthier, more active pet.

How and Where Your Pet Lives

Another important factor in keeping an exotic pet properly is husbandry, or how and where your pet lives. They should be in a clean, safe, and secure environment. Any time the pet is let out of its home and handled, it should be supervised for the entire duration of their ”adventure.” Pets should also be brought to a place where they do not have to worry about other animals (dogs, cats, or other exotics) being able to bother (or even injure) them. We have seen plenty of pets that got too close to a cat or dog (or even a bird) and had been badly hurt during the encounter. Some of our little friends, especially birds, hamsters, rabbits, and ferrets, like to chew on or eat things they are not supposed to eat, which can cause them to become ill.

All pets should be closely monitored outside their cage or enclosure – but what about the inside? The cage should be clean and free of rust or sharp points. It should also be secure so your pet cannot get out alone. There should be plenty of easily accessible areas for fresh food and water. The types of toys and other accessories your pet has should also be approved for each pet and checked routinely to see when and if they need to be replaced. Even the type of bedding (or substrate) is essential. Simple is usually better, and newspaper or recycled paper products make excellent choices for many exotic pets. Check with your veterinarian about the proper substrate for your pet. There are a lot of things on the market that are sold for exotic pets that may be dangerous for them. A veterinarian should approve anything used in your pet’s environment.

Most exotic pets have certain temperature, humidity, and sunlight (or UV light) requirements. Requirements differ between species. For example, if an environment is too cold, some reptiles cannot digest their food properly, even if they continue to eat. If it is too hot, some pets (such as guinea pigs and rabbits) can become very ill from the stress of the heat and can even suffer a heat stroke. Proper humidity in a pet’s environment is very beneficial to promote, for instance, normal shedding of a reptile. Temperatures and humidity levels should be measured, and it is usually very easy to do so with one of the many thermometers/hygrometers available.


Monitoring your pet’s health is extremely important. Having routine checkups by an experienced veterinarian can help prevent illness, find diseases or other problems early, and advise owners on proper nutrition and husbandry. Checking things like weight, body condition, eyes, nose, feather/scale/skin condition, and other physical aspects of your pet help determine if your pet is healthy. Routine examinations may include bloodwork, radiographs, stool checks, and other laboratory tests.

The most important thing an owner (or ”Pet Parent”) can do to help their pet live a long and active life is to become familiar with each pet’s specific needs and personality. Know and understand your exotic pet’s normal habits, routines, and behavior. If something just doesn’t seem right, it could indicate that they are getting sick. Exotic animals usually maintain the look of a healthy pet, even when sick, for as long as possible. Many owners do not even realize their pet has been sick until it is not moving, having difficulty breathing, or even worse. Monitoring the food they eat, the look and amount of stools and urine they produce, and other aspects of their daily life can help you recognize when your pet is ill more quickly. It is also better to get them examined if you have any doubts, concerns, or questions than to wait until they are showing obvious signs of illness. Many exotic pets are challenging to treat when they are ill because this often indicates an already critical situation.