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The 25 worst mammals to keep as pets

Dogs and cats are being replaced by exotic animals. But you don’t want these ones in your house.

Brian Resnick

Dogs and cats have been bred for centuries to be our companions; that’s why they make great pets. But more and more people around the world are instead choosing creatures like chinchillas, dingoes, and foxes as pets — while knowing very little about them.

Trouble is, some of these exotic animals don’t live well with us. Chimps, for example, are cute as babies, but then grow into extremely strong — sometimes aggressive — adults. Other exotics are finicky eaters and need lots of space to roam and play. Sadly, exotic animal ownership often ends with abandonment when humans can’t (or don’t know how to) care for the creatures anymore.

In May, a group of researchers in the Netherlands published a systematic ranking of animals’ suitability as pets, to aid public understanding and improve animal welfare.

The researchers came up with a list of 90 mammals — combining data from an internet survey in the Netherlands, as well as information on animal confiscations from homes and a few other public data sources (also included: animals that appear at petting zoos).

For fun, I scrolled to the bottom of the list — to the least desirable pets. The research was done in the Netherlands, but the exotic animal trade is increasingly global. So no matter where you live, you’ll want to avoid these 25 mammals that make terrible pets.

25) American black bear

Valerie / Flickr

First off, know that these rankings are based on subjective judgments from experts. The exact order isn’t so important; it’s more so that all of these animals fall on the “probably not great as pets” side of the spectrum.

The Dutch research team had a series of experts in ecology, animal welfare, and veterinary science rank the animals in terms of suitability for living in a human home. The resulting paper, recently published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, has some fun surprises: Apparently wallabies, silva deer, and llamas make pretty decent pets. But there are far more that don’t.

Bears of any kind are a great example of an animal that’s probably not a great pet. You might laugh, but people have kept bears — in this country and abroad (with deadly consequences).

24) American bison

Bison eat around 24 pounds of grass a day. Do you have 24 pounds of grass? No, you don’t. Don’t get a pet bison. (Look at these pictures of a bison living in a home in Dallas. It barely fits.)

23) Arctic fox

Kevan Dee /Flickr

Damn, these are adorable. But as Popular Science explains, when it comes to keeping foxes as pets, it’s important to know these animals may be tamed, but they are not domesticated. Tamed animals have been trained to live with humans. Domesticated animals have been bred, for centuries perhaps, to live with humans. Tamed animals are always going to be more dangerous.

22) Leopard cat

Mike Prince /Flickr

Leopard cats are regal as all get-out. But know these cats would rather hunt rodents in the wild than eat than eat store-bought cat food.

21) Dingo

Jim Woulfe / Flickr

Lest you forget.

20) Thirteen-lined ground squirrel

Mnmazur, Public Domain

A commenter on the blog Squirrel Awareness writes this story of trying to raise a 13-lined squirrel as a pet:

I've noticed she grunts at me when approaching her cage. And for the past week when transferring her from indoor to outdoor cage, she climbs on my shoulder and tries to pull out my hair. And when I try to discourage her, she scratches. I'm beginning to fear her.

19) Plains zebra

Yathin / Flickr

People the world over love zebras. But often owning them is illegal. According to Slate, “if you can't wait to buy a zebra, move to West Virginia or Wisconsin. These states have few restrictions on exotic-pet ownership, and you don't need permission from the local governments to start a zebra farm.”

18) Crab-eating raccoon

Brian Gratwicke / Flickr

The clue should be in this creature’s name. This pet requires other pets. Where are you going to get the crabs, lobsters, and turtle eggs that this creature likes to eat? They’re also nocturnal.

17) Black-eared opossum

PiccoloNamek at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

This picture says it all.

16) South American coati

Vassil, Public Domain

According to exoticpets.about.com: “Children should not be allowed to play with coati. Coati can bite, especially if they don't want you to do something, making unsuspecting children an obvious target. To sum this all up, coati are not good pets for most people.”

15) Egyptian fruit bat

Colin Frankland / Flickr

If you have a pet bat, I will never come over to your house. Never. Ever.

Also, these animals deserve to fly free in the wild. The Bat World Sanctuary, a nonprofit devoted to rescuing bats, writes:

Having a pet bat might make you feel cool, but people who know better (and most of them do) feel that it is a horrible cruelty and they cringe when they see people keeping a bat as a pet. Aside from that, the act of keeping a bat as a pet will cause it to experience terror, inappropriate and damaging nutrition and terrible loneliness and boredom.

14) Long-tailed chinchilla

Trurl66

Chinchillas are amazingly soft and somewhat adorable. And they’re some of the more popular pets on this list. But they’re also highly social animals that need a lot of stimulation and attention. Life in a solitary cage doesn’t suit them.

And then there’s this: Chinchillas are not cuddlers,” the consumer interest website Knoji states. “Though a well socialized chinchilla will sit on it's owners lap for a few minutes, these animals are very inquisitive by nature and will not be content to just sit as they would much rather explore the world around them.”

13) Utah prairie dog

James Marvin Phelps / Flickr

Prairie dogs aren’t dogs. They’re rodents.

This species of prairie dog is also listed as threatened per the Endangered Species Act. Don’t remove these adorable animals from the wild.

12) Common degu

Markus/ CC BY-SA 2.0

If you never heard of an animal species before (this one is new to me), you probably shouldn’t keep it as a pet.

11) Kinkajou

Marco Zanferrari / Flickr

Ditto.

Kinkajous are native to the rainforests of Central and South America. And though they have endearing faces, know they can pack a bite. In 2011 the Associated Press reported on a Tennessee girl going to the hospital with a pet kinkajou bite:

By the next morning, the 16-year-old was battling a fever of 102, suffering severe headaches and urinating blood. Her mother rushed her to Children's Hospital at Erlanger.

That's when Thurmond told her mother and doctors about the kinkajou bite. To which everyone replied, "Kinka-what?"

"I had never heard of the animal, and neither had the doctors," said Thurmond's mother, Miika Montgomery. "I was Googling it, they were Googling it. ... If it had been a dog or a cat or a raccoon they would have known exactly what to do, but they had never seen anything like this."

10) Raccoon

Will Scullin / Flickr

The website healthypets.com lists 10 reasons not to keep raccoons as pets. Here’s number 10:

Raccoons act out when they’re unhappy and hormonal. Their natural instinct is to bite when they’re angry, frustrated, or stressed. However, raccoon guardians also tell stories of other ways in which their little guys or gals deliver payback, including “repotting” house plants, removing buttons from clothing someone was silly enough to leave around, moving belongings to other locations and sometimes peeing on them for good measure, flipping over water bowls, dumping the contents of bookcases, and stripping the bed sheets.

9) Mexican prairie dog

By Cristinagil at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

8) Eurasian elk

By Ryan

Aka moose. I don’t care how big your backyard is, you don’t have room for moose.

7) Red fox

By Peter Trimming - Fox Study 6Uploaded by Mariomassone, CC BY 2.0

“Tamed red foxes are incredibly destructive to property, often have a strong musk odor, and can be dangerous to strangers or other pets,” Popular Science reports.

6) Capybara

These giant rodents are frightening. Truly frightening. But looks aside, according to capybarafacts.com:

capybaras live in groups, thus adopting one animal only will not be good.

You would need to adopt at least two capybaras, but preferably more.

Secondly, consider their size. They are huge. They are more than twice the size of a jackrabbit, they are the biggest rodents. Keeping at least two big rodents in good condition may be challenging and costly in itself, but besides that, they have special needs as well.

5) White-tailed prairie dog

By Devonpike at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain

4) Brown bear

Jordi Payà / Flickr

Brown bears — which include the fearsome North American grizzly — are huge and ferocious.

(On a clear morning in April 1805, Meriwether Lewis encountered his first North American grizzly bear in Montana. He shot at the animal when it approached him menacingly. It fought back, and continued to pursue him despite its wounds. "It was a most tremendous looking animal, and extremely hard to kill," Lewis recalled.)

3) Fennec fox

hehaden / Flickr

This thing is ridiculously adorable. Will have trouble remembering fennec foxes don’t make suitable pets.

2) Sugar glider

OMP Production / Flickr

They’re nocturnal, with sharp claws and sharp teeth, and they pee on everything. Why do you want one?

1) Black-tailed prairie dog

There are four prairie dog species on this list. Take that as a hint. Prairie dogs are not suitable pets. Avoid.