The Hidden Costs of Exotic Pets

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.

bobcatExotic Cats

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.

TortoiseTortoises

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.

Macaws

macawA 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!

untitledMonkeys

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.

kinkKinkajous

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

Comments

  1. Big Spender says:

    Great article, but I have trouble seeing the wisdom in having any pet if you’re under the gun financially. They’re just another luxury, despite the fact that some people treat them like family

  2. Actually pet insurance will never save you money if your pet simply gets its regular vet visits and doesn’t go though any accidents. The point of this insurance is to be bale to pay for a $5000 vet bill which will save your pet’s life in case an accident occurs. And it’s not meant to be a luxury since the price of pet insurance tends to be about $30 per month for the top policies. If you don’t have a decent savings account, pet insurance is a good options which won’t cost too much but will provide the security, which people otherwise lack.

  3. William Spare says:

    Most of your comments regarding macaws are gross exaggerations and often just wrong.

    You said: “One of the immediate drawbacks of owning a 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.”

    My response: I have a green wing macaw that never screams and rarely talks unless I speak to her. Macaws are not known for the speaking ability. Furthermore, macaws and virtually all birds want to go to sleep once the sun goes down – unlike noisy barking dogs and screaming cats. If a macaw does scream, it is during this morning and just before sunset – never at “all hours of the night.”

    You said: “…a Macaw eats expensive bird feed, in addition to fruits and vegetables.”

    My response: Compared to what? Have you priced canned dog and cat food lately? Pellet macaw food is comparable price-wise with dry dog and cat food; seed is much less expensive. Additionally, the amount of fruits and vegetables a macaw eats is minimal and very inexpensive. Macaw food is substantially less expensive than a dog or cat.

    You said: “They require high humidity, warmth and ultraviolet light year-round, making them a very high maintenance pet.”

    My response: Are we talking macaws or iguanas? Where did you get this incorrect information? I live in California which has low humidity and my bird gets very limited ultraviolet light. Macaws have lots of down feathers allows them to be comfortable in cool temperatures. My macaw has never been sick a day in her 9 years of life. Conversely, exposing all birds to 30 minutes sunlight daily to maintain good heath is a wise practice.

    You said: “Liability insurance is also highly suggested if you own a Macaw, as they are likely to lash out (and it’s 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!”

    My response: My macaw is outside her cage on a play gym much of the day. She has never destroyed anything other than her toys. I can leave her alone for hours and she never gets into trouble. I can also leave her in my car by herself for a brief time and she has never caused any damage. Few dog and cat owners can make that claim!

    Lastly, my macaw loves everybody and never bites. Can dog and cat owners make that claim?

    My favorite saying is: “When you don’t know what you are talking about – don’t talk.” You should talk to a few more macaw owners next time you wish to comment on macaws. I am certain you will find a lot more dog and cat owners who have major problems with their pets. Most people I know who own birds and specifically parrots are very happy with them.

    • FerretGirl says:

      @William Spare
      I think Lisa is trying to give worst case scenarios. I agree with you that large birds don’t have to be all that bad. However, they’re very smart and need a lot of attention and I don’t think most people understand the kind of attention and love they need. Neglecting or abusing a large bird is like neglecting or abusing a toddler. I think the author is addressing the problems people have with birds that have been cared for by the average bird owner who -let’s face it- isn’t going to take care of a parrot as well as you do.

      I think the owner is trying to err on the side of caution for all the pets she mentions in this article, setting potential owners up for the most expensive and worst case scenarios. With so many people underestimating or misunderstanding the amount and kind of care their exotic pet (or hell, JUST pet) needs and then that pet ending up in shelters or simply left to a miserable life I’d much rather see articles like this that scare off potential owners who would be negligent.

  4. Nicholas says:

    I agree with a lot of what William says, although his bird is on the exceptionally friendly side of the spectrum. Many macaws are one person birds and will try and bite others they aren’t familiar with. We owned a Catalina Macaw growing up. I was the “bird handler” in our family, although she would sit on others arms/shoulders without issue, take food without biting, etc. It was more she didn’t like to be pet or handled by other besides her chosen one(s).

    If you want a family friendly parrot, I’d suggest a Cockatoo. They are known for being super friendly to everyone and all around great birds. However, I don’t think a lot of parrots in general are much more expensive or out of the ordinary that dogs or cats. Macaws are generally more expensive up front (~$2000), then again your custom bred labradoodle is probably right up there as well.

  5. Nicholas says:

    “since this is a personal finance blog, let us point out that electricity is no less expensive at nighttime.”

    This is incorrect. Many smart meters now display the current billing rate which fluctuates based on capacity/load being higher during the day at peak hours and lower at night.

  6. KCLau says:

    Dog is still the best choice as pet.

  7. Loker says:

    Wow…could the monkeys being pets? In our country that was criminal!

  8. Duane says:

    I would have never thought raising exotic animals would be so costly. I’ve always wanted to own a leopard but now with all the costs associated with it I see it’s not worth it. (costs wise). So after reading this article and comments I think I am go with a baby fox. My parents use to raise em when I was a child. They can be very loving. They will treat you like you treat them once you have a bond.

  9. Pastor Dan says:

    Hummmmmmmm… I can talk can you fly? Some of the best pets bar none are Parrots. Yes I am biased. They are just as cheap as keeping a dog. The comments made about Macaws was to say the least poor research. I have owned, been a breeder, and trained Macaws and many other parrots for about 32 years. I started when I was 18. I also own Schnauzers. My Macaws manners are much better then the dogs and both are trained. I would also agree with William Spare even the best Parrot food monthly feeding costs are about the same as the dog.

    I have never owned a monkey but I have 4 children and 5 grandchildren and they are probably much like owning monkeys. When the children are little they will throw their poop at you just like the monkeys do. As an animal lover I have often considered many exotic pets but parrots are about as far as I have gone. I did a short stint with falconry as a young man. Now there’s a bird that will bit you, scratch your eyes out, break your fingers, hands, and any other parts they can get their talons around. In defence of the Falconers they would also tell you its about proper training to make a good bird. I can say in 32 years of raising, training, and owning parrots I have never needed stitches. I have been bitten, but I have been bitten much harder by dogs and cats.

    If you are talking about raising wild parrots I would agree with some of the comments made about possible aggression… but have you ever had a wild dog, cat, or any other wild animal? They are wild duh. :) I grew up in Montana very near Yellowstone Park. I learned very early in life Buffalo may be cute with those big brown eyes but they will charge and hurt you. I have never insured any animal. I am not for or against such a thing. I will say in my 32 years of parrots, 50 years of dogs (including the childhood family pet), and all types of livestock growing up on a ranch I have never needed animal insurance. But I don’t play underwater checkers either. :) Blessings.

    Pastor Dan

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