The Pros and Cons of Owning Five Unconventional Pets
Want to go beyond cats and dogs? Here’s the scoop on the good, the bad, and the price tags on five less-common pets
The discerning beer drinker wouldn’t be caught dead with a Coors Light. Cheese snobs turn up their noses at cheddar. Why should the modern pet owner be any different, when there are so many “artisanal pets” out there?
Sure, cats and dogs have the market share: According to a 2012 study cited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, 36.5 percent of American households own a dog and 30.4 percent own a cat, and no other animal comes close to that. Still, many people are opting to choose a more exotic species to share their home with. “The appeal is in the fact that they are uncommon,” says Diana Cannan, DVM, of the Dutchess County Animal Hospital in Poughkeepsie.
But there are other reasons, too. “Some offer a way for people with allergies to dogs and cats to find an alternative pet that can bring them companionship,” Dr. Cannan says. And then there is the celebrity factor. “When George Clooney got his pot-bellied pig way back when, I think pigs increased [in popularity] for a little while,” she says. “I also find when popular movies have unique pets shown in a favorable light, that particular pet may go up in popularity.”
The 411: Large animals need large spaces, large amounts of food, and large amounts of moolah, which is why horses are beyond the budgets of most 99-percenters. But those who are lucky enough to call one of these guys a pet say that horses offer deep and abiding connections that other pets cannot match. Another added bonus: No other pet lets you climb on its back and takes you for a ride... well, not voluntarily.
Pros: Horseback riding is thrilling, and a great source of exercise. A horse’s long lifespan — 25-30 years — allows for deep bonding, especially with children, and horses are relatively easy to feed with grass or hay. Caring for a horse, such as coat brushing and bathing, are more pleasure than work, and these beautiful creatures enjoy it as much as you do!
Cons: Expensive, expensive, expensive. Did we mention horses are expensive? In terms of vet care and boarding, you can spend anywhere between $300 to $2,000 a month. Plus, horses can be temperamental, easily spooked, and flighty, though each horse has its own personality. They need to be ridden several times a week, so the time commitment is also large. A horse is definitely not a low-maintenance pet.
Surprising Fact: They really do sleep standing up — their knees can lock so they don’t fall
Cuteness Factor: Almost always eye-catching
Cuddliness Factor: Will kiss you for food
Expense Factor: $$$$$
Celebrities Who Have Owned This Animal: Madonna
Miniature Pot-Bellied Pigs
The 411: Clooney’s famous pig has gone to the great sty in the sky, but pigs are still quite popular, Dr. Cannan says. Though called “miniature” pot-bellied pigs, they are hardly small, growing to 125 pounds or more. Plus, these piggies have been known to live up to 20 years, longer than most cats and dogs.
Pros: Pigs are very intelligent and easy to train; they can even be house-trained with a litter box, walked on a leash, and taught simple tricks. They are also affectionate and like physical contact. “They love to have their ears scratched,” Dr. Cannan says.
Cons: Intelligence works both ways, and pigs can be, well... pig-headed and stubborn. They can also be destructive: When they “root” for food with their snouts, they can wreak havoc on your house or yard. They can even figure out how to open your fridge or cupboards. Plus, these guys need lots of space to move and exercise to prevent boredom, sort of like young children.
Surprising Fact: Can be litter-box trained
Cuteness Factor: In the eye of the beholder
Cuddliness Factor: High — in fact, they need just as much human interaction as a cat or dog
Expense Factor: $$-$$$$
Celebrities Who Have Owned This Animal: George Clooney
The 411: Parrots are smart, entertaining, and beautiful. They can make wonderful pets, and, in fact, have become the third most popular pet in the country, according to the organization In Defense of Animals. “Unfortunately, the companion parrot has joined the ranks alongside the most discarded, homeless pets in America.“ As such, potential owners should think long and hard before acquiring one.
Pros: Intelligent, fun to interact with, low cost of food, long life span; these birds have been known to live up to 80 years.
Cons: “One of the most frustrating, destructive, messy, and noisy pets a person can have,” the IDA says. Bites can cause serious injury, and, because of their long life span, they are at increasing odds of owners tiring and eventually abandoning them.
Related: Donna Simons, owner of Pound Ridge Organics, shares the good, the bad — and the downright bizarre — concerning life with her Blue-Fronted Amazon Parrot Sweet Pea.
Surprising Fact: The large macaw has the bite strength of 500 to 700 pounds per square inch — ouch!
Cuteness Factor: From cute to gorgeous
Cuddliness Factor: Friendly, yes. Cuddly, not so much
Expense Factor: $$-$$$
Celebrities Who Have Owned This Animal: Liz Taylor
The 411: Pets or meat? Rabbits were considered the latter for most of human history, but started showing up as the former by the 18th century. Now, we love these cuddly creatures for their companion-like qualities. In fact, rabbits are quite social and often form strong bonds with their owners (although they don’t like to be held very much). They can be as playful and silly as puppies or kittens.
Pros: They can be taken outside with a harness, and are easy to feed; in addition to pellets, they require a lot of roughage like hay and vegetables. They don’t require a lot of room.
Cons: Rabbits and young children do not mix well. Rabbits need daily exercise; it’s best if they can spend several hours a day outside of their cage. But areas of your home where your bunny may hop about must be rabbit-proof; bunnies are prodigious chewers and will chomp down on your furniture, electrical wires, plants, and anything else they can sink their teeth into. They also love to dig and can do considerable damage to your carpets or furniture. Rabbits also mark their territory with urine (which has a particularly strong odor). The inside of a rabbit cage is not so pretty, either. Rabbits are not vigilant cleaners when it comes to their personal space, so cleaning must become a regular ritual.
Surprising Fact: Can be litterbox trained
Cuteness Factor: Bunnies? Are you kidding?
Cuddliness Factor: OMG! So cuddly!
Expense Factor: $-$$
Celebrities Who Have Owned This Animal: Miley Cyrus, but definitely not Glenn close from Fatal Attraction
The 411: No, snakes are not slimy; their scales are actually smooth and dry. But that hardly makes them cuddly. Still, snake ownership in the US has soared in the last decade. And while tales of the disastrous effects of pet pythons being dumped into the Everglades has made the national news over the last few years, the most common pet snake is the much smaller corn snake. And no wonder: the corn snake is easy to handle, inexpensive, and comes in a rainbow of colors. Many experts recommend getting a captive-bred snake from a reputable breeder as those caught in the wild tend to be less docile and more prone to disease.
Pros: Snakes are fairly easy to care for. Basically, they need a closed space with consistent temperatures and feeding schedules. You don’t have to walk them, and they’re easy to clean up after.
Cons: Snakes can carry Salmonella, so handwashing is important after handling them. A word to the queasy: snakes feed on “prey,” so you must be willing to feed them mice — either live, pre-killed or frozen — at least once a week.
Surprising Fact: Vet care can get expensive if sick
Cuteness Factor: Definitely in the eye of the beholder
Cuddliness Factor: Um, no
Expense Factor: $-$$
Celebrities Who Have Owned This Animal: Slash
Other cutting-edge pets:
- Sugar glider