Keeping Wild (Native or Exotic) Animals as Pets
March 1, 2022
Position statements developed by the CVMA reflect current knowledge regarding animal welfare. While they are not legislative, they do represent CVMA’s ongoing commitment to the advancement of animal welfare.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) opposes keeping any wild (native or exotic) animal species, or their hybrids, as pets. Doing so may compromise animal welfare, pose unnecessary health and safety risks to humans and domesticated companion animals, and may adversely impact the ecosystem. The CVMA opposes any surgical procedures performed on these animals solely for the purpose of making the animal a safer companion.
- Ownership of wild native or exotic animals may be prohibited by regional or provincial legislation except under special permit.
- The CVMA calls for harmonized national legislation regarding the definition, ownership prohibitions, and the welfare of wild and other non-traditional animals kept as pets.
- Animal welfare can be compromised in wild native or exotic species (even when bred in captivity) due to poor husbandry, nutrition, health care, inappropriate social groupings, inadequate psychological provisions, or by subjecting them to non-therapeutic surgeries for the sole purpose of making them a safer pet.
- Some native or exotic wild animals (and their hybrids) kept as pets pose a significant risk to humans and ecosystem health.
- Provincial legislation is diverse regarding the definition of what constitutes a wild animal and the ownership of non-traditional species. The CVMA supports harmonization of legislation related to the definition, the ownership, and the welfare requirements of wild and/or exotic species kept as pets. (1-3)
- Keeping native wild animals is prohibited except under permit in most regions of Canada.
- Regional legislation also may prohibit keeping exotic animals that are considered dangerous, hazardous to the environment, or very difficult to manage in captivity based on specialized husbandry needs and psychological requirements.
- For many of the wild native or exotic animals being kept as pets there is a paucity of recognized standards of care.
- Fundamental guidelines and documentation are necessary to distinguish non-traditional captive-born animals (which can potentially be acceptable pets) from wild animals.
- Some smaller indigenous and non-native animal species (e.g., various birds, small nonvenomous reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, and small mammals), which are in the process of domestication, are being successfully propagated in captivity for the pet trade.
- When maintained under responsible pet ownership with optimized welfare, and well-established quarantine protocols, hygiene practices, and safety procedures, these animals pose minimal hazard to the health and safety of humans and other animals. However, when these requirements not followed, there is a risk for zoonotic disease, or to the health of indigenous wildlife and the ecosystem (4, 7-14).
- Even when captive bred, some species are notoriously difficult to provide ideal welfare conditions for when under private human care (e.g., large parrots, various reptile and amphibian species, some fish species) (4,5). Some animals may become heavily imprinted on or conditioned to humans and develop serious psychological health issues.
- A lack of knowledge rather than a lack of emotional attachment can be responsible for welfare concerns with non-traditional species (5,6). Therefore, it is important for prospective owners to educate themselves on the risks of ownership of these animals and their specific physical, behavioural, and emotional needs. Pre-purchase due diligence including research and consultation with a veterinarian who has expertise with the species in question, is strongly recommended.
- In the case where these non-traditional animals are bred for the pet trade, they must be bred in a responsible manner under optimized welfare conditions.
- Although some native or exotic wild animal species (e.g., native or exotic wild carnivores, non-human primates, large and/or venomous reptiles) may be captive-born and available to the pet trade, these animals do not make good pets. This includes wild-domestic hybrids and their progeny.
- While they can become acclimated to humans and may appear to be tame, they present a serious potential risk to the health and safety of humans and other animals (7-17)
- These animals may be acquired by persons who cannot provide for, or do not have good basic information regarding, their complex behaviour, proper care, housing, nutritional requirements, and behavioural husbandry (5, 18-20).
- Carnivores and non-human primates are often subjected to various surgical procedures (e.g., declawing, canine tooth extraction or blunting, neutering for behavioural modification, or descenting) to make them safer to handle and to prolong their suitability as pets (18-20). The CVMA opposes such nontherapeutic surgeries (19, 21) as they provide no benefit to the animals and risk causing them pain and other harms.
- If the animal becomes an unacceptable pet as it reaches maturity, or if the owner is otherwise no longer able to care for the animal, decisions regarding continuing care can be a traumatic experience for both the animal and the owner and presents an ethical dilemma (22). Owners in this position should be aware that:
- Legitimate zoos have legislative and accreditation requirements for responsible collection planning and usually will not accept a wild animal pet.
- Sanctuaries often have limited space or resources to accept these animals.
- Release to the wild is illegal and is otherwise not a viable option since the animal may not be able to fend for itself, and could pose a threat to humans, other animals, and the ecosystem.
- Euthanasia may be the only option, if the animal’s physical and mental needs cannot be met in a manner that is safe for the animal, other animals, or the public.
- The list of non-traditional species considered acceptable for pet ownership is continually evolving based on societal and legislative perspectives and differs across municipalities.
- An animal should be considered an unacceptable pet if any of the following criteria are true:
- The animal presents a significant health or safety risk to humans or other animals (17).
- The animal will present a risk to the ecosystem if it escapes.
- The acquisition of this animal will have an impact on the conservation of this or other species in the wild. (The CVMA is opposed to the capture of wild animals to be kept as pets (23)).
- The long-term husbandry, health, behavioural, and other welfare needs of the captive animal cannot be met at all stages of its life (4,5).
- Qualified and willing veterinary support with proper facilities is not locally available for the immediate and longer-term care of the animal.
- The prospective owner does not possess the special training, facilities, or experience required to provide appropriate care of the animal.
- British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. Wildlife in B.C. https://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/wildlife/ Last accessed January 27th, 2022.
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- Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Partial Digital Amputation (Onychectomy, Declawing) of Non-Domestic Felids and Other Carnivores Kept in Captivity – Position Statement 2021. Available from: Partial Digital Amputation (Onychectomy or Declawing) of the Domestic Felid | Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (canadianveterinarians.net). Last accessed February 5, 2022.
- Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Capture of Wild Animals for the Pet Trade Position Statement 2018. Available from: Capture of Wild Animals for the Pet Trade | Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (canadianveterinarians.net). Last accessed February 5, 2022.
(Revised January 2022)