A Vet’s Opinion on Privately Owned Exotic Animals

(by Andres Rojas)

Whether they are big cats or cute, palm-sized monkeys, privately owned exotic animals have captured the attention of millions, worldwide. Shows and influencers with exotic animals alike, glamorize the idea of owning and showing off exotic pets, but the realities involved are far more sinister.

As new information continues to come to light, questions amount: what are the ethical implications that accompany housing exotic animals that haven’t been domesticated / evolved to live with humans?

This is what celebrity veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber has to say on the matter.

Wild Animals Don’t Make Good Pets

While Dr. Jeff is passionate about wildlife, his opinion is decidedly against treating exotic animals as domesticated pets:

My impression of exotic animals – for example, big cats – owned privately would be to not do it. I think that it's potentially dangerous.”

As Dr. Jeff points out, wild animals don’t make good companions.

Unlike dogs, cats, and other small animals that have kept us company for thousands of years, exotic animals are animals whose gene pool has remained undomesticated; importantly, they have not evolved their dietary needs to the restricted schedule of those that humans could provide. 

As they have not evolved to live with humans, exotic pets / animals also cannot be expected to change their predatory or survival instincts. Which means, they pose a threat to their owners, children, and other pets, regardless of how much “training” their owners tout.

Every year, adults and children across the country are mauled or asphyxiated by exotic pets like big cats or snakes. It’s important to remember that many recent pandemics (such as Ebola and SARS) have had a wildlife origin as well.

Don’t Become Part of the Problem

Unlike domestic animals, most privately owned exotic animals aren’t bred in captivity but captured in their natural environment. The resulting trauma is unfortunately lost on many exotic animal lovers that don’t understand how much damage they’re inflicting by supporting poachers (read: kidnappers).

Celebrity Veterinarian Dr. Jeff gave us a simple rule to follow when it comes to owning exotic pets:

“If you don't have a license for it, it's illegal. Morally, it's just not right to keep them in that type of environment.”

Among other things, wildlife trafficking:

  • Causes species decline and extinction
  • Threatens native wild animals in your area
  • Leads to the death of thousands of animals during transit
  • Disrupts fragile economies abroad

However, there are exceptions to this rule; many private institutions and individuals do valuable work caring for wildlife species.

Ethical Private Ownership of Exotic Animals Is Still Possible

While Dr. Jeff doesn’t endorse owning wild animals, he has a lot of positive things to say about privately owned exotic animal sanctuaries:

“Many people are very anti-zoo and against the animal sanctuaries that house them. I have a different feeling about it. I was at one such sanctuary in Arizona, outside of Phoenix, and I was thoroughly impressed by the habitat where they kept them but most importantly by how many species – such as exotic birds – would be extinct already if not for places like these.”

Private Exotic Animal Owners Can Save Lives

Unlike individuals using them to show off, private animal sanctuaries play a key role in the conservation and reproduction of many wild species. According to Dr. Werbs,:

“Because of the breeding programs and their attention to detail and keeping these endangered animals healthy and breeding, they are preventing some of these animals from becoming extinct. So I think that many of them do a wonderful job and it's more than just showing them off, it's actually maintaining a species.”

Ultimately, treating an exotic animal as a pet has many downsides, though we can still view, admire, and help care for these wonderful creatures in many privately-owned animal sanctuaries across the country.

Visit Dr. Jeff Werber’s Instagram account (@werbs_dvm) to view and submit questions and answers on weekly AMAs – or call and leave a voicemail at 424-835-0576. Your call will be returned posthaste. 

For emergencies, download Dr. Jeff Werber’s app Airvet, a video-chat option for veterinary needs at any time of day or night!