Exotic pets appeal to many people, each for a different reason. Some people enjoy simply observing fish, reptiles, or birds, while others want to interact closely and form deep bonds with their interesting friends. Exotic pets are not domesticated like dogs and cats and retain many of their wild characteristics, but smaller species bred in captivity are well-suited to living alongside humans. The Billings Animal Family Hospital team can care for a limited number of exotic pet species, but we want to ensure you make an informed decision before purchasing or adopting an exotic pet.

Are exotic pets legal?

In Montana—and most other states—exotic pet ownership is closely regulated. Native wildlife and large, dangerous, species are typically illegal, and many smaller species are regulated because they can transmit disease or otherwise damage the local environment. Most species sold in U.S. pet stores or through local breeders are safe and legal, but those imported from other countries or caught in the wild are fearful of humans and don’t make good pets.

What should I consider before adopting or purchasing an exotic pet?

All pets require time, energy, love, care, and financial commitment to keep them happy and healthy for their expected lifespan. If you purchase a small exotic pet for a child, remember that you’ll likely be caring for them and footing their veterinary bills. Exotic pets also have specialized housing, diet, and enrichment needs, and their enclosures need frequent cleaning. Simply because a pet is smaller than a dog or cat does not mean their care is easier or they deserve less attention. 

Research exotic pet species and talk to your veterinarian so that you completely understand what you can expect before you choose a household exotic pet. With a little leg work, most people can find the right pet. We give you more details about the most common exotic pets.

Pet rabbits and their care

Rabbits are popular pets, with a lifespan similar to a large dog. These mammals are not rodents, but belong to their own class called lagomorphs. They are herbivores with digestive systems similar to horses and must constantly eat to help wear down their teeth and to keep things moving through their system. Rabbits eat fresh greens, hay, and sometimes pellets, need plenty of chew toys and a large rabbit-proofed space in your home to run and play, and can be easily litter box trained. Rabbits should be spayed or neutered for health and behavior reasons, and they thrive in homes with other rabbits and pets. Learn more about rabbit care here.

Pet rodents and their care

Many different rodent species are sold as pets. Most are relatively easy to care for,  but many are small and fragile and may bite when handled improperly, so are not well-suited for small children. You can usually buy commercial diets formulated for each species, but they also need supplementation with appropriate fresh foods. Rodents are intelligent, and many—rats especially—can be trained. They need to constantly chew to wear down their ever-growing teeth, which may also need occasional trimming. They can be talented escape artists, so secure housing is essential. Each species has different housing requirements, with some preferring to live alone, and others liking company. Most small rodents live only a few years, but many of their medical conditions can be treated to allow the longest lifespan possible. Learn more about rodents here.

Pet ferrets and their care

Ferrets are members of the weasel family, and are fierce hunting carnivores in the wild, but make delightfully cuddly, mischievous, and playful pets. Ferrets eat specially formulated food similar to dog or cat kibble that contains mostly animal protein and fat. They are highly intelligent, and have been trained historically to hunt rodents and run wiring through narrow spaces. They appreciate being around other ferrets, but will bond closely with human family members and larger family pets—they will see small pets as prey. Ferrets live around 8 to 10 years, so they have plenty of time to develop age-related medical conditions which, with their susceptibility to many canine and feline diseases, means regular veterinary care and vaccinations are key to their health. Learn more about ferret care here.

Pet reptiles and their care

Reptiles, including snakes, lizards, turtles, and tortoises, have different needs than small mammals. They are “cold-blooded,” meaning they rely on external sources to heat or cool their bodies. Each species has different temperature and humidity requirements, and deviations can result in serious health problems. Most also require full-spectrum UV lighting to absorb and process nutrients and promote normal body rhythms. Diets vary from carnivorous (i.e., insects, small rodents, small fish) to vegetarian, and most also need supplemental minerals for bone and metabolic health. You must ensure their habitat is exactly right, and you may need to keep live insects in your home or plan a weekly shopping trip for fresh produce. Some tortoises have life-spans longer than humans, so you’ll need to think about their care should they outlive you. Learn more about diverse reptile care needs here.

Which exotic pets does Billings Animal Family Hospital care for?

Our hospital has experience treating the following exotic pets:

  • Small rodents—hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, degus, chinchillas, guinea pigs
  • Ferrets
  • Rabbits
  • Sugar gliders
  • Turtles and tortoises
  • Snakes
  • Lizards

If your species is not included on this list, call our Billings Animal Family Hospital to determine if our team is a good fit to care for your pet. Schedule a consultation with our exotics veterinarian for a wellness examination, or if you have any questions about your exotic pet’s care.