More unusual animals kept as pets - for example snakes, terrapins, frogs and degus - are known as non-domestics or exotics. These are animals that haven’t been domesticated, unlike traditional pets like cats, rabbits and hamsters. For this reason, we think of them as wild animals that are kept in captivity.
We have certain concerns about how difficult it is to meet the needs of these animals. Their needs are just the same as they would be in the wild and are often fundamentally linked to a specialist environment, diet or a particular behaviour. This means it can be very challenging to look after them properly, which you need to do under the Animal Welfare Act.
Due to the growing popularity of exotic pet species being kept, we dedicated Pledge 5 of the RSPCA Pledges to exotic pets:
"We pledge to reduce the number of exotic animals kept as pets and increase their humane care."
Find out more about what we plan to do and show your support.
Non-domestics can be challenging pets
Before taking on a non-domestic animal, it’s really important to find out as much as you can about what they need - and whether they are a realistic pet for you and your lifestyle. Looking after them correctly can be very expensive and time consuming.
Some things to think about
- How long does it live?
- How big does it get?
- What and how much food does it eat?
- How much space does it need? Remember that this may increase as the animal grows!
- Does it need to be kept alone or with others of its kind?
- What does it need in its enclosure? For example, branches for climbing or perching, water or dust for bathing, or rough rocks to help reptiles lose their skin when moulting.
- Is it active at night or during the day?
- Is there a vet nearby who knows about this type of animal?
- Do you need a licence to keep it?
- Are there any legal restrictions on selling this kind of animal?
You can research by reading books and leaflets, and looking on the Internet for a reputable specialist organisation. We also strongly advise that you visit and talk to a breeder so that you can see the animals and satisfy yourself that they are kept properly. Not only will this give you a specialist point of contact but it could also be a source of 'home-bred' animals rather than specimens taken from the wild, which would be subjected to all the welfare concerns of capture from the wild and transport.
On the right you’ll find care sheets for some of the more commonly kept non-domestic animals. As a starting point, we examined the animal’s natural life in the wild and looked carefully at how this might be supplied in captivity. We’ve also taken into account good practice from specialist private keepers, zoos and vets.
These only give basic information though so you still need to do some further research!
Want to know more about non-domestic pets?
You might be interested in reading the following reports, which highlight some of our concerns:
Exotic pet trade
Handle with Care (2004) (PDF 990KB)
Reptiles in captivity
Far from Home (2002) (PDF 536KB)
Illegal trade in tortoises
Shell Shock (2001) (PDF 1.67MB)