NOVEMBER 13, 2013
Uniquely exotic pets
You probably noticed, as you maneuvered through the aisles of elaborate costumes at your nearest Halloween store, various costumes for your furry friend. A pumpkin for your pug, a hat for your black cat, or a hot dog for your Dachshund – there were numerous Halloween costumes that allowed you to include your pets in the spooky fun. Some pets, however, don’t need a strange-looking costume to get into the Halloween spirit; they were simply born with one.
Jordan Gentry, a Veterinary Resident Instructor in zoology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said that he has worked with multiple odd looking animals during his year of residency. “We see many unique and exotic pets on the A&M Zoological Medicine Service; even some relatively common animals have some bizarre physical features,” said Gentry. “One animal we have treated at A&M is a pet tamandua, a type of anteater from South America with a long tube-like mouth, long sticky tongue, prehensile tail, and big hooked claws.” Gentry explained that the tamandua’s claws are so massive that they must walk on the side of their foot to avoid puncturing their footpads, and they have a very unique odor similar to (but not as strong as) that of a skunk.
Another type of bizarre-looking animal that Gentry has worked with, the brown pelican, is a breed of protected birds in Texas with some very unique features of their own. “They have short legs with huge webbed feet, a squat round body, and a long face,” said Gentry. “The skin under the neck is thin and stretches to hold several gallons of water when the birds grab fish to eat.” Gentry has come across many of these exotic birds at the Wildlife Center of Texas and greatly enjoys working with them.
Some of the more common, but still unique, animals that have become increasingly popular to own as pets are hermit crabs, potbellied pigs, and Petauristini, or flying squirrels. All of these animals are easily adaptable to different home environments, and with the right treatment and care, can make a great addition to your family. An animal that has been the star in many scary movies and Animal Planet documentaries, the piranha, has also intrigued many exotic pet owners. Though only recommended to experts due to their aggressive attitude and razor sharp teeth, these carnivorous fish can certainly make for an interesting pet. Keep in mind, though, that piranhas are legal in only very few areas, and Texas is not one of them.
“There are even more strange animals out there than what we have seen at A&M Zoological Medicine Service,” said Gentry. “Pangolin, for instance, are one of the oddest looking animals you may ever see.” These exotic animals are very similar in appearance to the tamandua, but are covered in hard scales made of keratin instead of a thick hair coat. Made from the same material as fingernails, these tough scales provide very effective armor when the animal curls into a ball. “No other mammal has such unique scales for protection,” said Gentry. “In addition to being unique, pangolins have proven to be difficult to care for and very few people have ever had the chance to see one.”
If you would rather stick to owning a dog, but are in search of a breed with some unique features, a Puli could be just the pet you’re looking for. This breed of dreadlock-like coated dogs is full of life and can be a wonderful addition to your family, as long as you don’t mind the extra coat attention. Similar to the Puli is the Komondor, another loving dog with a mop-like coat. Both of these uniquely coated canines are family friendly and can bring immense joy and laughter to your household. The “kitchen mop” Halloween costume would never go out of style for this pooch!
Whether you’re an exotic animal fanatic or simply more comfortable owning a tabby cat, these exotic animals are always fun to admire from at home or afar.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at www.vetmed.tamu.edu/pettalk.