Califonia Bountiful

Now from Nationwide: 5 low-maintenance exotic pets

January/February 2022 California Bountiful magazine

The phrase "exotic pets" brings up a plethora of associations, many of them negative. Illegally sourced monkeys, baby tigers, Burmese pythons let loose in the Everglades—these are just a few of the headlines that come to mind. But the truth is that these are just the most publicized examples of exotic pets. There are countless types of exotic pets that are not illegal, dangerous or even particularly difficult to care for, and you've probably seen some of them before.

What is an exotic pet? It's hard to give a precise definition, but most people typically ascribe the term to any pet that is not commonly domesticated, or rather, not as commonly domesticated as dogs and cats. Many are relatively small, have simple diets, don't require much attention and often don't pose any risk to your furniture. Here are some low-maintenance exotic pets to consider.

1. Hedgehog

If you've been on social media over the last few years, you've probably seen these prickly little critters sitting in their trademark rolled-up ball. Most of the hedgehogs you're seeing are African pygmy hedgehogs; they're small, solitary animals that have grown in popularity as their roly-poly pictures circulate around the internet. They do need to be fed particular food to imitate their natural diet of insects, roots and plants; specially formulated hedgehog feed is commercially available. As long as they're provided a large enough enclosure (at least 2 feet by 3 feet) with hiding places and spaces to exercise during their nighttime activity, hedgehogs don't need much besides a heat source to keep their living conditions tropical. Over time, they can also be taught to tolerate some handling, though preferably in the evening hours since they're naturally nocturnal.

Note that many states prohibit non-native animals such as hedgehogs from being kept as pets. Be sure to check before welcoming one into your home.

2. Rodents

Despite the stigma against rodents as pests, there are a handful of species that make excellent low-maintenance pets. Some of them don't even fall within many people's definition of rodent. Flying squirrels, for example, are classified as rodents despite the rosy perception they carry compared to their ground-dwelling cousins such as rats and mice. Hamsters and chinchillas are rodents as well and can make great pets. Most rodents require little more than a clean enclosure with water and proper food.

3. Chinchilla

Chinchillas are small rodents that hail from mountainous areas of South America. These active, jumping animals require a large, vertical cage to give them space for nocturnal exercise as well as a specific diet of good quality grass hay and specially formulated pellets. Beyond that, chinchillas don't need much. If socialized at a young age, they can become amenable to handling, however, they don't require affection to be happy and healthy.

4. Arthropods

They might scare some people, but arthropods such as non-poisonous tarantulas and scorpions, hissing cockroaches and hermit crabs can be some of the most low-maintenance pets you'll find. None of them require any kind of specific attention or maintenance beyond feeding and enclosure cleaning (most species molt, so disposing of molted skins is necessary). For most of your pet's life, all you'll need to do is keep them fed and keep their space clean and properly warmed.

5. Reptiles

The field of herpetology (the study of reptiles) is vast and has a passionate following of reptile pet owners. Given proper care, there are few reptiles that can't be kept as pets, however, only a handful of those are low maintenance enough to be considered good for beginners. Leopard geckos, bearded dragons and corn snakes are immensely popular for their docility and easy care. As with arthropods, they don't need to be given affection, and if you want to simply feed them and keep their enclosures clean and warm, that is perfectly sufficient.

No matter how simple or easy the maintenance of your pet might be, it's important to make sure you're prepared to take care of them in their time of need. To learn more about Nationwide, visit

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