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‘Think twice’ before buying ‘exotic’ pets: eight in ten vets concerned about the welfare of reptiles, birds and other non-traditional pets

16 Feb 2023


As new research reveals eight in ten (81%) vets are concerned the needs of non-traditional pets such as reptiles, amphibians, birds or other “exotic” animals are not being met, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging anyone considering buying one as a pet to ‘think twice’.

‘Think twice’ before buying ‘exotic’ pets: eight in ten vets concerned about the welfare of reptiles, birds and other non-traditional pets Image

Sometimes known as “exotic pets”, non-traditional companion animals (NTCAs) can be very challenging to keep as pets due to their complex welfare needs. These needs include: a suitable environment and diet; being able to display their natural behaviours; and being housed with or without other animals as needed. Many also need specialist, expert veterinary care, which may not be available in every area of the UK. Some – such as primates – have needs which are so specialised they can’t be met in a typical domestic environment. Some NTCAs also have certain heating, lighting or UV requirements which, given recent unpredictability in energy bills, may increase the cost to keep them.

New BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession research has revealed eight in ten (81%) vets are concerned that the welfare needs of these animals are not being met, with the most citing ‘irresponsible animal ownership’ (82%) as the main cause. Vets who treat NTCAs reported that more than half (58%) of the NTCAs they see do not have their five animal welfare needs met and 26% have seen a rise in the number brought in for treatment in the past year.

BVA Senior Vice President and top zoo veterinary surgeon Justine Shotton said: “Reptiles, birds and other less familiar pets are intriguing animals and we understand why so many people would love to have them as pets as they are often unusual and are a bit different to owning a cat or a dog. But it is so important not to buy exotic species on a whim as they have very complex needs and it can be both challenging and expensive to look after them properly. We know people who keep these animals have the right intentions to give them the best care they can, but their needs can be difficult to meet, particularly if they are a new pet and owners are not sure exactly what they require. We want potential buyers to take the extra time to really think twice about if they can look after them properly as well as encouraging them to do proper research to ensure they know exactly what the species needs to live a happy and healthy life.”

BVA has just launched a new policy position on NTCAs, developed by a panel of experts including BVA's divisions, which sets out the need to protect these animals and ensure their welfare needs can be met. Within the position, BVA calls for more regulation of online sales and third-party advertising of NTCAs and an end to the import of wild-caught reptiles and amphibians for non-conservation reasons. BVA also recommends a pre-purchase test, both demonstrating a potential owner’s knowledge on how to properly care for an NTCA, and helping to improve education around the needs of the species.

Past BVA President and Chair of the Working Group Sean Wensley said: “The welfare of non-traditional pets is a real concern for vets, as demonstrated by the recent BVA research. The new policy position makes recommendations which will help to protect the welfare of NTCAs, including calling for improved regulation of their keeping and sale. It highlights issues such as the welfare risks of certain breeding practices and stresses the need to move away from the wild-capture of animals for the pet trade. Taken together, the 32 recommendations present a clear veterinary view on the ethical sourcing and care of these species.”

Find out more and read the policy position here:


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