Animals and Your Health: Dangers of Exotic Pets

testA quest for the exotic seems to motivate some people to pass up dogs and cats for nontraditional pets. When Junior asks for a sugar glider (small rodents imported from Indonesia), Gambian pouched rat, or flying squirrel, consider how it will affect the household.

Wild Vs. Domestic Animals

Animal protection organizations discourage people from keeping wild animals as pets. Many of these animals never make it to the pet market because they die in transit. If they do finish the journey, their behavior can be quite unpredictable.

Unlike dogs and cats, confining wild critters in a home will increase their stress levels. They aren't used to living with humans and rarely bond with their owners. Furthermore, we aren't used to living with them, which makes meeting their nutrition and physical activity needs quite difficult. Our inability to provide them with the lifestyle they require usually results in caging the animal or putting the animal on a leash for long periods of time. This can result in malnutrition and behavioral disorders, which may cause the animal to become aggressive and injure someone.

Even if the animal is not aggressive, exotic animals can still carry diseases that can be transmitted to people. Some examples include rabies, ringworm, salmonella, and monkey pox.

If you or your family members are interested in wildlife, there are other options to viewing and learning about them. For example, there are many reputable sanctuaries and zoos that you can visit. These organizations have the resources and training to ensure that their animals receive the best of care and that visitors are protected from harm.

Choosing a Pet

When choosing a pet, it's best to opt for an animal that provides companionship, is great to interact with, and that you are not going to ignore or discard when you become bored with it. If you want a small, low-maintenance pet, consider US-bred hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, or rats. Consult your local veterinarian about an appropriate pet for your needs.

Exotic Pet Tips

If you decide to move forward with an exotic pet, then here are some points to consider:

  • Avoid monkeys, tigers, venomous snakes, skunks, and other wild animals.
  • Learn all you can about the animal before buying.
  • Check local and state laws regarding harboring the type of pet you want.
  • Talk to someone who already owns that type of animal.
  • Purchase animals born in captivity in the United States—not exotic wildlife.
  • Find a veterinarian familiar with the type of animal you are considering.
  • Take the animal for regular medical care and if it becomes sick.
  • Buy an appropriate cage, supplies, and food.
  • Avoid reptiles if you have small children or if someone in the home has a compromised immune system.
  • Never release an animal you are tired of caring for into the wild. It can expose native animals to disease.
  • Wash your hands after handling the pet or anything it has touched.
  • Do not let reptiles wander around the house.
  • Keep the animal out of the kitchen.
  • Do not kiss or nuzzle reptiles.

Animal Welfare Institute

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Health Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada


Dangerous exotic pets. The Humane Society website. Available at: Accessed October 16, 2017.

Exotic pet species. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated April 22, 2011. Accessed October 16, 2017.

State laws governing private possession of exotic animals. Born Free USA website. Available at: Accessed October 16, 2017.

Why wild animals shouldn't be pets. The Wildcat Sanctuary website. Available at Published December 2010. Accessed October 16, 2017.

Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 12/2/2015