Considering a pet? Consider these tips
For so many of us, pets are an integral part of our daily lives and are members of our families. In fact, an estimated 89 million dogs and 94 million cats live in our homes in the U.S. (APPA) At Zoo Atlanta this April, we are focusing on topics related to responsible pet ownership. Dogs and cats are the most common animal companions for Americans, but other animals such as fish, birds, reptiles and small mammals like mice or hamsters are also often kept. Wild animals are also sometimes kept with the intention of their being pets, but this can have unintended consequences for both animals and humans.
What should you think about before considering any pet?
- Can you meet its dietary needs? Dietary needs for exotic pets differ from those of domesticated animals. For example, cat food is easily acquired at your local pet supply store. On the other end of the spectrum, the Sumatran tigers at Zoo Atlanta are offered 10 pounds of a specially prepared diet that is nutritionally appropriate for their species. Many wild animals kept as pets suffer from malnutrition because people do not understand their nutritional needs.
- Can you provide an appropriate space? All animals have space and shelter requirements. Consider the Burmese python, a snake that is relatively small upon hatching, but can then grow to be over 23 feet long! Unfortunately, these large snakes were imported into the U.S. for the pet trade, and many were released into the ecosystem (either intentionally or accidentally). They have now established an invasive population, causing much detriment to the environment and local wildlife. (National Geographic and USDA)
- Is the species solitary or social? Some species are happy living a solitary life, whereas others thrive in social environments with a companion (or even larger group) of their own kind. A dog might be happy having you as their best friend, but primates, for example, have complex social structures and need to be in the company of others to thrive.
- Is this an animal that belongs in a human home? Some animals are not a good fit for a human home, causing destruction of property or even human injury. Behaviors ranging from nocturnal activity, which could keep you awake at night, to sharp teeth and claws on your furniture, to scent-marking territory, are just a few examples of common behaviors in many wild animals. Even if an animal seems “tame,” a wild animal will never be a domesticated animal. Domestication comes from thousands of years of living alongside humans. Remember that any animal can be unpredictable.
- Is it legal to own this animal? Depending on where you live, laws will differ. Be sure to check your local laws regarding pet ownership. You can find a list of species with examples of animals that are illegal to keep as pets in Georgia here: https://gadnrle.org/exotics.
The illegal pet trade is a detriment to threatened and endangered animals around the world. Illegal wildlife trafficking for pet trade and poached animal parts is a multi-billion dollar industry and is leading to decline in animal populations and is threatening ecosystems.
What are a few things you can do to ensure you’re a responsible pet owner?
- Adopt instead of shop. Did you know that 6.5 million animals enter shelters every year? Around 1.5 million of these animals are euthanized. When you adopt, do your background research on where your pet is coming from to ensure that you’re adopting or acquiring your pet from a reputable organization.
- Consider all of an animal’s needs. What is its lifespan? How much time will be required to provide care and attention? Where will you get – and how much will it cost to provide – food, veterinary care, toys and other needed items? If something happens to you, who will care for the animal?
- Don’t share videos on social media that promote irresponsible behavior when it comes to pet care or wild animals. These include videos of exotic animals that seem to make “cute” pets, and can promote messages that are ultimately harmful to animals or even harmful to entire wild populations.
There’s a wealth of knowledge available through reputable organizations on these topics. Keep learning more and sharing with everyone you know!
Zoo Atlanta is an advocate of responsible pet ownership and care. In many of our educational programs, signs, and presentations, we provide messaging on this important issue that impacts not only pets, but wildlife around the world.
Have you been thinking about adopting a new furry animal family member or know someone who has? Join us at ZooPaws on Saturday, April 27 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Atlanta Humane Society and other local adoption organizations will join us in Grant Park with dogs waiting to meet their forever families!
Want to learn more about how the Zoo ensures that animals thrive? Get behind the scenes and hands-on with animal care in our Show Birds & Animal Ambassadors Keeper For A Day to learn about what we do to care for parrots, birds of prey, hedgehogs, tarantulas, snakes, alligators and more.
Manager of Public Programs