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Home Decor and Design Considerations if You Have an Exotic Pet

Woman holding a gecko in her hands.

There are some special considerations you should take note of to make yours and your exotic pet's lives better. Give your warty, feathery, or scaly baby plenty of room to explore and a safe, comfortable habitat so you’ll have many happy years together!

Podcast Version

Having an exotic pet brings all kinds of joys. There is no comparable experience to your pet toad happily bounding up to you then clobbering you in toady kisses and placing a paw on your wrist, your bird learning your name and the day that your lizard gets over his initial trepidation of a new home and transforms into a total DINOSAUR PUPPY.

The dinosaur puppy is one of the best things that ever happened to the internet. Have you ever SEEN such a marshmallow lizard?!

But once you’ve done your homework on what kind of habitat you should build for your new exotic pet as well as their diet, local veterinary care for your specific pet type, and whether you’re at risk as far as local laws and/or your landlord (or housing association) are concerned, what about actual design and structural aspects of your home? How can you make your home more amenable to your new warty, feathery, scaly, or otherwise beyond the norm companion?

Even if your pet is going to be largely contained to their own biospheres, such as a toad or some lizard species, there are some special considerations you should take note of to make your and your baby’s lives better. Before your bundle of joy arrives, you might want to pay heed to these things.

Double-Check Electrical Outlet Locations and Avoid “Octopus Plugs”

Installing an electric outlet.

Some exotic pets require special lighting, heating, and/or running water elements that will need to run a greater part of the day, if not all day. Can you afford the extra energy costs this may incur? Lizards and snakes, in particular, need that extra warmth and can turn an otherwise low-energy home into a place with sky-high utility bills. The small under-the-tank heat pads to provide toads with a heat gradient cost pennies a day to run, and toads tend not to need special lighting.

The electric bill aside, it’s more a question of how the habitat will be proximal to the nearest electrical outlets should their habitat need them. A heavy-duty extension cord might be all you need for your python’s lighting rig, but if you have automatic mister systems plus heating devices to make your iguana happy, you could need multiple outlets for this and “octopus plugging” resulting from putting these heavy-duty devices into a power strip for continual use could present a fire hazard. This is triply so if the wiring in your home is on the older side.

Consult an electrician if you have any doubts about their safety as far as the animals and people in the home are concerned. I’d rather pay $200 just to have them walk in the door and pronounce the place safe for an elaborate bedroom setup for a monitor than find that my house is on fire in the future.

And if you need more outlets, this is absolutely something you do not want to install yourself unless you want to replicate Jackass: The Movie (or for older readers, that scene from Amazon Women On the Moon.)

If your pet doesn’t really need powerful devices on a regular basis (amphibian heat pads are pretty lo-fi), this part is of less concern to you. However, it’s pretty dire and can get overlooked by reptile enthusiasts.

Consider How Your Pet Will Use the Space You Have, Not the Space You Want

Three Eastern American toads around a miniature house.
I still want to move to this neighborhood, stat.

I prefer living in an apartment to a house for several reasons, not the least of which is that this bitch doesn’t do yard work. I love not having to waste my weekends and disposable income on lawn maintenance and landscaping, or replacing busted hot water heaters at 3 AM in 10-degree weather. But I get a little jelly of you house-owning suburbanites when I see how much space there is for a pet to sprawl, and totally envision giving my toad her own room. I didn’t have my own room growing up, it’s reasonable I want to give my children the things I didn’t get!

Alas, in a 1-bedroom apartment not much bigger than your typical NYC studio, that is not happening. It’s considered unspeakably luxurious here that the toad’s biosphere is actually not where I sleep or store towels and toiletries.

So, if you have a house, you definitely have more space to work with for your pet after also considering how many people you share the space with and how they also use it. Some exotic pets can have free run of the house similar to a dog or cat, though every household is different from this depending on both the pet itself and if you have small children. How will they inhabit the space?

Do you have a place for your giant toad to make a nest and burrow, if they don’t live in a tank? A kiddie pool full of toad mommy approved Eco Earth loose coconut fiber substrate (dubbed “toad litter”) is a fantastic way for your toad to get some exercise and a fun and familiar place to burrow and do lots of cute things.

And if your toad is on the handheld side, something you won’t want to be without is puppy pads. Toads will pee on you when they’re afraid and/or don’t want to be handled, and sometimes you just need to have them handy if you don’t want to risk slipping in toad piss! Trust, this is something I have over 25 years experience with and at the very least, you want to always have a few laid down near the habitat and/or the area where you put the amphibious baby from their regular home into the travel tank or bath tank.

Lace monitor on a ghost ash tree.
Then if you got a dinosaur puppy, do they have enough space to climb?

“Building out” space is more crucial for terrestrial animals like toads, tortoises, and turtles, but you’ve also got to “build up” if your pet is a climber. If you got an iguana, now would be a good time to downgrade your curtains. You don’t want fancy Crate & Barrel ones. Get the strongest canvas window treatment you can find at Target and keep a backup set that fits your window. This is because your little prehistoric cutie will probably try to get some sun through the window instead of the elaborate lighting and heating rig you had to set up.

Scratching posts and cat trees are also a good idea if your lizard has sharp nails. While you might have to trim your lizard’s nails on your own or get the vet to do it, it encourages healthy scratching and exploration so your curtains won’t get shredded all the time!

Pay Attention to Small Spaces

Black rat snake looking at a sliding glass door.

This is particularly of import if you’ve got a danger noodle or other pet that can hide in tiny spaces easily. The herper equivalent of “baby-proofing” is something you just might have to do in advance.

While you can’t plug air vents or other structural elements of your home, you’ll still want to scour the place for overlooked points of entry–or exit. Even if that hole in the wall seems too small for any animal to get through, grab that caulking gun and go to town on it. You’d be surprised what a gerbil, snake, lizard, or frog can fit through. They’re even more inventive than your human kids and can get into just as much dangerous hijinx. Unless you got a 50-pound lizard that is a lot harder to miss, you’d be surprised how many different ways that an exotic pet can get lost or stuck somewhere in your home’s framework.

Check for holes in the wall, loose vents and ducts, cracks in the windows, and how loose window locks are. By mitigating these structural risks, you’re keeping your babies indoors and also keeping any unwanted visitors out. (Sometimes danger noodles are NOT welcome, even though some of us would be delighted to have one!)

Be Mindful of Carpeting Around Your Pet’s Habitat

Soft shell turtle on a red carpet floor.

Carpeting or extremely large area rugs are sometimes mandated by condo and co-op apartments supposedly to help dampen noise. (Spoiler alert, from living in NYC apartments most of my life: it doesn’t! This stupid rule was totally devised to make some carpeting company rich.) Then if you have a freestanding house, carpeting can make a room more comfortable, especially if that’s kind with the super thick pile that makes you feel like you’re walking on marshmallows.

Obviously, you have to reconsider this particular design decision when you get any sort of pet. When it comes to exotic pets, the challenges amp up a little. You’re going to have to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I okay with constantly vacuuming up substrate in this area?
  2. Is this carpet at risk for growing mold if I spill water or the animal pees? (This is why puppy pads aren’t just for canine puppies. They’re also good for amphibious and dinosaur puppies!)
  3. Is it comfortable enough for my pet, if they’re going to walk on it?

If puppy pads aren’t going to be sufficient and you absolutely have to keep that carpeting in the area, you might want to consider one of those hard plastic carpet covers that are frequently seen in offices. You can easily find them at office supply stores and they’re not super expensive, but take measurements and see if one or two will cut it if you don’t want to spring for a custom-cut under-desk protector. 

Area rugs that have a rubber backing, such as the kind you typically buy for the bathroom, are a good choice for reptile and amphibian habitat vicinities because you can just throw them in the washing machine and let them air dry without any worries about mold or dirty substrate getting embedded in the fibers.

If you have any external devices, like misters or humidifiers for your pet that need a little rubber-backed carpeting to sit on, I’ve found that those little stair protectors work great for small apartments. Mine would get full of toad litter runoff and water I spilled from cleaning and emptying my toad’s humidifier, and I could just rinse it and let it dry in the bathtub. I didn’t need to buy a full set for a whole staircase, just for one “stair” under the humidifier.

 

Everyone’s home is different, along with the considerations that they need to make for their pet. Exotic pets require a few extra safety precautions you might not think about with a more traditional pet like a dog or cat, and in addition to these tips, it also doesn’t hurt to talk to other pet parents who are knowledgeable with your particular type of pet. Give your warty, feathery, or scaly baby plenty of room to explore and a safe, comfortable habitat so you’ll have many happy years together!

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