A Doctor’s Diagnosis: A Vet’s Take on Exotic Pets

By Amanda Keuler

The attraction to the odd and unusual is not a new trend. Exotic pets have captured the attention of the public for centuries, according to the Manual of Exotic Pet Practice.

Dr. Elizabeth Mackey, a veterinarian at Sycamore Veterinary Services, treats and board dogs, cats and exotic pets which, in the clinical vernacular, include rabbits, reptiles and skunks.

Dr. Mackey enjoys working with exotic animals, helping people make the decision to own one in their home and educating them on how to properly care for these animals.

“Sometimes we will have people who are considering getting a pet and they just want to pick our brains on it,” Dr. Mackey said. “We will schedule an appointment, even if they don’t have the animal, to sit down and talk it through their lifestyle [and] the pet’s lifestyle.”

Even after discussing the issues with a professional, some pet owners find they cannot handle an animal, like a mini potbelly pig, as it grows.

“100% of my pig patients got rid of their pig,” Dr. Mackey said. “The owners get rid of it when it breaks 75 lbs.”

Some animals, according to Dr. Mackey, can cause real danger to themselves or their owners if held in captivity.

“It’s not in the best interest for the animal,” Dr Mackey said. “I’m very passionately opposed to taking things out of the wild and making them pets.”

“Wildlife is for watching. Pets are for petting.” – Dr. Mackey

The law takes this threat to wildlife seriously as well. Georgia law bans wildlife species as pets, with only a few exceptions.

“We will occasionally have people bring in something that is illegal,” Dr. Mackey said.

As a veterinarian, Dr. Mackey puts the animal first and has treated illegal pets, such as hedgehogs, in her office.

“I am not law enforcement. But I am going to make sure that they understand that that is an illegal pet,” Dr. Mackey said. “My job is to take care of the pet. That’s my biggest concern.”

Trends in Exotic Pets

The charts below show how the popularity of some of the exotic pets that Dr. Mackey sees most regularly has shifted over time.

Most noticeable is the high volume of searches for these exotic animals as pets compared to the almost non-existent number of Google searches regarding the laws around owning an exotic animal.

Popularity measured by tracking keywords used in Google searches. The keywords reach peak popularity when they hit 100 on the chart. If they are at 50, the keywords were half as popular as its peak.

Different unusual pets reign as most popular in certain areas. Within the above list, the two most popular searches are for pet rabbits and pet pigs, with a growing interest in pet pigs nationwide.

Taking the same keywords as above, this chart demonstrates the Google Search popularity of these particular pets all across the U.S.