What is an Exotic Pet?

Boy and a Turtle
Boy and a Turtle. Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

What is an Exotic Pet?

The definition of an exotic pet can vary depending on the context. There are various definitions and common uses of the term "exotic pet" but determining an exact definition is actually somewhat difficult.

Common Usage of the Term Exotic Pets

In many situations, an exotic pet is loosely defined as any pet that is not a dog, cat, or farm animal. This encompasses many different species of animals including pocket pets, birds, reptiles, fish, and amphibians in addition to those animals that are less often seen as pets such as primates, kangaroos, pot bellied pigs, and big cats.

Exotic Pets on About.com

Here at About.com there are pet sites for cats, dogs, fresh water fish, salt water fish, pet birds, and ​horses. Everything else falls under the umbrella of the exotic pets site (but we also have some information on fish and birds just to be all inclusive). You will find the emphasis here mostly on small exotic pets that are just a bit out of the ordinary, but still often found in pet stores and homes around the world such as rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. You will also find information on reptiles and amphibians, insects, spiders, and crabs, but generally, this information is only on those pets that are commonly seen in the pet trade.

Problems with Exact Definitions of Exotic Pets

The term exotic is generally used to describe something that is foreign, or something different or unusual. The problem with using "foreign" is that it is a relative term, so is not a precise definition in itself.

"Different" and "unusual" are problematic as a definition too. Some pets included in the common usage of "exotic pet" are not really that unusual (e.g rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, and guinea pigs are pretty widely accepted as pets), but it is still common practice to categorize them as exotic pets since they are not as common as pets as cats and dogs and not all small animal veterinarians are willing or able to care for them.

Some people define exotic pets as anything that is "wild" or not domesticated. However, these are not precise definitions either since there is not an exact definition of the time when an animal that is tame and/or has been bred in captivity crosses the line from wild to domestic. It takes many generations of breeding in captivity to be able to consider an animal domesticated and they usually look vastly different from their wild counterparts due to the selective breeding process to obtain tamer qualities. 

So, the definition of an exotic pet is complicated and open to interpretation. This is also certainly the case when it comes to laws governing the keeping of exotic pets and why your local laws should always be checked prior to getting an exotic pet. What is considered exotic or subject to regulatory laws varies from location to location (find out if a specific exotic pet is legal where you live).

Why are Llamas, Alpacas and Other Farm Animals on This Site?

Some readers have questioned the inclusion of these animals on this exotic pets site (seeing as they are domestic and not typically kept as a "pet"). However, we found there was an interest in these animals as companions and some owners do consider them pets.

Mostly, though, we made room for them here so those who are interested in keeping them as companions can learn more about their pets, too!

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT