Bedford Hills, N.Y., veterinarian Laurie Hess keeps a busy schedule, providing checkups, emergency services and other procedures for her patients, along with counsel for their human owners. But you won't see any dogs or cats at Hess's clinic. She limits her practice to lizards, ferrets, birds, turtles and assorted creatures, ranging from Chinese water dragons and Chinese pygmy hamsters to chinchillas and kinkajous.
Kinkajous? If you don't know what these are, you're probably not familiar with the world of exotic, or specialty, pets. (Answer: The kinkajou is an adorable little primate from Central and South America related to the raccoon. It hails from the rain forest and is sometimes called a "honey bear.")
While cats and dogs are still tops in the world of pets, 19.4 million U.S. households owned exotics in 2013, according to the American Pet Products Association.The term "exotic pet" is loosely defined as anything but cats, dogs, fish or horses. For veterinarians, the category generally consists of reptiles and amphibians, birds and small mammals.
Some of the most popular are those on the tame end of the spectrum—rabbits, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs and even poultry. Exotics often offer advantages as alternative pets. They can be suitable for people with allergies to furry things, and many require less space than cats or dogs.