Many people consider their cat or dog a member of the family. For others, exotic animals such as snakes or hedgehogs are beloved family pets.
But for those considering acquiring such an animal, be warned: Some of them are anything but domesticated, said Linda Estrada, president and executive director of the Animal Welfare League of Chicago Ridge.
” ‘Exotic’ is a very large word since there are many different kinds of animals under that category,” Estrada said. “But they all require a certain kind of care that is very specific to them.”
Estrada said the shelter receives a lot of reptiles, such as large tortoises and iguanas, as well as colorful birds that people acquired as pets without realizing how much hard work goes into taking care of an exotic animal.
“Before anyone purchases an exotic pet or adopts one, they need to do a lot of research and educate themselves,” she said.
Unlike some domesticated pets, exotics require very specific care. The temperature, their surroundings, how they are handled and the food they eat all need to be extremely appropriate for them to survive in a human home environment.
Jennifer Simon, a Palos Heights native, is aware of that. She has two hedgehogs — Faline and Flower — and a 12-year-old chinchilla, Bambi.
“With hedgehogs and chins, both have very specific temperature requirements, and short times outside of the necessary temperature range could mean death,” she said.
Hedgehogs are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, according to nationalgeographic.com, while chinchillas are found in South America. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, and chinchillas also are most active around dawn and dusk. Having such animals means owners must keep in mind the different sleep schedules.
Simon said food prep for exotics also requires more planning than just running to the store for a bag or can of food. She feeds her hedgehogs a mixture of three different dry foods and orders special chinchilla food online in bulk. And with exotics, treats often are mealworms or crickets.
Visits to the veterinarian are not always routine, either. Many exotic animals don’t display symptoms until they are very sick, so owners must watch for sudden personality changes.
Simon said the animals’ unique quirks and different personalities make up for the extra work involved, though. She said the prickly exterior of her hedgehogs was intimidating at first, but she came to find that hedgehogs actually are very cuddly and friendly.
“My hedgehogs are both shy, which is in their nature, but will warm up to you and explore when you take them out of their cages,” she said. “Flower loves to grab the dog’s toys just to drive the dog crazy.”
Both Estrada and Simon said the biggest misconception about exotics is that families with children think they will make good pets.
“People get them for their kids with no knowledge of the animal’s personality or instincts. Most exotics are shy, sensitive animals,” Estrada said.
“It’s not like a dog that will tell you they need attention,” Simon said. “They will stay in their cage feeling sad and lonely if you let them and they won’t be able to tell you.
“They need much more attention to be happy, and in turn, they will make you very happy.”
[Via: The Daily Southtown]