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Cover Story - Posted May 22, 2014 4:29 p.m.
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Lizards and Hamsters and Snakes, Oh My!

When most people think of pets, the familiar faces of Fido and Fluffy usually come to mind: dogs and cats are standard in local homes. But what about exotic pets? Most Amarilloans are acquainted with someone who keeps rabbits or chickens, especially in more rural areas. Everyone seems to know or have known a guy in school who had a pet snake. Birds remain moderately popular, and aquarium fish are fun to watch, though connecting to them on a personal level isn’t quite the same as being greeted by a face-licking dog upon returning from work. So why do some people choose an exotic pet over the standard cat or dog? There are a variety of reasons.

Allergies: Reptiles are ideal for those with pet allergies. Furry pets carry dander on their coats, which causes allergic reactions for certain people. But lizards, snakes, turtles, tortoises, and fish don’t have hair.

Demands: Your dog may pester you for a walk, drop a ball at your feet relentlessly, or otherwise beg for attention more often than you prefer. A pet snake isn’t going to do that. While exotic animals do require specific kinds of socialization, their daily demands and need for affection are much less than dogs or, to a lesser degree, cats.

Space: No backyard for a dog? Limited space for your cat to roam? Birds, reptiles, and small mammals like gerbils and hamsters are perfect for apartments or limited living areas. Even the most cramped homes have room for a small cage.

Longevity: While some animals, like hamsters or fish, may have a short lifespan, other exotic pets can live a long time. Some large birds and reptiles can live for decades in captivity when properly cared for and fed. When one of the worst things about owning a pet is the loss a family feels at the death of a beloved dog or cat, the potential longevity of exotic species is a plus.

While owners of exotic pets say they are just as capable of providing companionship as a standard dog or cat, there are important things to consider before heading off to the pet store. Most have specialized environmental and social needs, which can be substantially more difficult than just letting a dog loose in a backyard. Veterinary care can be more difficult to find for exotic species (Animal Medical Center in Amarillo offers exotic pet medicine and surgery). And while inexpensive cat food is available at every grocery store, the specialized diets of exotic pets aren’t always as easy to meet – or as affordable.
Still, exotic pets make fascinating companions. To decide if one is right for you, talk to the experts at your local pet store. Or better yet, discuss it with an exotic pet owner.

Exotic Pet Specialists

Acoma Pine Animal & Bird Clinic
4010 W 34th Ave., 358.7608

Animal Medical Center
6201 Amarillo Blvd., West, 358.7831, MyAnimalMedicalCenter.com

Noah’s Ark Pet Hospital
7306 SW 34th Ave., 457.9922, NoahsArkPetHospitalAmarillo.com

by Jason Boyett

Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.
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