Pets that are considered exotic include small mammals other than cats and dogs, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, ferrets, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. An exotic pet is a relatively rare or unusual pet to keep, or one that is generally considered a wild species rather than a domesticated pet. The definition of an exotic pet varies by culture and location, and over time, as animals become entrenched in the world of animal fantasy, they may stop being considered exotic. Non-traditional companion animals that are commonly sold in the pet trade are regulated and have been kept as pets for many years.
According to some defense groups such as REXANO (Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership), the ownership of exotic pets and private zoos can be ethical and beneficial to wildlife. In the United States for example, it is illegal to import primates for the pet trade, but there are animals raised in captivity using animals descended from those brought legally before the ban was enacted. There is also a wealth of information available on the care and captive breeding of many commonly raised exotic amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals in literature, animal enthusiast groups and on Internet websites and discussion forums. When most people hear the phrase “exotic pets” they usually think of monkeys and tigers.
However, since these animals are not wild they lack the wild instincts of some exotic animals that can cause injury to humans. REXANO states that captive breeding of exotic pets in zoos has saved many animals from extinction by providing them with a supply of animals raised in captivity to reduce pressure on wild populations and contribute to their conservation in their natural environment. Many federal, state and regional laws and regulations prohibit the ownership of certain exotic and wild animal species. Dogs, cats, chickens, cows, horses, goats, pigs and other domesticated animals are not usually classified as exotic pets.
Sometimes any unique or wild-looking pet (including common domestic animals such as ferrets and rats) is considered an exotic pet. Other important distinctions must be made between wild animals, exotic animals and non-traditional pets. A wide variety of animals have been kept as pets (at least rarely) or as farm livestock. A wild or exotic animal raised with humans is not domesticated but simply a wild animal that is more used to humans and is possibly considered “meek”.
Exotic pets can also include some wild animals both native and foreign species that people choose to own and care for. Most of these animals have been raised by humans for many generations but they are not considered to be domesticated. For example a hedgehog in the United States would be considered an exotic animal but in the hedgehog's home country it would be considered wild.