Social Media's Exotic Pet Problem
Viral videos of pet foxes and raccoons make my life harder. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are adorable and I love watching them, but these videos also result in me having to do more paperwork. Allow me to explain:
If you’re on social media, then you’ve seen viral videos of pet foxes and raccoons. They’re adorable–frolicking and performing tricks, making silly noises, cuddling up against their owners. These kinds of videos make viewers yearn for a similar pet, something that will make them feel like a Disney Princess or a member of a Fae court. Unfortunately, these cute videos are not showing the realities of keeping captive wildlife as pets. From bites and scratches to significant property damage, these videos tend to leave out crucial information about owning these animals. This leads to people wanting to surrender their animals pretty shortly after getting them as they realize there is so much more to owning exotic pets than what TikTok videos show. For reference, most pet fox owners keep their pets for less than a year before rehoming them. An adorable viral video is not reality, and people looking to get a difficult exotic pet are rarely prepared for reality.
The issues with exotic pet videos on social media
Allow me to better explain my seemingly bizarre beef with adorable viral pet fox videos on tiktok.
1. Videos on social media that feature pets like foxes and raccoons are often misleading
and give people unrealistic expectations
I don’t ever want someone to look at my videos, mistakenly assume that having a pet raccoon is a walk in the park, and then go “Oh my god! I should get a pet raccoon too!” You don’t. 99% of people should not get a raccoon or a fox or any kind of captive wildlife. I am not against the ownership of these animals, I am just trying to be honest. Animals like foxes and raccoons have unique needs and behaviors that are incompatible with the vast majority of human lives.
2. These animals can and will hurt you and your property
Exotic animals, no matter how cute they appear in videos, retain their wild instincts. There is no such thing as a truly domesticated fox or raccoon. A coyote or bobcat born in captivity and raised as a pet is not suddenly going to become a dog or a housecat. These animals are naturally predisposed to bite, scratch, and engage in destructive behavior. These videos rarely showcase the moments when owners end up on the receiving end of their pet’s wild sides. Potential owners are often oblivious to the fact that pet raccoons, for instance, have a habit of charging their owners when they get in a mood and have sharp teeth that can rip flesh with ease. Red foxes are stinky. Bobcats will pee all over everything you love. Arctic foxes will try and dig a hole to Antarctica. Raccoons will disassemble your stove. Even “easy” captive wildlife like opossums might tear apart your $100 bra. The consequences of having these exotic pets can be disastrous, and lead to injury, expensive repairs, and frustration.
3. These animals are really, REALLY hard to take care of
Properly caring for exotic pets like foxes and raccoons requires extensive knowledge, commitment, and resources. The videos, however, offer a skewed perception of the responsibilities that are involved. Animal nutrition, for instance, is often overlooked in favor of amusing clips. Providing a balanced and appropriate diet for these animals is quite challenging, and most of these content creators aren’t even doing that in the first place. The expensive part of owning something like a pet raccoon, fox, or bobcat is not buying the animal–it is caring for it. Do you have the money to get a place with an extra bedroom for a raccoon? Or to have your pet coyote neutered? Additionally, creating suitable enclosures to ensure the animal’s happiness and safety is an endeavor that demands technical expertise and also requires large financial investment. Neglecting these aspects can lead to severe health problems, unhappy animals, escape, and death.
4. Most owners of captive-bred wildlife are not experts, and many end up spreading false info on social media
Another factor that concerns me is the false information spread by popular accounts that showcase exotic pets. These accounts, which may have millions of followers, wield significant influence over their audience. They have an ethical duty to educate their owners, and the vast majority don’t. Most of these “influencers” are not animal care professionals, they are simply people with pet raccoons, foxes, or other captive-bred wild animals. They do not have the proper knowledge to begin with, and often end up making untrue statements that are quite dangerous to the animal. One disturbing example I see far too often is the promotion of morbid obesity in pet raccoons. The raccoons look like pillow pets and the owners adamantly claim it is a normal, healthy state. This misinformation is detrimental to the animals’ well-being and mislead potential owners who may unknowingly put their pets at risk.
5. A lot of these videos on social media are literally showing wildlife crimes
Beyond the immediate concerns of owners’ safety and animal welfare, there is also the fact that many of these videos are literally portraying criminal activity. While many videos feature animals that were born and raised in captivity and purchased from USDA licensed facilities, a large number do not. If someone purchases a pet raccoon, fox, or any other “wild animal” from a place other than a USDA-licensed facility, they have committed a federal crime. If someone possesses one of these animals that they took from the wild and are not a licensed wildlife rehabber (or live in Arkansas or South Carolina,) they have also committed a crime. There are so many laws that most people are not aware of, but the penalty is worse than a fine for the owner–it’s often death for the animal.
In conclusion, we are full. Most other sanctuaries are full. Sanctuaries for pet foxes and other captive-bred wildlife work to place animals elsewhere when they are full, but it is getting harder considering we are all having the same problem right now. Sometimes we can move animals cross country, sometimes we have connections with state wildlife departments, sometimes we have stacks and stacks of paperwork we can fill out to help you legally get a surrendered animal where it needs to go, but sometimes we are at a loss.
As I said earlier, Exotic Pet Wonderland is not against people having pet raccoons, foxes, bobcats, etc. We simply want people to know what they are getting into before they get the animal. We want owners and their animals to stay together, and that involves understanding the complexities of exotic pet ownership. Viral videos of cute animals are just for fun, not to show someone what is really like to own them as pets. If you truly want something like a raccoon or a fox as a pet, don’t rely on tiktok videos and youtube shorts to show you the truth. Instead, speak to your local exotic pet sanctuary and get the facts.