Top Alternative or Exotic Pets


The trend of owning alternative or so-called exotic pets began prior to the pandemic but exploded in 2020. Some pet stores even sold out of Guinea pigs or leopard geckoes.

Pet sitting platform TrustedHousesitters analyzed pet ownership data from 2018 to 2023 to understand this surge in unique pet ownership.  The TrustedHousesitters Weird & Wonderful Pet Study reveals the most popular pets behind cats and dogs, the most common unique pets in every state, the specific species that surged in popularity:

Weird & Wonderful Pets with the Highest Popularity Growth Since 2018

  1. Box Turtle (+1600%)
  2. Crested Gecko (+1000%)
  3. Ball Python (+960%)
  4. Rat (+800%)
  5. Budgerigar Parakeet (+750%)
  6. Gerbil (+750%)
  7. Zebra Finch (+600%)
  8. Leopard Gecko (+450%)
  9. Hamster (+414%)
  10. Rabbit (+331%)
  11. Corn Snake (+280%)
  12. Chinchilla (+225%)
  13. Veiled Chameleon (+250%)
  14. Bearded Dragon (+197%)
  15. Cockatiel (+150%)

After cats and dogs, these are the 20 most popular pets to own in the U.S. (according to this survey):

1. Rabbit11. Red Ear Slider Turtle
2. American Quarter Horse12. Crested Gecko
3. Leopard Gecko13. Tennessee Walking Horse
4. Bearded Dragon14. Rat
5. Cockatiel15. Miniature Horse
6. Ball Python16. Chinchilla
7. Hamster17. Corn Snake
8. American Paint Horse18. African Grey Hornbill
9. Thoroughbred Horse19. Missouri Fox Trotter
10. Arabian Horse20. Appaloosa Horse


The Most Popular Unique Pet in Every State:

AlaskaLeopard Gecko
ArizonaArabian horse
ArkansasBall Python
ColoradoAmerican Quarter Horse
IdahoAmerican Quarter Horse
IllinoisLeopard Gecko
IowaAmerican Quarter Horse
KansasAmerican Quarter Horse
LouisianaCrested Gecko
MinnesotaLeopard Gecko
MississippiAmerican Quarter Horse
MissouriAmerican Quarter Horse
MontanaAmerican Quarter Horse
NebraskaAmerican Quarter Horse
New HampshireRabbit
New JerseyRabbit
New MexicoAmerican Quarter Horse
New YorkRabbit
North CarolinaRabbit
North DakotaRabbit
Rhode IslandRabbit
South CarolinaMiniature horse
South DakotaAmerican Quarter Horse
TennesseeTennessee Walking Horse
VermontBall Python
VirginiaArabian horse
West VirginiaBearded Dragon
WisconsinAmerican Paint Horse
WyomingCorn snake

Additional Findings from the Survey:

o   Hawaii has more pet ducks than any other state.

o   Oregon, California, and Pennsylvania have the most pet rats. Oregon had the largest growth in pet rat ownership from 2018-2023 than any other state.

o   American quarter horses are the most popular pet horse; Cockatiels are the most popular pet bird; Leopard geckos are the most popular pet reptile; Rabbits are the most popular pet rodent according to this website (In truth rabbits are NOT rodents; rabbits are lagomorphs).

o   The most popular type of pet snake breed is the ball python (ball pythons are not a breed but instead a species), and the most popular pet turtle breed is the red-eared slider turtle (red-eared slider turtles are, in fact, not a breed but instead a species).  

o   Since 2018, the number of reptiles owned as a pet increased by 115 percent; The number of rodents owned as a pet increased by 132 percent; The number of birds owned as a pet increased by 28 percent; The number of horses owned as a pet increased by 18 percent.

What this survey doesn’t address is that due greatly to economic issues, so many horses are also being relinquished. Also, some of these exotic pets purchased over the pandemic have been relinquished. For example, for a time, Guinea pigs were being given up to shelters in large numbers (as were many other small pets), and even dumped in parks where they cannot survive.