Here’s Why Pet Otters Are a Terrible Idea

These days, people love to turn their pets into social media stars — cats, dogs and even otters. Videos of pet otters have gone viral. And after watching their adorable behavior, it’s hard to resist the urge to buy your own cuddly companion. They chirp. They jump around. They swim in bathtubs.

But despite the social media hype, otters make poor pets.

There are multiple species of otters, but the Asian small-clawed otter and the smooth-coated otter are the most common in the pet trade. Both species have the iconic slicked-back brown fur, tiny arms and legs and innocent face that make them appealing as pets. The two species are native to Southeast Asia, where they can be found living in wetlands.

Asian small-clawed otter

Credit: ViktorCap/Getty Images

Otters are increasingly being snatched from the wild to live in captivity. Young otters are often ripped away from their mother, who is then killed to prevent her from protecting her young, according to the International Otter Survival Fund. In fact, a study of Facebook posts advertising otters for sale found over half of the otters were newborn pups.

Although there have been claims of otters being bred in captivity, conservationists warn there is insufficient evidence that this is occurring.

Once smuggled from the wild, otters risk death while being transported in the illegal pet trade, which is notorious for inhumane handling and care practices. If they survive, they are destined for a life far removed from their natural habitat.

Demand in the pet trade has surged in recent years. People want their very own cute and playful companion they’ve seen in those viral videos. But without doing the proper research on an otter’s needs and behavior, they may quickly grow frustrated with their pet — not to mention the animal will suffer.

Dwarf otter babies in person's hands

Credit: belizar73/Getty Images

Asian small-clawed otters are highly social and intelligent animals. They normally live in social groups of 15 to 20 otters, according to the National Zoo. But as pets, they likely live in isolation. The species is known for being vocal and has 12 separate vocalizations used to communicate with its conspecifics.

Otters also communicate through emitting scents, feces and urine. Described by the National Zoo as an “intensely musky smell,” this behavior is not exactly conducive to life in someone’s home.

In online videos, otters often bounce with exorbitant energy. There is even a video of an otter shooting basketballs into a hoop. But this high energy level can become overwhelming in captivity. Otters may not receive necessary stimuli, including socialization with other otters and proper swimming areas.

Otters are known to pluck their own fur, display avoidance behaviors and fight others when they are distressed. And their sharp teeth and strong jaws can be used against their owner if they feel threatened.

If an owner decides they no longer want the otter as the pet, they are left with few options. Otters are illegal to own as pets in many areas, and it is unclear how many rescues exist that are able to care for unwanted pet otters. And because many of these otters have spent the majority of their lives in captivity, they are unlikely to survive back in the wild.

Otter eating Clam Lunch by a Stream

Credit: EMPPhotography/Getty Images

Not only is the pet trade jeopardizing the welfare of individual otters, but it’s also hurting the conservation of the species. Both the Asian small-clawed otter and the smooth-coated otter are classified as vulnerable to extinction, and the pet trade is the most pressing threat to the survival of otters in Southeast Asia.

Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, has witnessed the growth of the illegal otter trade firsthand, which he says has gotten “out of control.”

“We have been contacted on a weekly basis by people asking us to treat their ‘pet otters’ and in some cases to give refuge to unwanted pet otters,” Wiek says in a blog post. “The otters are openly sold on Instagram and Facebook varying in price from just over 50 dollars up to 300 dollars each, some of these illegal wildlife traders (because that is what in fact they are) even present pictures of newborn otter babies, to give people the impression they are bred legally in captivity, actually an illegal act anyhow.”

As their populations continue to decline, it is vital that otters are preserved in the wild instead of exploited for the pet trade. Despite the perception on social media, pet otters are far from cute. The cutest online videos of otters are ones showcasing the animals living peacefully in their natural environment.

Main image credit: scooperdigital/Getty Images

121 comments

Jennifer H
Jennifer H3 days ago

Honestly, I never would have thought of them being considered a "pet" animal. Why do people keep making pets out of animals that are not acceptable.

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Jacqueline GLYDE

Leave them in the wild,where they belong

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Hui S
Hui S4 days ago

thank you for sharing. just because it appears visually appealing to us, doesn't give us the right to domesticate it. wildlife should remain exactly that -- wild.

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Janet B
Janet B4 days ago

Thanks

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Toni W
Toni W4 days ago

tyfs

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Toni W
Toni W4 days ago

tyfs

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Ingrid A
Ingrid A4 days ago

Thank you

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joan silaco
joan silaco4 days ago

tufs

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Leopold Marek
Leopold Marek4 days ago

Tyfs

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Leopold Marek
Leopold Marek4 days ago

Tyfs

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