5 Things to Consider Before Adopting Nontraditional, Unique Pets

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Feb. 22, 2019

Adopting a homeless pet always gives us that warm feeling of having done a good deed. But aside from dogs and cats, there are plenty of unique pets, like guinea pigs, ferrets and tortoises, that are available for adoption. There are even rescues and organizations dedicated to finding forever homes for nontraditional and exotic pets.

If you are interested in adopting a nontraditional pet, here are a few things you should consider first.

1. Nontraditional Pets Have Special Care Needs

Nontraditional pets have care needs that are quite different from those of dogs or cats. Unique pets adopted out by shelters, such as rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs, require special housing, care and diets, so it is essential that you understand what those are before you adopt. 

It can be very hard for a shelter to meet all of these needs when they are already stretched thin with the number of traditional animals they are trying to provide care for. And although you might want to help rescue these animals, not all pet owners are able to meet their needs, afford their supplies and provide the ongoing care required by these nontraditional animals.

In addition, you’ll want to make sure that the pet you adopt is right for your lifestyle. For some families, nontraditional pets are the best. For others, they may not be the right match.

But if you are able and willing to learn about all the special requirements of these unique pets and can afford to properly care for them, you may be in a good spot to rescue one and provide them with a happy forever home.

2. Unique Pets May Come With Unique Medical Needs

Just like a dog or cat, exotic pets can develop health problems. Often, nontraditional pets are relinquished because they require more effort and work than the original owner anticipated. Health issues might emerge due to improper housing or inadequate care, or simply because they are a little older and have some special needs.

Generally, the rescues are aware of the individual conditions that each animal arrives with, and often, the animal has already received a veterinary examination and care. However, some of these conditions may need adaptations either in the animals’ long-term diet, husbandry and care, or sometimes even prescription pet medications may be needed at home.

If you are able to accommodate a unique pet with unique needs, there are plenty of nontraditional pets at shelters right now who would love to share your home.

3. Nontraditional Pets Require a Special Veterinarian

Not all veterinarians are able or willing to treat all of the animals people choose to keep as exotic pets. While human doctors are trained in only one species, veterinarians can be trained in lots of different species. And it is impossible for them to keep current on the best care for all of these animals, so most veterinarians choose to limit their practice to just a few types.

Unfortunately for the owners of a nontraditional pet, this may mean that you will have difficulty finding a veterinarian who is willing to see your pet, let alone have much experience treating the species. 

Before you adopt your nontraditional friend, be sure to locate a veterinarian who is experienced in treating the species you are considering. You may find that the nearest veterinarian is several hours away.

Be sure to ask the staff some pertinent questions. For example, if you are looking to adopt a rat, “How many rats do you typically see in a month?” Or, for a rabbit, “Will your veterinarian perform dental surgeries and extractions in rabbits?”

Knowing what you will be facing should your new friend need medical care will help you to plan before your pet becomes sick.

4. Some Shelters Can Match You up With the Perfect Pet

Never owned a ferret but always wanted one? Or a pet pig? Did you know that there are shelters dedicated to rescuing nontraditional species?

These special shelters and rescue groups often do not accept any dogs or cats; they specialize in only birds, rabbits, ferrets or other unique pets.

That means that the staff is usually extremely well-educated in the care and feeding of the special species you are considering. They can share with you the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day care, like the ins and outs of proper feeding and husbandry. They can also let you know what to expect personality-wise when it comes to the species you are considering.

This is often the best way to learn about your potential new pet before you take them home. It also allows you to decide whether they are a good match for your family and your lifestyle.

Additionally, there are usually many different animals in the shelter to meet and greet, so you have the opportunity to meet your four-legged, furred, scaled or feathered “soul mate.” 

Even if you aren’t able to adopt from a specialty shelter or it is too far from your home to be practical, you can still support and virtually “rescue” an animal from one of these shelters with financial donations.

Some, like the Lake Road Ferret Farm in Naples, New York, will “adopt” out an animal to a faraway home—this means that your donations go directly to the care of a specific ferret within the rescue. The organization will send you pictures and updates of “your” ferret, and will give him any ferret toys or bedding you choose to mail.

You essentially become that ferret’s sponsor until he finds a forever home. It is a really nice way to do something good but not have the day-to-day responsibility of the specialized care of an exotic pet.

5. Nontraditional Pets Will Repay You With Love for the Remainder of Their Life

Everyone wants to adopt a kitten or a puppy. Finding just the right home for a pet rat, ball python or parakeet is much more of a challenge. Shelters are reluctant to place pets in homes that are not good matches, so many times, when a shelter accepts an unusual species as a relinquished pet, it can spend a much longer period of time in the shelter than that adorable, blue-eyed kitten.

By adopting that nontraditional animal, you are doing two good deeds—helping the shelter to find the perfect home for a pet it would be supporting for a long period of time, and sparing that animal from waiting a long period of time without a forever family.

Shelter pets are special—every single one of them. We don’t always know what their backstory is, but we have the chance to influence and improve every day of their lives moving forward.

And just like people who have fallen on hard times, animals know—and appreciate—those that were there for them.

Every time they make eye contact with you, you will read in that face a deep, from-the-heart thank you and the unconditional love that comes from a pet that you have rescued from a tough spot.

There is nothing quite like the affection that is returned each and every day from an animal you rescued. So, warm your heart and save a life; start your research if you are considering adopting any unique pet from a mouse to a ball python to a pet duck, and everything in between, into the family!

Image via iStock.com/Steve Debenport

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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