Interested in Unusual Pets? Try Reptiles!
Why reptiles are the best unusual pets
Some people are perfectly happy with an ordinary life, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to live an unusual life. Not everyone has the same tastes or preferences— which is a beautiful thing.
And if you’re the kind of person who likes to live an unusual life, then getting an unusual pet is a no-brainer. But if you don’t want a cat or a dog, what kind of pet should you get?
From my perspective, the best kinds of unusual pets are reptiles. I’m speaking from experience as the proud owner of a ball python, but other kinds of snakes, lizards, and monitors make great exotic pets too.
Seriously, there are a ton of great reasons to get a scaly friend for yourself; here are just a few!
Cats and dogs are typical housepets for good reasons. They’re cute, friendly, fun, and not too difficult to keep with the proper knowledge and resources.
However, there are an unfortunate number of pet owners — and would-be pet owners — that have a lot of trouble with that last point.
Access to veterinarians and other pet care resources is essential if you want any pet to live a long and happy life. But there are nearly 18 million of these pets in underserved communities who have never been to a vet.(1)
Why does this happen? In many cases, medical bills are too high for some owners to get their pets regular checkups. And if their housing environment isn’t clean or roomy enough, this can lead to poor health and an unhappy pet.
However, it’s not nearly as expensive or demanding to keep a bearded dragon or a leopard gecko in your home. Let’s go through the major costs so you can see what I mean:
Lowest Cost: Diet — For starters, let’s talk about diet. Most small reptiles only eat once or twice a week. Additionally, a little food goes a long way, so you’ll only need some leafy greens and crickets to keep them happy.
Medium Cost: Morph — It can get a bit pricier to look for a specific morph. For many reptile enthusiasts, breeding rare and beautiful morphs is the best part; these are some of the most unusual pets out there. If you’re not interested in dropping hundreds of dollars on an exotic morph, you can always get a garden-variety gecko or beardie for under $100 at a local pet store.
High Cost: Enclosure — Out of all the costs associated with a small reptile like this, the enclosure is going to be the highest. A glass tank, heat lamp, dish, substrate, and some well-placed hides and basking spots are essential; these ensure your leopard gecko or bearded dragon is in a healthy environment.
For a fraction of the space, time, and money that you would need to keep a dog or cat happy, you can keep dozens of unique and beautiful lizards in your home.
Of course, it’s important to note that many reptiles will need more care and attention than the little guys— not all reptiles are as beginner-friendly as a bearded dragon. But many of these exotic animals that require extra attention have unique characteristics that justify it for many people.
Another reason why people love having a furry four-legged pet is playtime. Whether you’re a kid or a grown-up, it’s a lot of fun to teach your dog a trick or tease your cat with a laser pointer.
But did you know that you can do many of the same things with a monitor lizard? These are a lot bigger than a gecko or a bearded dragon. In fact, many of them can grow about as big as a housecat— or bigger! And with that size comes some surprisingly big brains.
Tegus in particular are known for their remarkable intelligence. And because of their advanced cognitive ability, you can easily train them to perform many of the same behaviors that you can to a typical housepet.
But much like the previous point, there are a few caveats:
Some large reptiles can be taught tricks with positive reinforcement, but many smaller creatures lack the mental capacity. For example, you’re not going to be able to teach a hognose snake to play dead on command— it’s an instinctual response that only happens when it’s under great stress. On the other hand, a bearded dragon can be receptive to training as a form of enrichment.
Using negative reinforcement or punishment of any kind to train your reptiles is ineffective, just like how it’s ineffective with dogs.(2) It’s also deeply immoral and outright cruel. On that subject...
What are some other exotic pets? If you look online, you might see videos or social media posts of fennec foxes, sugar gliders, ferrets, or hedgehogs. Don’t get me wrong— these creatures are incredibly cute and exotic. However, there are some major concerns with keeping any of them as a pet.
For starters, many of these creatures are illegal to own as a pet in parts of the United States. (This is also true for some reptiles, of course.) Because of this, you’ll need to research your state and county laws to ensure you can legally keep your pet. Keeping a pet that’s illegal in your area will severely limit your ability to access vets and other care resources!
Second, the pet trade around many of these exotic creatures is legally questionable; in some cases, poaching and habitat destruction can be involved. Sugar gliders in particular are controversial due to several ethical concerns around their trade and access to health resources.(3)
But what if your state or country allows it? Just make sure to do thorough research to make sure the breeder has ethically sourced their supply. Fennec foxes have been threatened by poaching,(4) as have several tropical birds, so it’s very possible that anyone selling these creatures as pets may not have legally obtained them.
If this sounds like a massive headache, you’ll probably have a much easier time picking out a reptile. There are tons of online resources to help you vet a good breeder— not to mention all the expos and conventions held all over the world.
Due diligence with any pet is necessary to make sure you’re not violating any local laws or supporting any poachers. But with such an amazing network of passionate herps, it’s much easier to do with many exotic breeds of reptiles than with a fox, sugar glider, or tropical bird.
Change the world
At the end of the day, I think you should be free to (legally) keep whatever pet you want. As more interesting and unique creatures on our planet form bonds with humans, global consciousness around important issues like climate change, animal abuse, and habitat destruction is bound to grow.
Now your unusual pet isn’t just a way of expressing yourself— it’s an ambassador for the natural world. And whether you choose a reptile, hedgehog, pygmy goat, or something even weirder, please make sure you’re giving it the proper environment and diet so it can peacefully coexist with you!