Such a simple question but so difficult to answer.
Some considerations to take into account:
· Who is the pet really for?
· What dietary requirements does the animal have?
· What's the animals' lifespan?
· How big does the animal get?
· What are the climate/temperature considerations?
· Does the pet pose any danger to me or my children now or later?
· Where will I keep the animal?
· Who will look after the animal when I go on holiday?
· Is the animal a social or solitary animal?
A pet can be such a pleasure but it could also become a nightmare, mainly due to a lack of understanding, insufficient research or special needs. In this section, we hope to build on our educational show to help you select the correct pet. In order to do so, we will touch on the positives and negatives of some animals in general and will elaborate more on each individual animal in our care sheets.
Who is the pet really for?
As a child, I wanted a snake but my parents never allowed me to keep one. Now my son is turning 6 years old and I am going to buy him a pet snake. Is this something my son wants and will he be able to look after it? Will he be able to feed it live mice every week or two and will he clean the cage after the snake digested his meal and leaves a smelly surprise a few days later? What about my wife or the lady cleaning the house who is petrified of snakes? A simple scenario with countless possibilities which is so often only considered after the animal has been purchased.
Another consideration is the age of the person looking after the animal. I am always careful at schools with children between the age of 2-4 years as the often don't realise their strength and often try to grab an animal, often with disastrous consequences. If it is a dog or cats fur being pulled some animals may retaliate and bite to defend them or in the case of smaller animals such as hamsters or snakes they may get internal injuries and die a horrible death several days later without showing visible signs of injury.
During most spring and summer months you may find a chameleon crossing the road when visiting the Kruger National Park. It is illegal to stop and take them home but this does not seem to bother many people and I so often see this happening. Ever wonder why we don't see chameleons in our gardens anymore? Most of them are being killed by domestic cats and dogs! So here we go, we take them out of nature, bring them home (without a mate so they cant breed) and put them in a tree which we watch for a day or two, then never to see them again. Or we try and keep them and give them a fly or cricket when we remember to in a badly ventilated cage and they die a cruel death as the need about 5 substantial insects every day!
We have also seen people feeding their chinchillas rabbit pellets, they seemed fine and even bred but many of them only lasted for several years and eventually died of liver failure. Then there are many gerbil owners that give their gerbils hamster food containing mostly sunflower seeds which can have the same effect. Then there are numerous people who have marmoset monkeys suffering from cage paralysis mostly attributed to incorrect diets.
The point we are trying to drive home here is that many exotic pets need special diets and or supplements. Ensure you know beforehand what your intended pet eats and make sure you can provide that. Do not always listen to the animal's previous owner or take advice from the pet shop owners as most of them simply want your money and don't care about the animals. Specialist pet shops in the Randburg area with knowledgeable staff is Lifestyle pets and VIP Pets.
An average hamster lives 2-3 years in captivity and a parrot can live over 100 years. This is an important fact to consider before choosing a pet. In the case of the hamster make sure you buy a baby hamster as some places sell old hamsters used purely for breeding and are no longer fertile and you buy this animal as a pet. Most of them will bite as they have not been handled and they could die due to old age in a week, a month or several months, often leaving the owner worried about what they did wrong. The simple truth is that the hamster died of old age. While I don't condone experimenting with nature and live animals the short lifespan can be to the advantage of a person not wanting a long time commitment. Hamsters are great at teaching responsibility, about the circle of life etc. as they are easy to keep, breed and care for. Gerbils on the other hand may live as long as a hamster, but they are more suited to older children as they are very fast and active. A six-year-old can place a hamster on his bed while tying his laces, but do the same with a gerbil and you will have a missing pet! Gerbils are more suitable for children 8 years+.
The cute baby Burmese python started out as a small snake of around 30cm which ate small mice. Several years later the same snake is now over 4M in length, weighs 35+kg, eats rabbits, is very, very strong and leaves a huge smelly surprise a few days after his food digested. His small 90cm enclosure has now turned into a whole 4x4 m room effectively reducing a four-bedroom house to a three-bedroom. The same thing will happen to your cute baby Bosch monitor or Iguana. If you cannot cater for the larger animals now rather reconsider and get a bearded dragon. Often the cost of the larger enclosure that will be needed in time is not taken into consideration or even thought of when buying the baby or juvenile animal.
Climate / Temperature considerations
A friend of mine had a chinchilla and they were inseparable. He moved to Bloemfontein and we all told him not to take the animal with as it cannot stand heat. Jokingly he made several "bright" suggestions on how to overcome this but alas the animal died a few weeks into his stay.
I bought a few different species of Indian ornamental tarantulas around December. Whilst feeding them I left six containers on the table in the garage. That same night around the second week in May we had a really cold night and five of the six spiders died.
We need to realise that many exotic pets come from places with different temperatures, humidity, degrees of sunlight and different terrains. Do not leave parrots from warm regions (rainforests / Australia etc.) outside in cold winds. Do not leave your tropical snakes or tenrecs in open cages without cover for the winter. If they hibernate ensure they have an insulated place they can hide, covered in soil, straw, paper or other suitable substrate. If they do not hibernate ensure a heating pad or warm light but also ensure a cool space in the tank where the animal can go to if it does not want to be warmed. Remember that these artificial heat sources may often dry up the air so keep a spray bottle handy and ensure there is always a full shallow water dish. Another consideration is terrain. A Kenyan sand boa live is sand, not saw dust or pine shavings. Most frogs live near water and not IN the water and will drown in a short while if kept in a tank filled with water.
Although there is a demand for venomous animals I really want people to really think long and hard before getting one of these. Snakes and spiders are escape masters and most people will eventually admit that they have at some point had some snakes and spiders that have escaped from their enclosures. What if the snake in question is a baby western diamond back rattlesnake now roaming your house or visiting the neighbours house. What about your two-year-old child or your cat?
Accidents do happen as well. Mike was bitten by his dads friendly copperhead but Mike did not notice the snake was shedding and could not see properly. Then there was a zookeeper who was cleaning a scorpion tank and removed a piece of wood from an enclosure without realising that the scorpion was hiding in this piece of wood. The pain in his hand and the few days spent in hospital taught him the hard way to be more careful. The examples are numerous, the consequences often tragic so please do research, question your motives and ensure you have a backup plan when things go wrong or quite simply leave the dangerous creatures alone.
Housing and holidays
Ensure your animals have a suitable cage, the right size and made from the right material with suitable ventilation, lighting and heating. Make provision for them growing and remember not everybody loves your animals as much as you do, so plan ahead when going on holiday so that the right person can look after your animals. If you live in a townhouse of where homes are close together a noisy parrot may not be a good idea and may become the target of a neighbours pellet gun or poison.
The cute and furry is no longer cute.
The biggest mistake a person can make is to walk past a pet shop, see a cute furry marmoset monkey and then listen to the pet shop owner telling why you should get it now and its discounted for today and there you buy it. A few weeks after the novelty set in you begin to realise the animal may be cute but the cage needs to be cleaned more often you bargained for, you see it urinating on its hands then it climbs on you and it often bites. You also find that it doesn't react the way you thought it would as it wants to run away and not remain on your shoulder as a marmoset should in your mindset. Suddenly you realise that the pet you have and the one you wanted is not the same animal. Do not take the acquisition of a pet lightly, do research, speak to people who have them and salesmen often hide the negative qualities to get your money.
Is the animal a social or solitary animal?
Some animals like hedgehogs, tenrecs and most species of hamsters are solitary animals and should be kept in separate enclosures while other animals like guinea pigs, chinchillas, degus, gerbils, monkeys and sugar gliders are social animals which should be kept in pairs or larger groups depending on the animal. Some animals need constant companionship and attention like most parrot species and will often mutilate themselves by plucking their feathers out of boredom.
I can no longer look after my exotic pet, what do I do now?
If you start to feel that your animals are not getting the attention or proper feeding they deserve act immediately and do not wait till the animal suffers or dies before trying to remedy the situation and do not make the mistake so many people do by simply setting them free. You can contact us and we can direct you to the correct people to take care of your pet. The SPCA does not take in exotic animals and focus on dogs, cats and local or domesticated animals.
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