How long do these exotic pets live?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

exotic pet life span

Story at-a-glance -

  • Ferrets may live from five to 10 years — a large range that may be affected by their age at the time of being spayed or neutered
  • Guinea pigs generally live for four to eight years, although the oldest known guinea pig lived to be nearly 15
  • Chinchillas are generally said to live for up to 20 years in captivity, but the oldest known chinchilla lived to be 29 years and 229 days
  • Parrots are the longest-lived order of birds, living 75 years or more
  • Rabbits, when well cared for, may live eight to 12 years; hamsters live an average of two to three years
  • Reptiles may live anywhere from two years to over 50 years, depending on the species
  • No matter what type of pet, remember that life expectancies are only a general guideline; the longevity of an individual pet will vary based on its diet, physical activity, stress levels, genetics and other factors

Choosing to add a pet to your family is a decision to carefully consider, and part of that involves knowing the general life expectancy of the animal you’re adopting. While some pets may live two years, others live two decades — or more. No matter what type of pet, remember that life expectancies are only a general guideline.

The longevity of an individual pet will vary based on its diet, physical activity, stress levels, genetics and other factors, but the life expectancies below can help you determine how long of a commitment you’re making.

What is the lifespan of these exotic pets?

1. Ferrets — Ferrets may live from five to 10 years — a large range that’s affected by where you acquire your ferrets. Ferrets purchased from a pet store are mass-produced with disregard to genetics, which I do not recommend, may be spayed or neutered around 5 weeks of age, which doesn’t give time for proper hormone development, which could ultimately affect lifespan.1

In fact, most ferrets who undergo early spaying or neutering develop endocrine issues, such as Cushing’s disease (adrenal disease) or pancreatic disease due to sex hormone imbalances. Most pet shop ferrets come from “ferret mills,” which are the equivalent of puppy mills, so look to adopt instead. There are many ferrets at rescue organizations in need of permanent, loving homes.

Ferrets are inquisitive, active creatures, so be sure to provide yours with a multiple-level house with plenty of room to run, hide and explore. Their ancestral diet would include mice and other small rodents, so a balanced, raw food diet mimicking their evolutionary diet is optimal. Consult with your integrative exotic vet about the best species-appropriate diet for your ferret.

2. Guinea Pigs — Guinea pigs may live for four to eight years, although the Guinness Book of World Records reports that the world’s oldest known guinea pig lived to be 14 years and 10.5 months old.2 You can support a long healthy life in your guinea pig by adding a variety of natural grasses to their diet along with pellets as a treat. Guinea pigs also require supplemental nutrients (such as vitamin C) that must be provided along with plenty of environmental enrichment.

3. Chinchillas — Chinchillas are generally said to live for up to 20 years in captivity, but the oldest known chinchilla lived to be 29 years and 229 days.3 These long-lived rodents should have free access to high-quality grass hay and fresh greens or grass, along with a limited amount of chinchilla pellets. You’ll also need to provide your chinchilla with chinchilla dust for “bathing,” which helps to keep their fur healthy and non-greasy.4

4. Parrots — Parrots are the longest-lived order of birds, living 75 years or more if fed and cared for appropriately. As such, many of these pets may outlive their owners and there are now thousands of parrots in desperate need of loving, committed homes. Never buy wild-caught parrots and avoid buying captive-bred birds from pet stores. Instead, look for one to adopt and approach the decision with the resolve to improve the bird's life — not get one for your own entertainment.

Parrots need a species-appropriate fresh food diet (check out Dr. Crean’s great online group), natural lighting and plenty of exercise.

These highly intelligent animals are very high maintenance and require a lifetime commitment to assure they reach their maximal lifespan. I strongly recommend every new bird owner check out The Animal Behavior Center’s online training program for parrot owners.

5. Rabbits — Rabbits, when well cared for, may live eight to 12 years, or more. The natural diet of rabbits is a variety of grasses, forbs, herbs and leaves; a hay-only diet is recommended over a diet containing commercial fruit and most commercial vegetables (green leafy veggies are fine), fruit and seed mixes, grain mixes and grain-based pelleted feeds or bread, and is also preferable to forage-based pelleted feeds.

Your rabbit will also need lots of time out of her habitat to run, jump and explore her surroundings. While pet bunnies do best living indoors, be sure to give her safe access to direct outdoor sunlight on a daily basis, in order to prevent vitamin D deficiency. If you can’t provide access to natural sunlight, ask your veterinarian to recommend a full-spectrum light appropriate for your rabbit's habitat.

6. Hamsters — Hamsters live an average of two to three years. The most common pet hamster is the Syrian hamster, also known as the teddy bear hamster or golden hamster. These solitary animals should be housed alone and will need a wheel for running.

They also enjoy exploring tunnels (cardboard toilet paper or paper towel tubes work well) and other fun environmental enrichment options, such as hammocks, ledges and chew toys. Feed your hamster a variety of supplemental treats, such as blueberries, carrots, dark leafy greens, sweet potato and strawberries, to add nutrition and variety to her diet.

Again, most “pocket pets” are mass produced in deplorable conditions for the pet trade. Visit your local humane society to find a hamster that needs a forever home to avoid supporting “factory-farmed” exotic pets.

7. Reptiles — Many people are surprised at how long reptiles live, although their lifespans vary considerably according to type. For example, the average lifespan of the following reptiles (in captivity) is as follows:5

Ball python

15 to 20 years

Boa constrictor

15 to 25 years

Bearded dragon

5 to 10 years

Corn snake

10 to 15 years

Eastern box turtle

25 to 50 years

Green anole

4 to 8 years

Green iguana

5 to 15 years

King snake

10 to 15 years

Leopard gecko

20+ years

Leopard tortoise

50+ years

Old World chameleons

3 to 8 years

Before deciding to add a reptile to your family, be sure you’re willing to commit to caring for it — and expanding its specialized enclosure as necessary — for the long term. Reptiles require specialized lighting, live/fresh food and multiple heat sources. Never buy wild-caught reptiles.

As with most exotic pets, there are many reptiles, rodents, birds and other animals waiting for permanent homes at species-specific rescue organizations, so plan to adopt if you’re thinking of adding one of these creatures to your household.

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