Exotic pet options and what you need to know about insuring them

JOHNATHAN DAVID
23 December 2020
The exotic pet market is increasing in popularity in Australia, with more and more animal enthusiasts choosing to adopt a companion which is a little more out of the ordinary than the average cat or dog.

An exotic pet may be defined as an animal which is not usually kept as a household pet. Under federal law in Australia, an exotic pet is one that isn’t native to the country, although in a practical sense this is not necessarily the case. There are several native Australian animals which people may consider “exotic” or unusual pets, just as there are species not originally native to Australia – such as cats and dogs – which fall firmly into the category of more traditional pets.

Whatever definition you use, one thing that sets exotic pets apart is their uniqueness, a characteristic which fuels some people’s desire to own them.

In this article, we discuss some of the most popular options for exotic pets in Australia, while also diving into their typical feeding, caring, and insurance requirements to help you decide if an exotic pet is right for you.

Considerations when choosing an exotic pet in Australia

If you’re considering adopting an exotic pet in Australia, there are a few considerations that may be worth bearing in mind. For example:

Licences: Be sure to purchase your exotic pet from a licensed breeder or dealer. Additionally, you must have a license to keep exotic pets such as reptiles. You must also have a special license if you wish to keep more than one animal at a time. Licenses must also be “upgraded” for any venomous species which require proper care and handling.

Importing restrictions: Australia has strict restrictions around animal importation due to the pest and disease risk associated with certain species. This could have implications for how you will be able to source an exotic pet. For example, if you are looking online for a unique or exotic animal from outside Australia, consider whether it is allowed to be imported, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment advises.

Ongoing care: Before purchasing an exotic pet, it could be a good idea to speak to a vet or other expert in caring for the type of animal you choose, to ensure you understand how best to care for it.

Exotic pets in Australia

Some exotic pet options in Australia include:

Turtles

The turtle is a reptile and is one of the most popular exotic pets available in Australia. Popular species commonly kept as pets include the Eastern Long-Necked Turtle.

Turtles can live for decades, so they may be a long-term commitment. They also depend on their owner for their basic needs when in captivity. The RSPCA Queensland advises that while these care requirements will depend on the type of turtle you own, you will generally need to change the turtle’s water regularly and provide ultraviolet light for its tank.

Additionally, turtles need both land and water sources so that they can receive the exercise they require (this isn’t much but a spacious tank does not hurt). Sourcing the right kind of turtle food is also important. They need to be fed three to four times daily and their meals should include insects, fish, and dark, leafy greens.

Turtles are reptiles, so would-be owners will generally require a licence before purchasing one, although the exact licensing requirements will depend on the state or territory you live in. It’s important to do your research to understand your obligations.

turtles in tank
Source: julialine (Shutterstock)

Lizards

Lizards are another group of reptilian species. Popular species kept as pets in Australia include the Blue-Tongued Lizard and bearded dragons such as the Eastern Bearded Dragon, Pygmy Bearded Dragon and Central Bearded Dragon. The species of lizard you choose to keep will be a significant factor in determining what its exact care needs are.

Like turtles, most lizards depend greatly on their owners to meet their needs in captivity, and owners will generally require a reptile or other appropriate licence to keep one as a pet. As with other reptiles, regular cleaning of their enclosure and veterinary care is also important to most lizards. For example, a recent scientific study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US found the welfare of bearded dragons in captivity may be easily compromised.

Ferrets

The ferret is a small, carnivorous animal which is considered to be an exotic pet in Australia. Compared to other exotic pets, they are generally more social and affectionate. According to the Queensland Government, there are up to 150,000 pet ferrets in Australia, but it is illegal to import one or keep it as a pet in Queensland or the Northern Territory.

If you live in a part of Australia where ferrets are legal, bear in mind that they can require a lot of time and commitment and are therefore generally not recommended for owners who are not able to provide them with the entertainment or social environment they crave. For example, the RSPCA advises that they need about as much living space as a small dog, and that they can be easily injured due to their small and delicate bodies.

pet ferret
Source: Tom Lester (Shutterstock)

Frogs

Frogs are amphibians, meaning they can breathe in both air and water. There are many types of frog around the world, but a common native frog species kept as a pet in Australia is the Australian green tree frog. This species can be a great option for beginners, as they do not typically require a great deal of work – in fact, they are known to be low maintenance pets.

Depending on where they are kept, their croaking may be irritating at night if you are a light sleeper. They can live for 20 years or more in captivity, meaning owning a green tree frog is a long-term commitment.

Benefits of exotic pets

Some of the potential benefits of having an exotic pet may include:

1. Can be low-maintenance

Most reptiles are relatively low-maintenance exotic pets. This is especially true when compared to dogs who need walks, more regular feeding, ongoing training, and ongoing veterinary bills. By contrast, most reptiles need a regularly-cleaned and well-maintained tank or other living environment with appropriate levels of heat and light, but typically don’t need to be fed as often and don’t need training.

In terms of maintenance requirements, amphibians are also quite easy to care for. Their main requirements revolve around clean fresh water facilities, and a suitable and well-kept aquarium with the correct environmental conditions that is out of reach of possible predators like snakes and cane toads.

But not all exotic pets are low-maintenance. For example, ferrets are not considered low-maintenance and require attention and affection, as well as adequate socialisation.

2. Do not have high exercise demands

Exotic pets such as reptiles, amphibians or small mammals do not have high exercise demands.

Unlike dogs, for most exotic pets no time needs to be put aside for walking, running, or other types of physical stimulation.

pet ferret asleep
Source: Carol_Olias (Shutterstock)

3. No strict feeding schedule

The appropriate feeding schedule for a reptilian or amphibian pet is dependent upon its size. For example, smaller breeds may require daily feeding, whereas larger breeds require feeding once a week.

This can be compared to dogs and cats, which may require two to three meals per day.

Drawbacks of exotic pets

Some of the potential drawbacks of keeping an exotic animal as a pet may include:

1. Proper veterinary care can be expensive and hard to find

Exotic pets are a growing trend in Australia, but specialised veterinary care can still be hard to find. While most vets are confident in treating regular household animals such as dogs and cats, there are often limited options for our exotics.

This may be especially problematic for small mammals, such as the ferret, which require de-sexing and ongoing basic veterinary care such as vaccinations. As the Melbourne-based Fitzroy Vet Hospital explains, ferrets can also catch colds and flu from humans, so it can be important to steer clear of your pet ferret if you are feeling unwell.

2. Initial set-up costs can be expensive

Setting up the perfect environment for exotic pets can be expensive and time-consuming. As these animals are unique, many of them have specialised requirements.

For example, frog enclosures typically require a temperature of approximately 15 to 20 degrees Celsius and a humidity level of around 80%. This is, of course, dependent upon the animal and breed. A clean habitat is essential to amphibians due to their sensitive skin. Therefore, owners must be wary and do a full-clean out of their enclosures often.

Enclosures must also mimic your pet’s natural habitat and include objects, such as rocks or plants. Reptiles are cold-blooded, so keeping them healthy will also require a proper enclosure, generally with a heat and lighting source. The exact temperature and heat required will depend on the type of reptile you choose.

bearded dragon tank
Source: Nicole Lienemann (Shutterstock)

3. May have unusual diet habits (such as live insects or rodents)

Most reptiles’ and amphibians’ dietary habits are unusual when compared to dogs or cats. In fact, some owners may not have the stomach for it! Live insects and rodents make up a part of the daily or weekly diet of many of these animals, and this is definitely something to get used to.

Additionally, it means going out and purchasing live feed for your exotic friend, or you can farm your own – another process which can be costly and time-consuming to set up.

Before farming your own insects, please check your state/territory regulations to be sure that the insects you are farming are not considered pests. Written approval must be granted by the Primary Industries and Biosecurity regulator of your region. Before importing any food to be given to animals, such as dried insects, you will need an import permit issued by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Importing live food for animals into Australia (such as insects or worms) is not permitted.

How much do exotic pets cost?

Exotic pets vary in price. However, they can be much cheaper than a purebred puppy, depending on the species or breed you choose and the laws in your state or territory.

Lizards, geckos, turtles and bearded dragons usually cost approximately $40 and up. Whereas, snakes may range in price anywhere from $150.

In comparison, amphibians such as the frog are often cheaper and can be as cheap as $20.

Bear in mind that these purchase estimates also do not include additional costs such as the fees for a reptile license or animal-keeping license. They also don’t include any upfront or ongoing vet fees you may need to pay during your pet’s life. Ongoing feeding will be another additional cost to factor in.

License costs vary from state to state. For example, in NSW a license for one reptile costs $50 and lasts for five years. However, in QLD, the same license is a little more expensive at $59.20 for five years. Licensing costs generally increase when you choose to own more than one animal, or opt for an advanced license.

Can you get pet insurance for exotic pets?

Exotic pet insurance may sometimes be costlier compared to pet insurance for cats and dogs, and many insurance companies do not offer any exotic pet packages. It must also be noted that the fact that specialist veterinary care for exotic animals can be more difficult to find may play a role in the cost of insurance.

There are, however, some insurance providers, such as Petcover, which can cover up to $6,000 of veterinary costs, although as with any insurance policy, it’s important to read the terms and conditions carefully to work out what your pet is covered for and whether any limits or exclusions apply.

Ultimately, what the $6,000 in cover gets you may depend on the health of your exotic pet. Buying your pet from a reputable breeder could help ensure it is less prone to certain conditions, which may in turn keep your vet bills lower.

In summary, exotic pets are a unique option compared to our regular household companions like cats and dogs.

Exotic pets can make very interesting pets due to their unique life processes, requirements and habits. However, they come with different legal requirements and restrictions which require attention and research prior to purchasing one of them. They are also generally far more sensitive than a basic household animal.

Finding the right exotic pet for your situation is important and not every exotic pet will fit into every family. However, if you can find the ideal exotic, it can be a great companion for you and your loved ones.

Cover image source: Chris Ison (Shutterstock)

This article was reviewed by our Sub Editor Tom Letts and Deputy Editor Sean Callery before it was published, as part of our fact checking process.


About Johnathan David

Johnathan David

Johnathan David leads the editorial team at Everything Reptiles as its Editor in Chief. He brings decades worth of publishing experience. A reptile hobbyist since childhood, he has years’ of experience in herpetoculture and has cared for Geckos, Skinks and a Poison Dart Frog.

 

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