Household pets can be an excellent addition to any family or home. Animals like dogs, cats and birds are loving companions to millions of American families and the cost of owning them is just a drop in the bucket compared to the joy they can bring. Housing, equipment, food and supplies are the basic needs of any living, breathing thing and it’s your responsibility to make sure your pet is well taken care of.
When you’re talking exotic pets, you might not be surprised to learn that their associated costs can be thousands of dollars, if not more. The decision to bring an “off the beaten path” pet home one day means that food, care and other common needs for the pets are harder to come by. We’ve outlined some of the exotic pets you may have come across in your life and detailed some of the “exotic costs” they can bring if you decide you’ve just gotta have one.
Lions, Tigers and Bobcats, oh my. Exotic cats can live to be 20 years old, so the commitment is long and expensive. A secure and spacious enclose can cost plenty for your cat to run around in and they eat A LOT. Exotic cats will need to go to the vet more often then regular cats and their problems are usually super-sized in nature. There is also the initial cost of the kitten, which is usually between $1,500-$2,000.
Servals or bobcats are more affordable than tigers, or other large cats. The serval is the most common exotic cat found in homes. Bobcats range from 15-40 pounds and may require special habitats to be built onto your home, including serious fencing around your property. Bobcats pee on everything as it’s their way of marking territory so make sure to build this into your housecleaning budget. They are also nocturnal, which means you will be too and since this is a personal finance blog, let us point out that electricity is no less expensive at nighttime.
If you’re in the market for an exotic cat, make sure to also look into the different laws for “endangered cats”, because there is a whole extra layer of laws when it comes to adopting them. Bobcats, for one, could be illegal to domesticate, depending on where you live. Crimes come with fines; very steep fines. And if you’re looking to purchase a lion, you might be paying the ultimate price as lions are extremely tough to train and have been known to kill their owners.
They may begin no bigger than the size of a quarter but an African spur-thigh or a sulcata tortoise can grow to 200 pounds over its 80-year life. Diet can be particularly challenging with this house-pet and nutritional problems lead to medical problems which leads to veterinarian bills. Mouth rot, fungus’s and other problems are pretty routine with many reptiles and finding a vet who’s experienced in these issues can require extra measures, like a lot of travel.
Such potentially large animals like tortoises need a lot of floor space and a special substrate. Concrete, carpet or linoleum won’t suffice. It will need desert heat-like temps and water to wade in, as well as ultraviolet light. You’ll definitely save on vacations because with all their special needs, it’s nearly impossible to leave your tortoise in the care of a friend or family member.
A Macaw’s life-span can be up to 75 years and a Macaw eats expensive bird feed, in addition to fruits and vegetables. They require high humidity, warmth and ultraviolet light year-round, making them a very high maintenance pet. One of the immediate drawbacks of owning a Macaw (The picture shows a Scarlet Macaw) is the noise. Macaw’s love to talk and unless you properly train them, the neighbors down the street are going to be knocking at your door all hours of the night.
You’re going to need a decent size cage and a lot of TLC to keep a Macaw happy. Liability insurance is also highly suggested if you own a Macaw, as they are likely to lash out (and its ugly) if they are not getting enough attention, just like an ignored human being. This means letting the Macaw out of it’s cage for long periods of time, which can be very hazardous to your possessions. If you decide to purchase a Macaw, make sure you kiss anything breakable in your house goodbye!
Monkeys, depending on the species, can be with you for 35 years and they can weigh up to 45 pounds. Monkeys eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, proteins and breads. It’s another mouth to feed, which means your grocery bill will grow along with your primate. Monkeys, like toddlers, can be picky eaters, which means they’ll likely waste some of the food that you spend time and money preparing.
One of the hidden costs of owning a monkey surrounds their hygiene. They come with a lot of odor, they throw their feces and they urinate in all directions. Thus, factoring in frequent carpet cleanings and disinfectants into the budget is a good idea. One thing you won’t spend money on with monkeys is babysitters, as most primates will only bond with one human being.
Honeybears, known as kinkajous, are sometimes kept as pets. They live around 20-25 years, weigh about 8 pounds and can stand 25 inches tall. Kinkajous are in the raccoon family, so their up all night. Be prepared.
If hand raised from an young age, they can be quite tame but remember they are wild animals. They like to get into things, which can me a lot of damage. Good news though, there’s no odor with kinkajous like there is with monkeys, so you won’t have to go to Costco for the bulk order of disinfectant.
Kinkajous can also be very noisy. Vocalizations include chirping or whistling, a “barking” noise and a shrill feeding call that can be very loud. Most towns have noise ordinances with fines attached. Ours is $100 for the first offense and $250 thereafter, so keeping your exotic kinkajou from yelling should be your first order of business.
Housing kinkajous can be an engineering feat that you may need to hire a carpenter for. Start with a large tall cage (4 feet by 6-8 feet, and 6 feet tall). Add branches, ledges or shelves, ropes for climbing and an opaque plastic container with a hole cut in the side suspended from the walls of the cage, to be used as a nest box. Include heavy ceramic food bowls or a bowl that can be securely attached to the side of the cage and a heavy water bottle with a sipper tube.
Finally, feeding your kinkajou can be quite costly. Buy your kinkajou plenty of bananas, papayas, mangoes, melons, kiwis, grapes, pineapple, pomegranates, cherimoya and figs. You can also treat him/her to insects, eggs, and frogs. Save your money on strawberries, which are to be avoided, as well as citrus fruits, avocados, dairy products and chocolate.
After learning about the “hidden” of keeping exotic pets, it comes as no surprise to find that birds, fish, cats and dogs are common household pets. No extra terrain is required and things like fish tanks and birdcages can usually be found for under $50. If you do decide to purchase and exotic pet, you may want to consider buying pet insurance to protect your investment. Vet bills on exotic pets can quickly become a major financial problem and adding pet insurance can defer some of the costs. Unfortunately though, the rarer your pet is, the higher the insurance premium will be.
Published or updated May 6, 2010.