Exotic pets

LizardWe are concerned about the welfare of the increasing number of exotic animals kept as pets, and the trade in amphibians and reptiles taken from the wild. This practice can cause: 

  • Wild population declines
  • Negative impacts on the eco-system
  • Stress caused by capture
  • Poor acclimatisation
  • High numbers of animal deaths caused during transportation

Once sold as pets there is further concern that:

  • Exotics may pose a threat to native species, habitats and the public if they escape or are deliberately released by their owners
  • Health and welfare needs of wild animals will not be met in captivity
  • Owners may not have the necessary expertise or equipment to care for exotic pets which can carry diseases transmissible to humans (zoonoses)

In 2014 the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association estimated an exotic pet population in the UK of approximately 42 million (including fish). The same year, 28 million fish and 200,000 reptiles were also recorded passing through  Heathrow’s Animal Reception Centre.

BVA position statements on exotic pets

We agreed a joint statement on non-traditional companion animals (141 KB PDF), also known as exotic pets, in 2015 with the British Small Animal Veterinary Society (BSAVA), British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) and Fish Veterinary Society (FVS).

The statement covers issues around enforcement, provision of pre-purchase advice, responsible breeding, regulating the trade in non-traditional companion animals and the importance of education for all who are involved in caring for non-traditional companion animals.

With the support of FVS, the statement deliberately does not refer to fish as there are considerations relating to the keeping of fish as companion animals which are separate from those relating to other non-traditional companion animals.

Importation of wild reptiles and amphibians

In partnership with the BVZS, we agreed a joint statement in 2013 on the importation of wild reptiles and amphibians into the EU (86 KB PDF)

Developed with BVA's Ethics and Welfare Group, the statement outlines the major issues associated with the trading and keeping of exotic pets.

It also recommends the robust enforcement of current import and welfare legislation and a caveat to allow certain wild caught species to be taken into captivity for a specific purpose, such as conservation.

BVA activity on exotic pets

Primates petition, September 2015

We are part of a coalition with charities including RSPCA, Born Free Foundation, Captive Animals’ Protection Society, Four Paws, OneKind, and Wild Futures,  campaigning against the keeping and trade of primates as pets.

BVA establish a working group, February 2015

A working group with various specialist divisions has been established to look into issues around the keeping and trade of exotic pets. The working group will continue to report back to our Ethics and Welfare Group during 2016.

Response to Efra on primates as pets, January 2014

Following an inquiry by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra) into the keeping of primates as pets, we:

The Efra committee then published a report recommending that primate owners in England be required to register their pets. We welcome the recommendations but still call on the Government to introduce a ban.

BVA holding statement, June 2013

The BVA holding statement on control of trade in exotic species (47 KB PDF) highlights requirements for further:

  • Information to assess the economic and environmental impact of harvesting other exotic species (not reptiles and amphibians) from the wild
  • Independent research into the implications of catching fish in the wild and the welfare problems associated with fish after they arrive in the UK

'Suitability' lists of exotic pets in Europe

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) believes that some exotic species are completely unsuitable to be kept by the general public. At a meeting in October 2013 FVE agreed to support the principle of drafting 'suitability lists', which specify the species that can or cannot be kept by private individuals.

See the FVE's full position on establishing suitability lists

Related information

For veterinarians

For pet owners