A turtle, a rat, a bird, a snake and a guinea pig are some of the examples of exotic pets we see at our office. Believe it or not, these pet owners are as passionate and in love with their creatures as you dog or cat lovers!

Exotic ownership requires some research and understanding of the behavior and needs of each species. Here are five reasons an exotic pet may be right for you:

1. Exotic pets are so different that owning one can be an incredible learning experience. With their unique behaviors and complicated social interactions — both with each other and with us — they readily can teach us all sorts of new information. But their gregariousness can be a double-edged sword for an owner. These exotic pets have specific social and environmental needs, and before you embark upon the journey into exotic pet ownership, you should be sure to learn about the needs of the exotic pet species you are considering.

2. Many exotic species don't take up much space. For many city dwellers who live in cramped apartments, a pet such as a dog or cat that spends most of its time outside a cage and requires a lot of space just isn't an option. A small mammal — such as a hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, chinchilla or rat — or even a reptile or small bird might be a more feasible choice. Ask anyone who owns one of these smaller exotic species, and they'll tell you that these pets can provide the same love, companionship and satisfaction that a larger dog or cat can offer.

3. Exotic animals can be great for people with pet allergies. Although many people would love to have a pet dog or cat, they often cannot, because they have allergies to the dander that furry pets carry on their coats. All is not lost for these people; they can still have a loving pet if they choose a reptile — such as a lizard, turtle, tortoise or snake — that has neither hair nor dander on its skin. And if they are not allergic to feathers, they might also be able to own a bird.

4. Most exotic pets don't need to be walked. For many pet owners who work long hours, owning a dog that needs to be walked every few hours is not an option, because they can't get home to do it. The good news is most exotic pets don't need to be walked; while exotic pets do need to be handled and socialized and can adapt to a human's busy schedules when it comes to "time out of cage." In general, as long as you make some time to interact with these animals every day, the time you make available is flexible.

5. Many exotic pets live a long time. People frequently comment that they could never own a pet because they'd get so attached to it that they couldn't bear losing it. Of course, no pet lives forever. However, certain species, such as large birds and some reptiles, can live for 20 to 40 years or more. Certainly, these animals must be taken care of properly — fed appropriate diets, housed according to the species needs and given regular medical check-ups to live to their genetic potential. Once again, this longevity can be either a blessing or a curse in that before you rush out to buy or adopt a new reptile or large bird, you should seriously consider whether you have the time, lifestyle and finances available to support a pet that might outlive you!

Remember, spend some time researching before acquiring an exotic pet and use your family veterinarian as a resource as well!

Dr. Darren Woodson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Farmington area for more than 28 years and has a passion for educating pet owners. If you have a question you would like him to address, email dwoodson@valleyvetpet.com. Please understand Dr. Woodson will choose the questions that are most relevant to our readers.