From Aardvark to Zebra: Favorite Pets Around the World

National Pet Day was April 11th, which inspired me to seek out an answer to one of life’s most burning questions: What are some of the most popular pets on the planet? So sit back, have a read and hone your companion animal I.Q.

Though you’re most likely to find cats, fish, dogs, birds and livestock (in that order), in the hearts of U.S. owners, once you cross an ocean all bets are off. In Arab countries, for example, dogs are actually considered unclean. It isn’t uncommon for people to ritually cleanse themselves after coming in contact with a canine.

Pet popularity definitely varies a lot by culture. In Japan, for example, veggie-eating bunnies get top billing over domesticated carnivores like cats and dogs, since bunnies’ diets tend to be more like that of their owners. Birds and crickets are also a popular choice in this heart-healthy country.

In China, on the other hand, tradition often plays a role in pet selection. Goldfish, prized for ages, are thought to bring luck and good fortune to their owners. This fish frenzy has resulted in the formation of dozens of special goldfish breeds, yielding a whole host of unique (and sometimes bizarre looking) physical traits such as protruding eyes and interesting fin shapes.

In contrast, the current pet of choice in the Middle East is the pigeon. These fine, feathered friends are typically kept indoors and considered status symbols. They can be housed in compact spaces, making them well suited in cities like Dubai and Kuwait where people’s homes are often quite small. Pigeon owners even have bird viewing parties where they parade their finest specimens in front of other pigeon aficionados for comparing, critiquing and, ultimately, bragging rights.

Interestingly, some cultures don’t think of animals as “pets” at all. In Mongolia, the concept of keeping animals for companionship is practically unheard of. The majority of rural families keep dogs, but these animals are considered “working” animals only.

Similarly, in many parts of Africa having a pet is not considered traditional. (If a person gets the urge, though, it’s perfectly legal to keep a hyena or a baboon in many African countries.)

In Northern Canada, the Inuit people are known to take in bear cubs, foxes and even baby seals as pets.

And while the Australian “Top 5” pet list is quite similar to that of the U.S., this exotic locale also boasts some unusual pet options, including the wallaby. These kangaroo cousins can live 15-20 years and are typically playful and affectionate.

And in the “pet you’ve probably never even heard of” category…

Next time you head down to South America, keep your eyes open for a capybara. This unusually large rodent looks like a cross between a guinea pig and a hippopotamus. Its popularity is exploding thanks to its interesting appearance and docile nature. Americans are catching on to the trend, too–especially people who are into exotic pets.

It’s important to note that, although exotic pets are kept around the world for many reasons, the capture and harboring of non-domesticated animals is generally a bad idea. Due to their unpredictable nature, wild animals typically need to be housed in small enclosures. They don’t receive the animal-to-animal socialization necessary for good mental health. And, often times, wild animals can carry diseases that are harmful to humans. So, although you can easily buy a monkey on the side of the road in Nicaragua, that doesn’t mean it’s humane (or legal) to bring it home in your carry on. But, fortunately, there’s no law against capturing interesting animals with your camera! Got an interesting animal photo from your travels? Share it with us on Facebook.