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What you need to know: Dr. Andrew Vermeulen of Island Exotics Clinic on homing exotic pets

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Dogs and cats , our traditional pets, have become what they are  after thousands of years of natural selection. They have learnt to trust man, and have earned a place within the family as a companion and aide. Being predators means they have less fear, and this along with the gradual process of domestication is not something that has been afforded to other pets. As a result, we need to approach homing ‘exotic’ pets, like chinchillas, reptiles, birds and even rabbits or hamsters, very differently.

Exotic pets often have an instinctive fear of humans, and although this can be reduced with time and care, it will never go away all together. Some animals will be more relaxed than others, especially if hand raised. Making your choice based on an animal’s behaviour in a stressful environment, like a busy pet shop, can be challenging – it’s not easy to tell how an animal will react to you at home.

When you’re deciding which pet to choose, it’s important to take your time, research the species you’re interested in and seek advice from small-scale breeders or animal welfare/ adoption specialists. Organisations like the SPCA Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Rabbit Society are a great place to start.

There are plenty of factors to consider. Firstly, can you provide an enclosure that is big enough to house an exotic pet and fulfil his behavioural needs? This will be his world, and just like you, he needs space to express himself and make decisions of where to be. Are you prepared to buy and maintain the lighting and heating that may be necessary?

Secondly, who in your family will be interacting with the pet? Unlike a dog or a cat, most exotic pets do not like to be petted, held or played with – this is partly because of their inability to get away if they feel scared. So, if you’re buying an exotic for your child, it’s important he understands that they are more to be watched and admired than handled.

Thirdly, have you considered how long exotics live for? Some such as hamsters only live two years, but others like guinea pigs can live for 10 years, rabbits 12, chinchillas 15, some reptiles 20 and birds from 15 to 80 years. Are you happy to care for exotic pets in later life should they outlive your children’s interest?

Lastly, are you aware that medical costs for exotic pets can be much higher than they are for dogs and cats? Treating exotics is a specialised field, not often taught at university, so it takes many years of further study and training for veterinarians to work on them.

If at this point you are still considering homing an exotic pet and you are looking for guidance, I would recommend a rabbit. They are clean (can often be toilet trained), quiet, can live in your main living space much like a cat and are often affectionate.


Island Exotics Clinic, 2/F Hing Tai Building, 139-140 Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun, 2858 9388, www.taiwaiexotic.com

If you have any questions, feel free to email [email protected]


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