BSAVA Congress 2024 – What are the issues surrounding exotic pet ownership?

11 March 2024

The keeping of exotic pets in the UK isn’t a new phenomenon, but ownership of exotic species such as snakes, lizards, and bearded dragons has risen dramatically since the 2000’s1. It’s not to say that these pets cannot be kept well in captivity, but more so that experience and the education of keepers will benefit and support the welfare of these exotic pets.

As soon as you remove an animal from the wild, or even breed it within captivity, it can be difficult to replicate it’s dietary, social, and environmental needs. This means that at some levels, there is a compromise in care. There’s often not much reliable information for owners, resulting in care that is not as good as it could, or should be.

BSAVA Congress 2024 will see a panel discussion on the ethics of keeping exotic pets in the UK. We asked two of our speakers, Dr Tariq Abou-Zahr, Lead in exotics at Valley Exotics, and Dr Molly Varga Smith, Head of Referral Exotics at a large multidisciplinary hospital in Merseyside, about some of the issues that they will discuss.

Dr Abou-Zahr said, “In my experience, overwhelmingly it’s caused by owners not doing enough research, sellers not vetting owners well enough prior to sale, owners not having the necessary resources to keep the animal, including time, space, or money.”

Dr Varga Smith suggested that they evaluate the quality of life and assess these with respect to the ‘Five Freedoms’. The ‘Five Freedoms’ were the first widely accepted evidence-based framework to capture the key aspects of animal welfare in one model2. Dr Varga said, “In broad terms, we look at an environment and diet that facilitates the things that owners need to provide for their pets.”

One of the discussion points from their panel will be the contribution of pet ownership to global attempts at species preservation. Dr Abou-Zahr personally disagrees with the statement that it doesn’t help. He continued, “Pet ownership is an extremely educational past time and especially when considering species which are kept in an enclosure, thought needs to be given as to where that species comes from in the wild and how it lives, to be able to recreate that in captivity.

“When researching a species, you often find out about some of the main threats it faces in the wild, or the environment it comes from. Education about the natural world is often a fantastic way to inspire people to want to protect the planet and contribute to conservation.”

To conclude, more education of vets, animal industry personnel and owners on animal welfare and how to perform animal welfare assessments is going to very important as time advances. The panel discussion at BSAVA Congress will offer various viewpoints and stimulate discussion surrounding this.

‘Ethics of Keeping Exotic Pets in the UK’ takes place on 22nd March, 5pm in Exchange 8-10 at BSAVA Congress 2024. Register today: