Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Many special interest groups that oppose the keeping of 'exotic' pets put on a facade of pretending to care about public health and resort to exaggerating the zoonotic disease threat of non-domesticated pets.
Think about it; the same applies with groups that promote vegetarianism and veganism—the focus is exerted more on eliminating animal-based dietary protein from the human diet to suit an ideological view and less on the actual (many) causes of diet-related chronic illness in the United States. Therefore, you will see more blown up reports about diseases caused by meat than from anything else.
On pages that discuss the horrors that exotic pet keeping has wrought in our society, you will see large lists of diseases that are claimed to be spread by exotic pet owners, presenting an illusion that non-exotic pets are 'clean and safe' to own in comparison.
In fact, the subject of disease from domesticated animals is entirely disregarded, because people are comfortable and familiar with these animals, making them more likely to accepted due to this fact alone.
Some studies do back up some of the claims made by organizations like Born Free, The Humane Society of the United States, Animal Defense League, and others. This hub will put the disease threat of exotic pet ownership and other captivity forms into an honest context.
A zoonotic disease is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Therefore unsurprisingly, a common mode of transmission is through the pet trade where humans contact animals.
Many people tend to associate these pet-related illnesses toward the ownership of unusual and exotic pet owning situations; however, all animals harbor and can transmit bacteria, pathogens, viruses, and other organisms to humans that has the potential to cause illness.
In fact, the number one vector of pet related-zoonosis that varies in severity are dogs and cats due to their commonality and presence in public places.
The above video provides an example of the 'reports' that exotic pet owners are faced with because since they already deal with a socially stigmatized lifestyle, they are easy targets of sensationalism and misrepresentation. This preview (and the actual report) failed to specify that:
Much scientific literature exists documenting incidences of pet-initiated zoonotic transfer occurring in domestic situations that are allegedly the result of what is touted as an ‘increasing threat’ to human health. Many of these studies conclude their findings by ‘recommending’ avoidance of exotic pet ownership, and their definition of "exotic pet" appears to include every animal outside of those that are fully domesticated (often, the studies include domesticated farm animals in their analysis on the causation of ‘exotic’ pet zoonosis).
I’ve shuffled through these studies, but one important factor seems to be missing from the conclusion on the prevalence and danger that captive-bred exotic animals supposedly possess: is there a higher percentage of illnesses related to exotic pets, and/or are they more ‘severe’ than that of what is related to the animals that they do not criticize?
Do exotic pets pose such a severe risk to human health and public safety that, in comparison to domesticated pets, the right that people should hold to own pets is invalidated?
The definition of what qualifies as an exotic pet may vary from person to person; however, it is safe to define this group of animals as a vast range of species, from rodents to big cats. This definition may extend beyond non-domesticated animals and often includes animals such as commonly-kept ferrets, chinchillas and small very commonly bred hookbills like cockatiels and parakeets. Many vets consider them to be all animals other than dogs and cats. All have spread zoonotic diseases.
Therefore, it is easy to see why the disease threat of exotic pets, compared to the eternally socially acceptable presence of cats and dogs and other more common pets, may seem high. We are talking about a large number of different animals that include fish, rodents, reptiles, birds, insects, and mammals vs. canines and felines. If any problems are found with any member of this group, 'exotic pets' will collectively be lashed out against.
Many people make the mistake of believing that the disease potential of exotic pets does not pertain to their harmless pet gecko or guinea pig.
Many people probably also do not realize that these animal rights groups are targeting their animals as an 'exotic pet' as well, falling for the illusion that it is only about pet bears, tigers, and other large dangerous animals. Size does not matter when it comes to disease, and of course, there are probably more occurrences of diseases such as the popularly feared salmonella with these smaller animals than that of animals typically not in mind by those supporting bans of exotic pets on the pretense of their disease threat.
Such an enormous group of species are often lumped together, and the range of possible disease transmission is vast with different levels of severity. According to the literature, all of these pets are a concern, and no official comparisons have been made to dogs, cats, and humans themselves.
Upon reviewing the research that advocates against exotic pet keeping due to disease transmission, I noticed that much of the zoonotic disease statistics came from petting zoos—that of which hold animals that are not only domesticated, but are common and harmless animals that we often even consume as food.
Domesticated farm animals are not exotic pets. They obviously pose a disease risk, which is why they are not kept in congested environments like cities, but it is rather preposterous that the health conflicts of every animal other than dogs and cats receive so much attention.
However, many studies also point to the health benefits of being raised on farms and around animals. Animals kept in nature centers, zoos, and other educational facilities are not being attacked by the public as being negative for society even though they are included in these cited studies as a major source of the infection incidents.
One may think unusual animals host the potential to start pandemics and epidemics to the level of fictional movies such as depicted in the film Contagion.
The best argument made by special interest groups (those that would really just prefer to end the practice of keeping all pets) is that exotic pets may introduce diseases that are unique toward the population and therefore will be harder to deal with. Yet, despite this proposition, There have only been a handful of incidences involving exotic pets and uncommon or potentially serious disease causation.
The small monkey pox outbreak was one of them, and is an example often cited by exotic pet trade detractors. Do these small pets arouse attention from the public as often as less common or more intimidating pets? Special interest groups mainly have a priority in banning non-human primates, big cats, and other uncommon exotic pets because they have ideological objections toward people keeping them in captivity.
The saying that 'one fears what they do not understand' rings exceptionally valid for exotic pets.
Unfortunately for people whose lives are invested in animal care that happens to extend beyond dogs and cats, people have a tendency to single ‘exotic pets’ out. They are a convenient scapegoat because people do not understand why we desire to have them.
Some people look down on the caging of what they perceive as ‘wild’ animals, while others are fearful of reptiles and specific mammals. Snakes have always garnered unwarranted fear from many throughout history. Phobias of snakes (Ophidiophobia) are extremely popular.
Therefore, any one incident regarding an unusual animal will equate to about 50 incidences. If a cat bites someone, it is pathetically uninteresting and un-newsworthy. If a Savannah cat (a popular domesticated/serval hybrid cat) bites someone, it becomes a sensationalized mauling that rattles the cages of the public and sends lawmakers into a frenzy trying to do away with new purchases of any uncommon, non-domesticated animals defined as an ‘exotic’.
With fear and anger toward this group of pet owners due to several misrepresentations of their hobby and lifestyle, it would seem that this should be enough disdainful public sentiment to impose restrictions and bans on this minority group of people.
In contrast to the hype about the danger of exotic pets, many provide therapeutic value and have health benefits for their owners and other people not unlike dogs and cats, which this Animal Planet show used to depict before turning to programs like Fatal Attractions.
Find something here to be untrue? Factually incorrect or misrepresented? Please leave a comment and correct me (in a friendly manner) and I will alter it in the article and/or amend my position on the subject.
© 2013 Melissa A Smith
kenzie walczak on February 04, 2019:
I think their should be a lot more information about exotic pets and their diseases
poopman sailor on January 30, 2018:
i think there should be more explanation on pros and con
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 20, 2013:
torrilynn on December 20, 2013:
thanks for sharing the diseases that can come from these animals. it always great to be safe and cautious. voted up.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on November 30, 2013:
"they really have nothing to do with this hub about diseases."
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on November 30, 2013:
Hi janeanonymous, irresponsible pet owners are inevitable like irresponsible drivers, babysitters, police, dog owners, gun owners, ect. How common is it for people to release exotic mammals or allow them to free roam? Not very at all. How many exotic pets have turned up with rabies? None. How many people free-roam cats? Millions. How many cats have turned up with rabies? A few.
" The article refers to animals that are collected IN THE WILD, not animals coming from reputable captive breeding programs."
Thanks for making my point, I think I state in this article that collecting mammals from the wild to be pets is not a good idea nor is that even legal. Do you know of anyone who obtained an exotic pet with the bubonic plague in this country? This has happened, again, with cats (although obviously it's not common).
" Animal cruelty laws don’t protect the public (cases in point - the escaped python that killed 2 children in Canada or the chimp in Connecticut that attacked a woman)"
I think what you meant to say is that animal cruelty laws are not *infalliable. We've outlawed murder, does that mean it doesn't happen? Can you honestly say that deaths from exotic pets are common? Not even dog-related fatalities are common, but they surely outnumber incidences involving exotics.
"or the local fauna"
We can again look to our wonderful domesticated companions to see which animal has the biggest impact on wildlife. Cats are basically in all 50 states including Hawaii, at least the pythons are only in Florida. I'm not saying that their escapes are a good thing, but if we're going down for that, what exempts our domesticated animal owning peers?
"the attacked woman tried to sue the state for not removing the dangerous animal."
I know, idiotic, wasn't it? Glad she lost. Frankly, history tells us that exotic animals are the biggest threat to their owners or people involved with them. Your chances of being torn apart by an escaped exotic are pathetically low. And what about dogs escaping and attacking? Does this happen? This article is about DISEASE, I have other articles that address public safety. https://discover.hubpages.com/animals/exotic-pet-a...
" and nowhere in that article does it state that these diseases ONLY come from exotic pets"
Err so? What's the problem here? Isn't that my point? These diseases are not just those which exotic pets possess. I thought people might be interested in some more info about which species presents which disease risk.
And please educate me, what is a “boid?
janeanonymous on November 30, 2013:
The 4th & 5th paragraph in my above posting were by accident. They are from my posting in response to Banning "exotic" pets is senseless. My apology, they really have nothing to do with this hub about diseases.
janeanonymous on November 30, 2013:
I commend and thank you for educating the general public about diseases humans can get from animals (be they deemed “exotic” by some, or domesticated). However, I have a couple of comments about your hub.
To quote you: “Another ridiculous entry to the 'list' of scary diseases you can get that I've witnessed is the bubonic plague (on the AZA's website), for time and space-sake I won't include every nonsensical entry here.” The article refers to animals that are collected IN THE WILD, not animals coming from reputable captive breeding programs.
Again a direct quote: “Rabies is contracted by outdoor exposure and free-roaming, which exotic pets, unlike many domesticated pets, are not allowed to do without supervision.” Sorry, an exotic animal that escapes captivity or is intentionally released, doesn’t know it’s breaking the outdoorsupervision rule, but the human does. There are many exotic pet owners in areas that have no rules and irresponsible exotic pet owners don’t abide by the rules. Thus “outdoor exposure and free-roaming” is not controlled.
“The Ohio incident was an incredibly exceptional case, one that should have been prevented by legislation barring a person convicted of animal cruelty from owning animals, even “only” a domestic cat.” Cruelty laws and penalties are usually weak and where are the confiscated animals supposed to go? To another facility that has no regulations except animal cruelty? Animal cruelty laws don’t protect the public (cases in point - the escaped python that killed 2 children in Canada or the chimp in Connecticut that attacked a woman) or the local fauna (the Florida python problem) from an escaped or intentionally released animal from an owner who is not deemed cruel to its animals. In the chimp case, the attacked woman tried to sue the state for not removing the dangerous animal. Now Connecticut has enacted legislation to protect the public once again from an escaped animal whose owner was not, by animal cruelty laws, to have been cruel to her animals.
Any domestic or exotic pet owner should voluntarily have liability coverage, and if it takes a state law to make that happen, so be it. The liability insurance not only protects the owner from financial ruin if a major problem happens, but protects the injured person from incurring major financial output to hire a lawyer and sue the owner, and to recover medical costs.
You present an article Potential Zoonotic Diseases in 'Exotic Pets' which is written by Amy Worell DVM, and nowhere in that article does it state that these diseases ONLY come from exotic pets. Melissa Kaplan (whose website contains the article) seems to have done an informative website about herpetological animals. The link to the website is just stuck in the middle of your article with no explanation as to why you included it.
And please educate me, what is a “boid?”“ “I often see this statement alongside articles that cover the sporadic incidences of an escaped pet bobcat or discovery of a large boid in a bathtub.”
Exotic animals are beautiful and fascinating creatures, but they rarely make great household pets. The reality is, taking exotic and unusual animals out of their natural habitats can inhibit their health and reduce chances for survival.
Exotic animals subsist on aspects of their environment that cannot be fully replicated in a domestic setting. According to One Green Planet,
even when purchased as infants, exotic pets can become unmanageable and aggressive as they grow. In the meantime, they require stringent and specialized diets, care and housing to stay healthy and thrive.
When their needs are not met, these animals wind up malnourished, sick and suffering from behavioral issues that many exotic pet owners are not prepared to handle.
Source: Adobe Stock/Andrii Zastrozhnov
Exotic pets often require specialized food, shelter, and care.
At that point, it’s unlikely the animal will ever find the comfort and care it needs. As Born Free USA reports, all the zoos and accredited institutions in the world do not have room for the number exotic animals currently held for sale by less prepared (or less scrupulous) individuals. Consequently, the majority of these animals are euthanized, abandoned, or doomed to live in deplorable conditions.
The three most common exotic pets are monkeys, wild cats, and reptiles.
Source: Adobe Stock/Naypong Studio
Exotic animals may be beautiful, but they rarely make good pets.
Monkeys tend begin to exhibit unpredictable behavior by two years old. According to Born Free USA, “Males tend to become aggressive, and both males and females bite to defend themselves and to establish dominance. Reported have been many monkey bites that resulted in serious injury to the individual who possessed the animal, to a neighbor, or to a stranger on the street.”
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, 52 people reported being bitten by macaque monkeys between 1990 to 1997.
Non-domesticated felines, such as lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars, may seem cute and cuddly when they are young, but they pose a serious threat to humans as they grow. It doesn’t matter how long the cat has spent in the company of humans, big cats may change temperaments around humans and lash out unexpectedly. When these cats escape, the result is almost always the death of a human, the death of the cat, or both.
Source: Adobe Stock/Ian
There are currently an estimated 7.3 million pet reptiles being kept in the U.S.
Reptiles like snakes and lizards are also kept as pets, though to no less danger than those keeping monkeys or tigers. Escaped snakes are also responsible for serious injury and death. On August 28, 1999, a 3-year-old boy was strangled to death in Centralia, IL, by the family’s pet python. Authorities charged the boy’s parents with child endangerment and unlawful possession of a dangerous animal.
According to statistics from the University of Florida, more than 7,000 venomous snake bites are reported in the U.S. every year. Fifteen of those bites result in death. Despite the dangers, there are currently an estimated 7.3 million pet reptiles being kept in the U.S.
Source: Adobe Stock/Krisda
Escaped snakes have injured and killed people by strangulation.
There are over a thousand reports of exotic pets escaping their enclosures at private residences. And these are only the incidents that are reported. Some exotic pet owners stop short of reporting the escape, as it could result in the surrender of their pet. This is why many escapes go unreported every year. And when an escaped snake, monkey, or wild cat is finally located, it may be killed on sight for simply acting on its own instincts.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all taken positions against owning certain exotic animals. Physical injury is just one risk of harboring an exotic pet. Many animals can carry zoonotic diseases such as Brucellosis, Salmonella and Ringworm, which can be transmitted from animal to human, or parasites that can be transmitted to humans or other pets.
Source: Adobe Stock/butenkow
Escaped wild cats can kill people.
According to “Exotic Pets: Health and Safety Issues for Children and Parents,” published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care, The 2009 Disney film “The Princess and the Frog” was followed by a pet frog–associated salmonella outbreak the same year, spurred the CDC to issue a warning regarding health risks to children associated with handling reptiles and amphibians.
Six years earlier, “the CDC banned importation of West African rodents into the United States following a multistate outbreak of monkeypox (orthopoxvirus),” the study states. “More than 70 cases across six states occurred before the end of the outbreak, with 26% of these cases requiring hospitalization. Of the laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox, 31% involved children younger than 18 years (CDC, 2003). The CDC investigation revealed the source of the outbreak to be a shipment of African rodents legally imported for the pet trade.”
Source: Adobe Stock/Yury and Tanya
After cute and cuddly animals grow up, they can be much harder to care for.
A growing number of individuals are taking the pledge to leave exotic animals in their natural habitats. It takes a second to sign, and can make a lifetime of positive change.
Click below to take the pledge.
Exotic animals can harm humans and spread disease when taken out of their natural habitats.
Honor the health and lives of exotic animals by signing the pledge today.
Click to make a difference!
It is illegal to sell flesh-eating animals other than dogs, cats and ferrets in South Carolina.
But unlike many other states, South Carolina has not banned the owning of wild species. So some people do continue to keep wild animals as pets. Others keep wild/domestic hybrids, which are animals created through the human-forced crossbreeding of a dog or cat with a wild species. And a third group keeps wild animals confined on their property not as pets but for other purposes.
Technically, an exotic pet is one that is not domesticated, or indigenous to its owner’s local geographic region. The term usually refers to wild species, unpredictable and often untrainable. Exotic species include wild cats (lions, tigers, ocelots, bobcats), fennec foxes, wolves, bears, monkeys, snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, and alligators.
Exotic pet owners often choose a species of animal on a whim or as part of a popular fad without considering the animal’s requirements for the right environmental conditions. Insufficient information regarding adequate housing, correct diet and temperature, and the social environment the species requires all contribute to care problems. Exotic animals do not adjust well to captive conditions where they are typically not allowed to engage in their natural behaviors. Instead of giving the animal what it requires from nature owners will try to change the nature of the animal with abusive practices such as chaining the animal or confining it in barren cages, mutilating it by declawing or removing teeth, or beating it into submission.
Such animals present a danger to their owners and communities. They may escape their enclosures and roam the community freely, sometimes fatally attacking human beings or other animals. When exotic animals grow too large to control, or the novelty wears off, owners often try to donate their pets to zoos or rescue centers, but these facilities cannot accommodate all the cast-off exotic pets. Many are euthanized or abandoned or left to survive in deplorable conditions. If you still desire an exotic pet keep the following precautions in mind as you choose a species:
Many exotic pets need a very specific environment to thrive
Exotic pets that have an aggressive, active nature and sharp teeth and claws are not suited for families with small children. Some quieter, calmer exotic species may be frightened by rowdy children and may nip them if handled roughly, and children may accidentally harm small species. Some may be stressed by children or other pets or seriously endanger them.
Proper housing is necessary. Be sure you have enough room for a large enclosure if necessary. Your pet should not be kept in a barren cage or aquarium. Keep their natural habitat in mind as you furnish their home. You may need expensive equipment to maintain the right environmental conditions. You want to be comfortable in your home, should your pet deserve any less?
You can buy commercially prepared foods for some exotic species but some may require fresh food prepared daily. Mice or insects may be part of their diet. Research the necessary diet for the species and that the food supply is readily available. Be willing to put forth the effort that feeding a proper diet requires.
Be aware of laws regarding exotic pets in your region. In the United States, there are federal and state laws restricting the ownership of exotic species and in the UK there are government and local council licensing laws. Exotic species may be regulated to protect their conservation status or prevent the possibility of introducing an invasive species into the area and disrupting the local ecosystem. Neighbors are often uncomfortable living in an area where they know a potentially dangerous exotic pet is kept. You may be held liable or face criminal charges if your pet escapes its enclosure and causes harm (or worse!).
Providing proper veterinary care for your pet may be a challenge. Many vets do not have the specialized training to care for exotic animals. If you don’t live in a big city with an exotic-care vet you may have to drive quite a distance to find one. In an emergency, you may get there too late.
There are also health concerns for humans when raising an exotic animal as a pet. Some species carry diseases that can be fatal to humans including monkeypox, salmonellosis, Herpes B, and rabies. Family members with compromised immune systems may be especially vulnerable. Potential allergic reactions should be considered if any family members have a history of allergies.
Provide for your pet’s social needs. Some species such as ferrets and pot-bellied pigs need lots of attention and playtime while amphibians and reptiles usually prefer not to be handled at all. Some exotic pets will enjoy a companion of the same species in their enclosure, while some are territorial and independent and may harm a cage mate. At some point, you may require a pet sitter. The unique care an exotic animal requires can make it difficult to find someone who is capable to take over when you go on vacation or away for the holidays. Any pet should become a cherished member of the family, not a chore to be taken lightly. Choose a pet that will suit your family and lifestyle, not just because it’s the current rage, and be willing to take care of your pet responsibly and faithfully throughout its life.
The exotic “pet” trade is big business. Selling protected wildlife in stores, auctions, or on the Internet is one of the largest sources of criminal earnings, behind only arms smuggling and drug trafficking. But the animals pay the price. Many don’t survive the journey from their homes, and those who do survive often suffer in captivity and die prematurely from malnutrition, an unnatural and uncomfortable environment, loneliness, and the overwhelming stress of confinement.
Animals destined for the pet trade are yanked from their homes in places such as Australia, Africa, and Brazil and are subjected to grueling transport. Parrots may have their beaks and feet taped and be stuffed into plastic tubes that can easily be hidden in luggage, and stolen bird and reptile eggs are concealed in special vests so that couriers can bypass X-ray machines at airports. Baby turtles have been trapped inside their shells with tape and shoved by the dozen into tube socks, and infant pythons have been shipped in CD cases. Many die before reaching their destinations.
In the hands of unprepared or incompetent caretakers, many exotic animals die or are abandoned. The head of the Environmental Crime Investigation unit in Western Cape, South Africa, estimates that 90 percent of exported reptiles die within a year.
Animal control authorities confiscated a crippled cougar cub from a Buffalo, New York, basement. The animal, kept by a teenager, had been fed a diet deficient in calcium and, as a result, suffered from deformed legs. Hedgehogs, who roll themselves into tight balls, can easily become injured if children try to “uncurl” them or if cats attack them. Sugar gliders are very social animals, and if they are not given enough attention, they may self-mutilate or die from the stress of loneliness.
Other people try to return unwanted animals to their natural homes or abandon them outdoors. Without appropriate habitats or rehabilitation, these animals will starve or fall victim to the elements or predators. If they do survive, they may overpopulate and wreak havoc with the ecosystem, killing native species.
The exotic animal trade is dangerous for humans as well. There have been dozens of attacks by captive big cats on humans in the past decade. In one incident, a tiger mauled his guardian’s 3-year-old grandson. A lion killed several dogs and trapped a child in his room, and a Bengal tiger tore off the arm of a 4-year-old boy.
Since 2000, at least four people have been mauled to death by wolf hybrids—the offspring of wolves and domesticated dogs. One veterinarian and animal behaviorist says that “people who breed these animals and sell them as pets are playing Russian roulette. It’s a gross misrepresentation to sell these animals as pets.”
Seventy-five percent of all new infectious diseases originate from nonhuman animals. According to one Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officer, “[T]here are all kinds of exotic species that may be unknown vectors of human disease.”
The monkeypox outbreak that affected dozens of people in the Midwest in 2003 was traced to a Gambian rat from Africa. The animal had been housed with prairie dogs in an Illinois animal dealer’s shed. Prairie dogs also have been known to carry the plague and tularemia. The herpes B virus, which is nearly 70 percent fatal to humans, can be transferred from macaques to humans. Human contact with reptiles and other exotic animals accounts for 70,000 cases of salmonellosis each year. Parrots can transfer psittacosis, which can be deadly to humans.
Federal, state, and local governments are passing laws that prohibit the private ownership of certain dangerous species, but most of these regulations are poorly enforced and are designed to protect humans from injury and disease rather than ensure that animals are handled humanely.
Never buy exotic animals from dealers or pet shops, and support legislation that would make owning exotic animals illegal and prohibit the interstate sale of exotic animals.