The RSPCA says its received 162,000 calls about dogs last year,135,000 calls about cats and 15,000 calls about exotic animals.
Releasing its annual statistics, the pet charity said that across England and Wales in 2018, the number of calls received by its 24-hour cruelty hotline increased by 13% (from 2017) to 1,175,193 calls.
A spokesman said: “We received around 15,790 in 2018 about exotics alone – that’s more than 40 a day – or more than one per hour.”
But the Pet Industry Federation said that it was important to clarify the definition of an ‘exotic pet’ as this could ‘impact the true picture’.
A spokesman said: “The statistics from the RSPCA make interesting reading, but before looking at the figures it’s important to ask what exactly is an exotic pet, as the way this is defined determines the types of animals that are included within these findings, impacting the true picture.
“As with any pet, potential owners need to ensure that it fits their lifestyle and that they are able and willing to commit to its care throughout its lifetime.”
EDUCATION AND KNOWLEDGE
The PIF spokesman added: “Many so-called ‘exotic’ pets have long lifespans and retailers need to ensure that new owners are aware of this, as well as ensuring they are aware of its husbandry needs.
“If the first owner passes the pet on to a second owner, the likelihood of any husbandry knowledge being passed on is very low, resulting in a potentially poor welfare outcome for the pet for the remainder of its life.
“The Pet Industry Federation believes, therefore, that education is key, ensuring that new owners are fully aware of the commitment involved with looking after such incredible animals, to avoid the risk of long-lived animals being passed down a chain with an ever-declining knowledge base.”
The RSPCA spokesman said: “We believe the reason behind some of the suffering of these exotics pets is owners who don’t research the animal’s needs using expert sources and don’t understand the type and amount of care that a specific animal needs.
“This results in the animal escaping, being abandoned or neglected. Scientifically-based expert care information for exotic animals can be hard to find and an inexperienced owner may not be able to tell the difference between quality and inaccurate information.”
Stephanie Jayson, an RSPCA senior scientific officer in exotics and qualified exotics vet, said: “Although their numbers are small compared to more common pets, we have real concerns about the welfare of exotic animals kept as pets.
“Exotic pets are completely reliant on their owners to meet their needs including requiring the correct levels of heat, light and humidity, plus an appropriate diet. Some species require a licence or paperwork to be legally kept or sold. Many of the animals we’re called to help are found stray outside, where they can very quickly suffer in the cold.
“These animals are commonly found for sale in pet shops and are advertised online. In the past, animals have often been handed over to buyers with little or no information about how to care for them properly, although new regulations in England should improve this.
“It’s essential that people research what is required in caring for their pet – including food, equipment, environment and vet care – before taking one on. We would also urge owners to ask for help if they’re struggling to meet their pet’s needs.
“We believe that people may buy exotic pets with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep. Sometimes animals are neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home. This is why we would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal’s needs and whether they’re the right pet for them.”
RSPCA officers rescued more than 4,000 exotic animals in 2018. These included more than 500 snakes, more than 300 turtles, 145 bearded dragons, five raccoon dogs, four marmosets and one wallaby.
Stephanie added: “It’s heart-breaking to see animals found injured or suffering as stray or abandoned animals outside in inappropriate temperatures.
“Some of the animals we see, like monkeys and raccoon dogs, have no place in the home and we would urge people not to take them on as pets. Others are still a long-term commitment and need specialist care and equipment so we urge anyone considering taking an exotic pet on to fully research their needs using expert sources. We would also urge people to consider rescuing rather than buying.”
The RSPCA investigated 130,767 complaints of cruelty involving all animals and received:
> 162,539 calls about dogs
> 135,538 calls about cats
> 30,216 calls about horses
> 7,162 calls about rabbits.