Buying an exotic pet

Please note that these guides do not constitute legal advice and any information provided in the guides should not be construed as legal advice or legal interpretation. We do not accept any liability for any loss caused by your reliance on this guide.

Choosing your exotic pet

Get the paperwork you need to prove the above. Although there is no legislation in Ireland on the ownership of exotic pets, some species have CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) requirements, and it is against the law to sell or buy them.

Make sure wherever you buy from is experienced with the animal; ideally, ask to see it being fed. Half the battle with reptiles is if they’re feeding okay. If they won’t feed, it’s downhill from there.

Make sure their eyes are bright, and free of discharge.

Check that the vent area (from where they pass urine and faeces) is clear.

Look at the tank it’s kept in; if it’s smelly or dirty, stay away.


The two biggest factors with housing exotics is heating and lighting.

What type of heating you need is entirely dependent on the species.

For example, a tortoise can’t take heat from underneath, so use a heat lamp rather than a heat mat. But snakes do fine on heat mats. The two most common pet snakes are the corn snake from North America and the boa constrictor from South America. The corn snake is temperate and would survive outdoors in Ireland; the boa is tropical and the cold would kill it.

With lighting, again it’s species dependent. With an active, daytime lizard (a diurnal lizard), you’ll need to give it UVB light or it won’t survive. Different species need different levels of it, so do your research and get the corresponding light bulb.


Diet is species-specific, so make sure you get reliable information on the particular pet you have chosen. A book on the topic by a reputable expert is a good place to start.

Exotics can live on anything from live insects to dead mice to plant matter to fruit and veg. Whatever your animal’s diet, make sure you can buy what you need fairly easily.

Feed frequency varies also; tortoises feed every day, but snakes may only feed every two weeks.


If it’s your first exotic pet, start small. Some exotics, such as yellow anacondas, get quite big and are also renowned for being aggressive. A boa constrictor can grow to 12-14 feet.

If you can, talk to someone who already keeps the exotic pet you are interested in. Make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Be particularly wary of buying a few cute little terrapins thinking they will stay small and manageable. They grow to the size of a dinner plate and need a very large tank or pond.

Think about your situation, and whether you’ll be able to care for the animal for as long as you will need to (corn snakes live for 15-20 years, tortoises for decades), and be able to afford that.


While most exotics don’t take ‘exercise’ like many other pets do, they do need what’s called ‘enrichment’. So, for example, if you buy a climbing species you have to work out ways to allow it to climb. Ditto for burrowing, basking, hiding and hunting species.

General care

Exotics can carry diseases that transfer from animals to humans, for example salmonella or Ecoli. So don’t wash their food bowls and tanks in the same place where you prepare food.

Generally, a system of spot cleaning works well; when they go to the toilet, remove the waste and then do a full overhaul of the tank once a month or so (again, this depends on the species).

Veterinary care

Before you buy, make sure there is a vet within reasonable distance who specialises in exotic pets, as many do not.

It can be difficult to spot an unwell exotic, so it’s a good idea to keep a record of everything you do with them and everything they do. From this, a change of behaviour can become obvious.

Notes of caution

There are some dangerous exotic animals, and the lack of a licensing system in Ireland means anyone can own them. Generally, venomous snakes or large boa constrictors should not be kept in a house with children.

Many exotics are very adept escape artists, so bear this in mind particularly if you live in a terraced house where there are adjoining attics. Make sure your equipment is secure.

We spoke to James Hennessy, director of the National Reptile Zoo

Demanding needs

Many exotic pets have demanding care requirements and you will need to do a lot of research to learn how to look after them. Many are only suitable for experienced keepers.

You will need to provide the correct lighting, heating, humidity, diet etc, in order to keep them healthy.

Some exotic species can grow very large and some live for 50 years or more.

Can you commit to providing care for an exotic animal, and afford the costs, throughout its entire life?

Five things required

Exotic pets, like all animals, need five things to be healthy and happy; these are called the ‘The Five Freedoms’. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2013, a pet owner has a legal duty to ensure the welfare of his animal (s). A pet’s welfare needs include:

  1. Environment – a suitable living environment
  2. Diet – a proper diet
  3. Behaviour – to be able to express normal behaviours
  4. Companionship – to have appropriate companionship
  5. Health – to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

IPAAG recommendation

If you decide to buy an exotic pet, IPAAG recommends the following:

Consider contacting an animal rescue/rehoming centre.

Research before you buy. Be sure you fully understand and appreciate the needs of the species you are interested in, and will be able to afford to meet them for the lifetime of the animal. This includes costs such as electricity to constantly run equipment such as lights and heaters.

Seek advice from reputable books and websites, local interest groups and your local veterinary practice who may also be able to recommend a suitable expert for additional advice.

Ensure you know what facilities are necessary to provide a suitable environment for the type of animal you are thinking of keeping – e.g., vivarium, temperature, humidity, light quality, etc.

Buy from a reputable seller

Ensure you buy from someone who specialises in the animal you are interested in.

Visit the animal you are intending to buy.

Check that the animal’s accommodation is clean, it is supplied with the appropriate food and water, and that special equipment for maintaining the animal’s environment (e.g., heat lamps or UV lights, etc) are working properly.

Ensure that all relevant paperwork is available for inspection when you visit. This could include any necessary permits such as CITES registration documents, Dangerous Wild Animals Licence or other documentation.

If any paperwork is unavailable and has to be sent on, obtain a written commitment as to when it will be delivered.

Animal health

Ensure that the animal you are buying is healthy and free from signs of injury or disease.

Exotic animals often require specialist care from a veterinary surgeon and may require referral to a specialist which can be very expensive.

Information on this page was first published by IPAAG, of which DoneDeal is a member. Source text: