exotic pets

I’m the caretaker of 2 housecats, and I’ve been known to wander around pet stores in the past. Not so much recently; they’re just too depressing. Animals kept in conditions that might merit ASCPA and local gov’t intervention, if they happened at someone’s house. I’d prefer not to reward the humans responsible, as a vegan.

But I do cast a skeptical (perhaps stronger) eye in the direction of keeping exotic animals as pets. For the sake of argument, I’m going to call any undomesticated animal taken directly from the wild to be “exotic”. Of course it’s a sliding scale. Nearly everything in biology is on a sliding scale.

First, exotic pets are shocked by the change in environment more than most conventional pets (cats and dogs) because they’ve been taken from one type of environment and placed in a radically different new environment.

Second, cats and dogs have actually evolved to live peaceably within an urban human culture. Even their negative behavior is suited for human civilization. Run into a stray dog or cat, and it’s entirely likely that the animal will follow you into your own home eagerly. Try getting a snake or tarantula to follow you into your home. Yes, that’s why it’s (relatively) uncommon. Animals are not blind to their environment; they think about it in ways that are arguably similar to human thought in terms of awareness and emotions – those aren’t higher functions unique to humans. That’s how animals survive in the wild. They solve problems. They don’t have relationships with another species to bring them food and tell them where to take a crap.

Third, humans recognize the warning signs that pets give. If a dog barks or a cat hisses at a human, odds are very high that the human will slowly back away in the least threatening way possible. We don’t recognize the same warnings in exotic pets quite so easily, very often. We have to consult field guides or experts, or do extensive research on the internet to understand any of their basic communication. Nevermind the specifics of their language, the difference between “let me out to pee right now” and “my food bowl is empty”.

Fourth, they just aren’t as healthy. Cats live twice as long when they’re confined indoors, and they’re far healthier during that lifespan, than compared to any cat (even a pet) living outdoors. Many exotic species won’t even mate and show signs of depression when confined indoors.

Fifth, they may actually be dangerous. My cat nips at my chin or hand when excited. She’s becoming very adept as doing it as softly as possible. Imagine if a snake, or a shark, or a poisonous spider, or a parrot did the same? Doesn’t seem quite as safe, does it. Domesticated animals know how to use their “weapons” in the least aggressive way possible when threatened, and do so very long after warning with the posture.

Sixth, medical care for an exotic pet is difficult at best. I’m a firm believer that when someone adopts a pet, they are responsible for giving the animal the same level of medical care they would provide anyone else. The pet cannot easily provide itself safety, and is living in a potentially new and hostile environment. If we’re going to subject an animal to that stress, we’re responsible for fixing resulting problems. Your cat may live longer as a pet, but he wouldn’t have digestive problems and a UTI in the wild. A vet may treat hundreds of dogs/cats in a week, and still basically patches up the rough edges and points things in the right direction. They know what diseases to expect, and how to treat them. A vet might not know any specific exotic species nearly as well. The first thing my vet asks when she sees me is how my cats are behaving, what’s new and unusual for them, and about any misbehavior. Those are the most critical components in initial diagnosis or detection of medical issues. At the very least, humans sympathize and understand conventional pets because they’re mammals, and not so different from ourselves. Roughly the same drugs, procedures, and tests. My vet regularly compares my cat’s health problems with the human equivalent, noting the exceptions.

Seventh, it radically disrupts any sense of territory and how to relate to it, essentially destroying and recreating an animal’s social environment. Many wild animals confined to a cage as pets have ranges extending for miles in any direction. Defended by force. A human has effectively just used force to seize that territory. Not a good start to the relationship. My once-feral cat still jumps and hides at the sound of banging metal, desperately scrambling away from even me, ever since being captured in a cage. That was more than 6 years ago, half his full lifespan.

Sixth, the food an exotic pet receives lacks variety. This causes some relatively rare health problems. Male housecats get UTIs and kidney stones from additives in pet food.

Eighth, it prevents a good number of instinctual behaviors. It entirely prevents mating behavior, often considered one of the strongest drives in a species (when it’s active). It prevents building a nest – something I’ve seen cats and dogs dog with ease by comparison. It stops the exercise an animal received from patroling his/her range.

Ninth, it exposes an animal to unusual substances, without any benefit of socialization from others of its species about avoidance. My cats navigate my house with a greater eye on safety, that’s more accurately assessed, than any human toddler I’ve ever seen. My cats don’t stick claws in electrical sockets, reach for pots on the stove, avoid any spills, and generally can investigate substances cautiously and honestly as safely as I would.

Tenth, the bad treatment of the animals begin before they’re received. Exotic animal providers seem to care about the animals in roughly the same was as puppy mills – dollar first, then whatever essential care can be cheaply provided. Animals die in transport. Animals die (or are killed) and are injured while being caught. Social structures – essentially families – are entirely destroyed without attempt to keep the affected animals together as a group. Absolutely zero care is ever shown about the emotional health of the animals – which is practically consider abuse legally in much of the country.

Emotions are some of the simplest, most basic forms of thought. They are not unique to humans; in fact, they’re so ubiquitous in the animal kingdom that drugs for emotional problems are regularly tested on dogs. They have the same mental health issues as humans, acquired predictably in similar ways. The success record at finding the ones that work is pretty horrible for those drugs, but that’s another post.

Lastly, exotic pets are typically not rescue animals. Actually rescued animals are generally found by professionals, and are rehabilitated into returning to the wild whenever possible. Cats? Dogs? There’s an over-abundance of potential rescues from them.

Friday ~ January 8, 2010 by b

Posted in cat,environment,veg | Comments Off on exotic pets | blog@goodtofu.org

Comments are closed.