Thursday, July 23, 2009
K-STATE VETERINARIAN SAYS EXOTIC ANIMALS LIKE LIONS, TIGERS AND MONKEYS SHOULD NOT BE KEPT AS PETS
MANHATTAN -- Tigers, monkeys and mountain lions can be fascinating, but a Kansas State University veterinarian said people cross the line of intrigue when they try to make extreme exotic animals their pets.
K-State's Gary West, assistant professor of zoological medicine, has encountered many people who own inappropriate exotic pets. He said there are many reasons why people should keep their interest to a distance when it comes to these dangerous and complex animals.
"People like exotic animals for the 'wow' factor," West said. "They are different and exciting; however, there are many exotic animals that do not make good pets."
Animals that people rarely see in person -- unless they are at a zoo or visiting the animal's native habitat -- make inappropriate pets, such as lions, tigers and monkeys. West said these kinds of exotic animals are dangerous and can cause harm to their owners.
One danger is the size of many exotic animals, like tigers that can weigh 500 pounds or pythons that stretch longer than 20 feet. Animals, such as monkeys, also can transmit zoonotic diseases, which means that the disease can be transmitted from animals to humans. West said another problem concerns sociable animals like lions and monkeys. When humans raise them, it can create behavioral issues.
"Most of the time these animals are removed from their mothers and hand raised, which is very stressful," West said. "People are often under the assumption that the mother wasn't taking good care of the animal or that the animal will become socialized to people. However, it is inappropriate to hand raise these animals unless there is a medical reason to do so."
Imprinting can be a problem when exotic animals are raised by humans, West said, because they lose their fear of humans, which makes them potentially more dangerous. It also makes the animals dependent on humans for inappropriate affection.
Exotic animals have specific needs and requirements that a pet owner may not be prepared to provide. West said most people cannot afford to adequately feed, house or give enough space to these animals. The housing situation also can be problematic because animals like monkeys should be in a social group with other monkeys or similar species. In addition, pet owners need to know about any local or state laws on what exotic animals are legal to own and if there are specific guidelines they must meet for housing and caging.
The cost of caring for an exotic animal can be expensive, West said, as many are long-lived. If people decide the pet is too large, too dangerous or too expensive to care for, few homes are available that can take in the animals and animal sanctuaries also are becoming increasingly filled, he said.
The K-State Medical Veterinary Teaching Hospital receives several calls from people concerning the health of their exotic animals, West said. The requests vary from common exotic pets like reptiles to inappropriate exotic pets like monkeys and kangaroos.
"We will see and treat any animal in need of urgent medical care, even if we don't think they should be pets," West said. "But we may decide not to provide some routine procedures for these pets, such as neutering a tiger or monkey. We want to help animals that are ill or injured, but not promote or encourage them as pets by doing procedures such as declawing mountain lions."
He said neutering or declawing an exotic animal solely to prevent injuries to caretakers would be unethical and that these procedures do not make the animals less dangerous. Declawing large cats can cause long-term complications due to the abnormal weight bearing that it creates.
While there are people and businesses that sell exotic animals, West said that does not mean the animals should be pets.
"These animal dealers usually will not take the animal back if it becomes aggressive or too large, and they do not provide the information on the animal's long-term needs," West said. "You should always be cautious of buying an unfamiliar species and think about how much it may grow and the needs it will have."