When you think of an exotic pet, you might picture a tiger or something equally out there, but exotic pets are really any uncommon or rare species kept as companion animals. Exotic pet ownership is more popular than you might think. More than 13% of households in the United States own at least one exotic animal, and that number continues to rise as people look for new, cool exotic pets to bring home. However, many exotic critters may not be legal to own where you live. Also, they may have very specific care needs that make owning them quite difficult. This list includes the best exotic small pets that may be easier to own than some others, but are still incredibly cool.
18 Best Exotic Pets
1. Bearded Dragon
4. Leopard Gecko
5. Ball Python
7. Hermit Crab
11. Quaker Parrot
13. Halloween Moon Crab
14. Sugar Glider
15. Hyacinth Macaw
18. Fennec Fox
If you're looking for an unusual and exotic pet that is incredibly cute, you can't go wrong with the fennec fox. These foxes are tiny and are about the size of a Chihuahua dog when fully grown. Fennec foxes are not easy to obtain, they may be illegal to own in your state or jurisdiction, and they can be very expensive. However, they may become more readily available and less pricey as their popularity grows.
Fennec foxes need a lot of socialization to make them comfortable around people, and while they are "dog-like," this is not a pet you'll ever be able to take off-leash to the park. They are social animals who need a lot of attention and do well if you have more than one, so they have regular company.
You can house-train these exotic pets like you would a cat, although most owners keep them in a large, caged enclosure rather than giving them free run of the house. They also need regular time out of their kennel, however. Understand that getting a fennec fox is a serious commitment, and you may need to dedicate a lot of space to their care.
This salamander has been rising in popularity. Axolotls hail from Mexico and are oddly cute. They can be found at most pet stores that specialize in fish, as they are an aquatic species.
Axolotls are good beginner pets, as they're not very hard to care for and don't take up much space. They can do well in a smaller tank, such as a 20-gallon at a minimum, although larger is better. They live in freshwater and need a good, strong filter, as they can be messy.
Axolotls can eat frozen, freeze-dried, or fresh bloodworms, shrimp, and even small bits of ground beef. Other than frequent water changes, cleaning their tank, and providing them with the correct diet, they're a low-maintenance, interesting pet.
Degus looks a bit like a cross between a guinea pig and a hamster. They are very social animals and live in large groups in the wild, so they need to be kept with at least one other degu to be happy. Just note, if you keep degus of the opposite sex together, they will breed and rapidly produce liters of four to six babies at a time, although larger litters of eight to 10 babies are possible. Instead, get a pair or small group of all females or all males.
Degus can live in the same type of cage as ferrets or rats and use many of the same accessories and toys. They are similar to chinchillas in that they need to take dust baths.
One benefit of owning a degu compared to other pocket pets is that they are not nocturnal. Degus are diurnal, meaning they are more active during the day when you are likely to want to interact with them. Degus can nip if they're scared or if they're not acclimated to handling early or often. However, they are illegal to own in certain states, including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia, and Utah, so check on their status before you try to acquire one.
You might be surprised to find out that cockroaches are considered good exotic pets. The species most commonly kept as pets are the Madagascar hissing cockroach, the death's head cockroach, the Indian domino cockroach, and the Cuban cockroach. While they're not a pet you want to be affectionate with, you can handle them fairly easily. Depending on the species, you may need a permit from your state's department of agriculture. They can be considered an invasive species, and transporting them between states is regulated.
These cockroaches grow between 1 and 3 inches long and live for about a year, though some can live as long as 5 years. They should be kept in groups because they're social insects, but they don't require a large aquarium. It's important to find one with a locking lid, as they are prodigious climbers. They also need a heat lamp or pad to maintain a tropical temperature. As far as diet, pet cockroaches are very easy to deal with because they can eat anything, including fruits, vegetables, leaves, wood, and even cat kibble, fish pellets, and flakes.
Sugar gliders are adorable little tree-dwelling marsupials. Like flying squirrels, they have thin membranes of skin on both sides of their bodies that allow them to take off from a higher point and glide to another location. Not only are they difficult to find, but sugar gliders are illegal in many states, including Alaska, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. You're also looking at a commitment of 12 to 15 years with these little flyers.
Sugar gliders can be easy to keep in that they're small and thrive on companionship, so they can be very affectionate when properly socialized. However, they're often considered high-maintenance pets because they're fairly messy, can't be house-trained, have four scent glands for marking territory, and can bite if they feel scared. Since they're very social animals, you may need to keep two sugar gliders, so they have company when you're not home or during the evening, as they're nocturnal animals.
Millipedes are an unusual choice of exotic pet, but one that's definitely easy to care for and requires minimal space. The African giant millipede is the type of millipede commonly sold as a pet. They can reach up to 12 inches in length and don't require an overly large aquarium to live in. Millipedes need specific substrates and lighting and heating elements to keep the temperature and humidity at an appropriate level, but these are all easily acquired at most pet supply stores.
The millipede is herbivorous, so you can feed them fresh fruits and vegetables. You should also give them a calcium supplement. While they're not cuddly, they can be handled and do not bite. However, they can produce a substance that may irritate your skin, so it's best to handle them wearing gloves.
Hedgehogs, or hedgies, as they are affectionately known, are cute little animals covered in quills on their head, back, and sides, with fur on their underside. They roll up into a spiny ball when they feel threatened, but you can teach them to accept handling with gentle persistence. An adult hedgie only reaches about 8 inches long on average. Hedgehogs are illegal to keep as pets in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Hedgehogs can make nice pets because they're quiet and don't require a ton of interaction to be happy. They also don't need a lot of grooming. However, they are nocturnal, which means they may be more active at night when you're winding down from your day. Hedgehogs also need to be single pets in their enclosures, so you'll need separate cages if you want more than one. They also can transmit diseases to humans, such as ringworm and salmonella.
Tarantulas may not be everyone's cup of tea, but some owners find them fascinating. One benefit of owning a tarantula is that they are very low-maintenance exotic pets that don't require much other than feeding and cleaning their cage. They also don't need much space or attention.
These cute crustaceans have been popular for decades. Hermit crabs actually live on dry land, so recreating an ideal habitat for them isn't very difficult. They do not require a huge tank and are a great pet for a small apartment.
Hermit crabs are an easy exotic pet to own as they're docile, will rarely pinch, and don't require much as far as daily care. They are also social, so you can have more than one in an aquarium. The downside to a hermit crab is that this isn't a pet that will do much to interact with you, and because they're nocturnal, you won't see much happening in their tanks during the day.
Some pet owners may not consider a snake "exotic," but to many everyday pet owners, keeping a reptile is definitely unusual. For one thing, you'll need to feed your ball python frozen or live mice and rats, which can make owning them most definitely different from keeping your average cat or dog. Of all the pet snakes available, ball pythons are one of the easiest to care for and make a good choice for beginners.
These snakes are generally docile and easy to handle, yet the most difficult part of owning them tends to be getting them to eat. They can be picky and refuse to eat from time to time. They also have strict requirements for their cage, such as heating and basking areas and proper humidity. Ball pythons are easy to find and not very expensive unless you covet one of the many morphs available, some of which can cost thousands of dollars.
The hyacinth macaw is a gorgeous parrot that can make an amazing pet in the right home. These birds need a large enclosure and daily engagement with their owners. They are very intelligent but can be loud if they are stressed or lonely. They also live up to 60 years, so you'll need to have a plan for them in case there's a chance they'll outlive you. Macaws are legal to own in most states, although they are covered by the Endangered Species Act, which regulates their transport and trade in the United States.
While they are definitely large, intimidating birds, these pets are known for having affectionate personalities. They are not a good choice for a beginner, but if you have bird experience and the time and room to keep one, a hyacinth macaw can be an amazing pet.
Chinchillas are a type of rodent that is not as widespread as other pocket pets, though they are generally not hard to find. They are easy to care for as long as you provide them with a proper diet, an adequate-sized cage, and a warm, draft-free area in your home to live. They also don't require much grooming and take unusual "dust baths," which are quite adorable to see. While chinchillas can be affectionate, they can also be shy and may not enjoy being handled a lot. They are crepuscular, meaning they are more active during the twilight hours at dusk and dawn.
Understand that chinchillas do not do well and are likely to become ill if temperatures exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Their ideal range is between 60 and 75 degrees, though some sources recommend not allowing temperatures to exceed 70 degrees in their environment to be on the safe side. Also, you need to pay attention to humidity levels, as chinchillas are native to habitat that is dry and cool. When humidity is elevated, your chinchilla will not be able to cool down as effectively, and heat stroke is a bigger threat.
Regularly observe your chinchilla, especially when ambient air temperatures are elevated, and note their disposition and physical condition. If their ears turn bright red, they appear to be lethargic, their body feels warm to the touch, they are panting excessively, or they are drooling, you need to check the temperature and move them to a cooler area. Using an air conditioning unit or a cooling mat made from marble that has been cooled down in the fridge can help regulate their body temperature, but if you suspect your chinchilla is overheated, call your veterinarian for immediate assistance.
Scorpions are definitely not a pet for the faint of heart or a person who does not care for insects. Despite their fearsome reputation and appearance, they're easy exotic pets to own and can do well in very small spaces. They need a tank with an appropriate amount of humidity and temperature.
The downside to owning a scorpion is this isn't a pet you'll ever be able to cuddle with or even hold, as scorpions sting, and even ones with the mildest venom are still very painful. If you want a pet that's easy to care for, unique, and doesn't need much room, grooming, or exercise, you might enjoy having a scorpion.
Although parakeets are a very common pet bird, the quaker parakeet, or monk parakeet, is not. It's actually illegal to own a quaker parakeet in many states, and they can be kept only with a permit in others. These parrots are considered an invasive species, but can be excellent pets if you're able to obtain and own one where you live.
These cool exotic pets get their name from a head-bobbing and body-shaking behavior that is natural for them and does not mean the bird is in distress. Aside from the legalities of ownership, quaker parakeets can be difficult to obtain and are pricey, but if you are able to own one, you will enjoy keeping this smart, active, and social bird.
Quaker parakeets are intelligent, engaging birds that enjoy human company and need another bird companion if you are not able to provide them with constant companionship. They learn to talk from an early age and can be great parrots for clicker training all sorts of behaviors.
Geckos are popular exotic lizards that come in many colors and types. The leopard gecko is one of the most popular due to their striking spotted pattern and friendly disposition. Geckos can be great pets for a small space as they can do well in a smaller tank.
Their enclosure should be at least 20 gallons in volume, though a larger setup of 40 gallons or more is preferable. Geckos need their tanks at a certain temperature but don't require special lighting like other reptiles. However, recent research shows that all reptiles benefit from ultraviolet light to some extent, and some owners now choose to include an ultraviolet-B (UVB) lamp on their leopard gecko's enclosure with a hide area to retreat from the light.
These pets are easily fed with insects available at pet stores and appear to enjoy handling and interacting with people compared to other lizard species. Like all reptiles, geckos hold some risk of transmitting salmonella to you, so wash your hands after handling them.
Ferrets are another small pet gaining in popularity that is easier to find. However, they are illegal to own in California and Hawaii, as well as in some cities and counties in states where they're legal. Ferrets are not hard to care for, and you can purchase commercially prepared ferret diets. They do need a large cage with ample room to roam and stretch out, and these energetic pets also require time out of the cage to play and explore. Ferrets only need minimal grooming, though some owners bathe them because they do have a musky odor. Overall, they are highly intelligent and cuddly little creatures.
Ferrets can be nippy, though, and may be intolerant of handling if they become tired or overexcited. Another possible drawback to owning a ferret is that they often need to live with at least one other ferret to be happy, so you'll need to have room and the time for at least two.
Ferrets are known for having big personalities and often show their mischievous - and even destructive - side. They are high-maintenance pets with strong characters and a penchant for hatching escape attempts, so you need to be constantly vigilant and attentive to keep them safe and happy.
Halloween Moon Crab
If you like crustaceans but find the hermit crab a bit boring, you'll love the Halloween moon crab. These crabs look like they were painted by numbers and come in bright colors like purples, reds, oranges, and yellows. They are actually related to the hermit crab and are sometimes called the Halloween hermit crab. These pets can be easy to handle, depending on the individual crab. Halloween moon crabs are also relatively inexpensive and can be found at pet stores for between $10 to $20.
If you keep more than one Halloween moon crab, you should house them in separate tanks in case they fight. They don't need a large tank and can do fine with a 15- or 20-gallon tank with a sand substrate and lots of rocks and driftwood to climb on and around. These crabs also need fresh- and saltwater pools that should be changed and cleaned daily. They can eat fruit, vegetables, and even cooked meat.
Bearded dragons are one of the most popular pet lizards and are legal to own in most states except Hawaii. Beardies are also one of the easiest lizards to keep and are known for being docile and friendly. They're excellent "beginner" lizards and can do well with children who have been taught to handle them responsibly. They also don't grow to a huge size like some lizards, and while they need an adequately sized habitat, they can still be kept comfortably in a small space, such as an apartment.
Bearded dragons require relatively large enclosures, and an aquarium or terrarium with a volume around 125 gallons is ideal, though larger enclosures are always better. A setup that measures at least 4 feet long by at least 2 feet wide and 16 inches tall is adequate, though some sources recommend aquariums that are 2 feet tall or more, depending on your setup's screen top and its heating and lighting systems.
You need to establish a low-humidity environment with a temperature gradient in the enclosure. Set up a hot-spot basking area beneath an appropriate heat source reaching temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a cooler side of the setup between 80 and 90 degrees during the day. Allow temperatures to cool to around 75 degrees at night. Baby and juvenile bearded dragons require slightly higher temperature ranges, so check that your setup is adequate for your beardie's life stage. Bearded dragons also need adequate lighting that provides both UVA and UVB radiation, so choose an appropriate lamp and temperature control system for your pet.
All reptiles pose some risk of carrying and transmitting salmonella, and this is equally true for bearded dragons. To help prevent the risk of contracting salmonella from a bearded dragon, practice good hand-washing habits after handling them. They do require some work to feed, including regular preparation of fresh vegetables and live insects.
Think Carefully Before Getting a Small Exotic Pet
There's definitely a certain allure to owning an exotic pet, and some pet owners like the idea of owning something unusual that most other people don't have. However, if you're thinking about bringing home an exotic small pet, do your research carefully. While some of these animals can be easy to care for compared to other "regular" pets, many of them have very specific diets, habitats, and grooming needs that you should know about before bringing them home. There may also be permits required to own one where you live, or they may not be legal at all. Always check with your landlord or homeowner's association, as even if they are legal, as your residence may still block or restrict their ownership.