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Why Is Vet Care for Exotic Pets So Expensive? Vet-Reviewed Reasons & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Dr. Luqman Javed

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Have you ever watched a TV show or movie that includes an exotic pet in the script? Marcel, the capuchin monkey, was a favorite companion of Ross on the sitcom Friends. Exotic Pet Expos are also popular attractions that display and promote the ownership of these unusual pets.

There are many times when individuals will acquire them without realizing the cost of ownership. For example, what if your exotic pet gets sick or injured? It may be difficult to find a vet to treat your pet; the cost is typically higher than for a cat or dog.

So why is vet care for exotic pets so expensive? Here are some factors contributing to the increased cost of specialized vet care for your unusual creature.

What Is an Exotic Pet?

vet showing medical records to girl holding weasel
Image Credit: Tyler Olson, Shutterstock

The definition of an exotic pet is a broad one. But it is easier to break them down into categories:

  • Rodents
  • Amphibians
  • Reptiles
  • Birds
  • Insects and arachnids
  • Fish and other exotic pets
  • Rabbits
There are even animals that do not have a definitive category, such as the following:
  • Hedgehog
  • Skunks
  • Opossum
  • Sugar gliders

The 6 Main Reasons Why Vet Care for Exotic Pets Is Expensive

1. Uniqueness of the Species

As you can see, exotic pets cover a wide range of animals, and vets cannot apply a “one size fits all” approach to treating animals. There is a difference between parrots and canaries, rabbits and chinchillas, and turtles and snakes.

Caring for and treating various animals demands time for consultations, research, and a large caseload. It also requires experience, interest, and skill.

2. Handling

Handling exotics requires specialized expertise not only for the veterinarian but also for the vet techs that assist with your pet. The technician assisting the vet needs to be qualified to help with blood draws, X-rays, and examinations of animals like screaming macaws, iguanas, and parakeets.

a rabbit checked by vet
Image Credit: Stella_E, Shutterstock

3.  Environment & Stressors

Dogs and cats are domesticated animals. They have become accustomed to our environment. Exotics, however, can act negatively in strange places. They can become stressed from bright lights, strange noises, and other animal sounds.

To make them feel more comfortable and keep the stress at a minimum, they should be cared for in a vet office that limits noise and stimulation. The environment should be humidity appropriate and temperature controlled.

4.  Equipment

Dental and surgical instruments and units are designed specifically for specific pets. Specialized electrosurgery units are required. In addition, the vet will need to be experienced in working with small-scale instruments and in tight or tiny areas. For instance, the dental tools for rabbits differ from those for other small animals.

The equipment and delivery of anesthesia vary by the animal. Dogs and cats are more tolerant of anesthesia than exotics. Stressors, surgical time, and supplies like properly sized IV catheters and tubes are critical in the care of these unique animals. An exotic vet must monitor the body heat of the animal and limit the time of surgical procedures since they cannot endure long surgical procedures. A specialized vet needs to be efficient, cautious, and confident.

Specialized vets must provide the proper housing for many diverse types of animals. In addition to minimizing stress and regulating body temperature, they will need to have things like oxygen cages, heat sources, and incubators available and designed for the unique needs of the specific species. The requirements are different for a rat or a parakeet, for instance.

male veterinarian examines newly born hedgehog
Image Credit: galitsin, Shutterstock

5.  Time Commitment For Specialization

Many exotic veterinarians have to train well beyond their veterinary program to specialize in exotic animal medicine. Therefore, their expertise understandably costs more to reflect their job scope and additional training.

6. Lack of Insurance Policies

Many pet insurance companies or policy plans will exclude certain exotic pets from their coverage. As a result, their veterinary care costs are often borne by their owners in their entirety.  

pet insurance form on the laptop screen
Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

Are Exotic Pets Harder to Own?

An interesting aspect about exotic pets is that they offer unique challenges to their owners when it comes to ownership. From a legal standpoint, it may be against the law to keep certain species as pets, depending on where one resides.

In addition, exotic pets may offer other challenges:
  • Rodents are exceptionally quiet, however may pose a health risk to children when startled or mishandled, and may bite them. Even the smallest rodents may pack quite the punch with their bite. Furthermore, certain rodents are best kept in groups, while others are best housed alone. Species research is crucial prior to selecting a rodent pet. In addition, most rodents are notoriously prolific and some owners may inadvertently end up with hundreds of pets in a very short timespan. Finally, rodents require life long dental care.
  • Amphibians and Reptiles have challenges unique to their metabolism; they rely extensively on a proper setup (with temperature and humidity controls) to thrive. A sudden disruption to the power supply of their enclosure might result in a sick pet.
  • Birds pose challenges with their unique diets, need for socialization, messiness, and noise. No bird is truly silent (unless they are ill), therefore they may not be the best fit for quiet neighborhoods or if noise is a concern where you live. Bird-proofing a house may also be tricky, as owners have to factor in their birds potentially flying into hazards, destroying their furniture, or chewing something hazardous (items with certain toxic metals, or electrical wires). Finally, birds are exceptionally sensitive to aerosols and other respiratory irritants.
  • Insects and Arachnids prove challenging to find information on, as most of their care tips and knowledge seems to be anecdotal. They also don’t offer as much interaction potential as some other pets do (though, this may be a positive aspect of their ownership in some cases).
  • Fish and other aquatic pets are often very expensive to set up for. In addition, transporting fish is very cumbersome and in most cases it’s best if a vet comes to your residence to check your pet. Therefore, it’s important to ensure you live in an area that a veterinary hospital or clinic incorporates for house visits.
  • Rabbits are experts at masking illness and also require regular dental care throughout their life. Like rodents, they are also prolific breeders. They are also notorious for chewing items around the house (including hazardous items, like electrical wires); rabbit-proofing a house is a challenging task all rabbit owners should be mindful about.


Exotic pets are surging in popularity as advancements in veterinary medicine have made it possible to not only successfully house some species as pets but also provide them with a fulfilling and healthy life.

Nonetheless, their veterinary bills often end up costing more than that of dogs and cats in some instances. This is owed to the need for exotic vets to be specifically trained to treat certain species and the requirement of very specific medical equipment and procedures for some pets.

Featured Image Credit: DAndreev, Shutterstock

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