Exotic pets becoming a growing trend: what to know before you buy

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Before you buy a pot-bellied pig or a not-so-traditional furry friend, it's important to do your research before taking the leap in pet ownership.

FOX 17 News set out to debunk the myths and check the facts surrounding alternative pets. The life span and cost of these pets are two things we found surprising.

Brittany Schlacter, director of West Michigan Critter Haven, says the vet bill for her pet rabbit is higher than it is for her cat.

"While these animals are super cute, the majority of them just don't prefer to be handled," Schlacter said. "You can work on socializing them, but their nature is their nature, so you can't change that."

While many of these animals are half the size of a dog or cat, Schlacter says animals like rabbits need plenty of space to live. She dedicates an entire room of her home to her beloved pets.

"They have very sensitive digestive systems too. Rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and hedgehogs all require specialized care," Schlacter said. "If you don't have an exotic vet in your area that sees these types of animals, you can actually be putting these animals at risk."

Dr. Tracey Ritzman at Cascade Hospital for Animals says she's the only veterinarian for exotic companion mammals in West Michigan. She sees 20 to 30 different species every day, and roughly 800 bunnies in a year.

"A lot of exotic animals require a bit more investigating in terms of what they need, because it’s not common knowledge like dogs and cats," Dr. Ritzman said.

It's important to know many pets have a life expectancy you may not expect. Rebecca Nickoles at V.I. Pets says that while mice can live roughly two to three years, the average bunny can live 10 to 15 years, and the macaw parrot can live upwards of 70 years.

So if you're looking for a shorter-term relationship, maybe stick with a small fish or a mouse.

As alternative pets grow in popularity, it's the miniature pig that's making a huge leap in the domesticated world of animals.

Lannette Amon breeds pigs for people all over the nation at Windward Oaks Farm in Metamora, Mich. She says many people buy them on impulse simply because they're so cute when they're piglets. But, she warns, "Life is not 'Charlotte's Web.'"

"There's no such thing as a tea-cup pig," Amon said.

She warns that terms like "pocket-pigs" or "nano-pigs" are used by unauthenticated breeders as a selling tool that promote an concept to buyers that's simply not true.

"They're a 15-year commitment, and they're not for everybody," said Amon. "When I say miniature, I mean 300 pounds or less."

A farm hog can grow upwards of 800 pounds, so yes, these are miniature pigs.

Mini-pigs at Windward Oaks start around $700. They're very social and love people. However, they'll continue to grow until they're five years old, when they can weigh in around 200 pounds and stand at 14-17 inches tall.

Make sure to do your research, consider whether such a pet fits into your lifestyle, and get ready for lots of hugs and kisses as a pet owner.

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