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Small exotic mammals can be rewarding pets as long as their nutritional, health and daily needs are adequately met. But which ones come out on top? In this post, our veterinarians in Halifax share some of the best and most popular exotic pets you may want to consider.

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Are exotic pets a good idea?

When considering any pet, it is important to research which one may suit your family and what you can expect while caring for them. This can be especially true when considering exotic pets. Once you find something that catches your eye, you should first learn about their needs, including healthcare, diet and nutrition, environment and enclosure requirements. You will also want to purchase your new companion animal from a reputable source.

Remember to check your municipal and provincial laws. Depending on the exotic pet you want to purchase, some areas will require a permit or license.

Here are some reasons why you may choose to have an exotic pet:

  • You get to learn about unique species of animals
  • Many types of small exotic pets don't take up much space
  • They can be a good option if you have allergies to cats and dogs
  • Most species don't need to be walked
  • Some types of exotic pets can live for a very long time

How do you get exotic pets?

Obtaining an exotic pet legally and directly from a reputable rescue center, breeder, or supplier is important. These organizations should be able to show where their animals come from and follow best practices for the species they sell, including ensuring they only sell live exotic pets to people who know how to care for them.

So, what are the best types of exotic animals to keep as pets?

To help you decide which small exotic pets might work well for you, we've shared a list below of some of the most popular exotic pets:


Rabbits are intelligent companion mammals with a wide range of personalities, and they can live for 8 to 12 years or longer. They are also one of the types of pets that can be litter trained.

Rabbits need a lot of space to exercise and exhibit other natural behaviours. Many rabbit owners choose to 'rabbit-proof' a large area of the home as their naturally curious nature can be problematic when it comes to hazards like electrical wires, houseplants, and other chewable objects. Hay toys, tunnels, and safe chew toys such as cardboard, are an excellent addition to meet your rabbit's enrichment needs.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are social, personable pets that learn very quickly who the person is who feeds them! They express themselves very loudly sometimes, 'wheeking' in excitement at feeding time. Guinea pigs are herd animals, and need to be kept in groups of at least two pigs (in same sex or spayed/neutered groups). These animals live 5 to 7 years on average. Many guinea pigs have unique personalities and enjoy human interaction.

Guinea pigs need vitamin C supplementation (like people), and the pet owner should provide a daily dietary source of this important vitamin.


There are several types of hamsters in the pet trade, including the larger Syrian or golden hamster and a few species of dwarf hamsters (the Roborovski or 'robo,' the winter white, and Campbell’s dwarf hamsters). All hamsters are happiest being active during dawn and dusk and may react poorly to being woken up in the middle of the day (including biting).

Hamsters are extremely active and need large enclosures for their small stature. Dwarf hamsters need at least 450 square inches (0.29 square meters) of floor space. Syrian hamsters need double that, at least 900 square inches (0.58 square meters). All hamsters need at least 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm) of bedding to burrow in. Hamsters are some of the shortest-lived exotic pets, with many only living 1 to 2 years.


Rats are small, quiet and very smart pets. Most pet rats live 1.5 to 2.5 years on average and do best with at least one fellow rat companion (either the same sex or spayed/neutered of the opposite sex). They can live comfortably in an enclosure at least 2.5 cubic feet (70.8 L) in size, and it’s recommended to add at least one cubic foot (28 L) for each additional rat. This makes them great for apartments.

Rats are most active at dawn and dusk, but they won't be offended if you wake them up for a little playtime during the day.

Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos are a popular exotic pet due to their friendly nature and beautiful patterns. They can live 10 to 15 (sometimes up to 20) years with good care.

They need to be kept in a tank of at least 20 gallons (76 litres) in size, though we recommend 30 to 40 gallons (114 to 151 litres) for adults. Historically, these lizards have been kept without UVB lighting, but newer studies suggest that the addition of broad-spectrum (UVB) lighting to their enclosure further enhances their health and longevity.

They are most active at night, and do best with minimal disturbance during the day. This is not an ideal pet for someone who would like a lot of daily handling or interaction with their pet, as leopard geckos may find this stressful.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons are popular thanks to their calm nature and amenity to being handled. They can live 10 to 12 years in captivity. While they are a more easy-going reptile and can be a good choice as a 'first reptile pet,' they still have a number of specific requirements to ensure a healthy, long life. Making sure that they are kept in their preferred temperatures with appropriate UVB lighting is essential.

They require more space than most gecko and chameleon species. The minimum terrarium size recommended is 4 x 2 x 2 ft (1.2 x 0.6 x 0.6 m). That being said, many hobbyists advocate for even larger enclosures so that they can properly thermoregulate and exhibit normal behaviours like climbing.

Ball Pythons

Ball pythons are often gentle and docile, and captive breeding efforts have made them readily available in the pet trade. Due to their calm nature and less complex husbandry requirements, they are a popular first snake for many. Like all pet reptiles, they need ample space to move around, a heat source, and, ideally, UVB lighting. It is safest to offer snakes pre-killed (frozen-thawed) rodents, as live prey can sometimes injure the snake. Some ball pythons may live 20 to 30 years in captivity.

It is best practice with any reptile to wash your hands after handling them, especially between different reptiles in the same home, to reduce the risk of spreading disease from one pet to another. The risk of salmonella to people is considered low. However, it may be higher if you are pregnant or immunocompromised.

Budgies (Budgerigars)

Sometimes called parakeets, these small parrots pack in a lot of personality! They are very intelligent, and can form strong social bonds with people in the home. Despite their small size, they need enough cage space to comfortably fly when confined (at least 36 x 24 x 24 inches or 91 x 61 x 61 cm for one budgie), and should have free flying time in a bird-proofed part of the home daily. They live 6 to 8 years on average.

Like other parrots, budgies need a balanced diet of a formulated pellet for parrots, fresh vegetables, and a restricted amount of seeds (that can be reserved for training sessions and put in foraging toys for exercise).


Cockatiels are another intelligent, sociable companion parrot species. They tend to be very affectionate and social with people. Cockatiels need enough cage space to fly (at least 60 x 60 x 60 inches, or 152 x 152 x 152 cm) and should have free flying time in a bird-proofed part of the home daily. In captivity, they can live 20 to 25 years.

Like with budgies, seeds should be a restricted part of the diet. These birds need a balanced diet made up mostly of a formulated pellet for parrots and fresh vegetables.

Exotic Companion Animal Care at Coastal Care Veterinary Emergency & Referral Hospital

Providing care for avian and exotic pets requires skills and experience that not all veterinary clinics offer. No matter the type of companion animal you have, our exotic pet veterinarian and team can provide the medical care needed to maintain optimal health.

All our services for exotic pets can be obtained without a referral. Our team is dedicated to providing reptiles, small mammals, and avian species with specialized veterinary care so they can live long and healthy lives.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Do you have an exotic pet needing a routine checkup or general care? Contact our exotic pet veterinarian to request an appointment. We are here for all companion animals in Halifax, Dartmouth and beyond.

What are the best exotic pets?

Caring for Pets in Atlantic Canada

Our specialists are pleased to accept new patients by referral from primary care veterinarians. Our emergency service welcomes all clients – 24/7/365. 

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