20 Books About Weird Pets That Go Way Beyond Dogs, Cats, Or Horses

Originally Published: 
William Morrow

Animal lovers know all about that all-too-intense desire to own an animal that isn't really meant to be a pet. If you're still bummed about not getting to live your childhood dream of owning a pet octopus, you can live vicariously through these books with unique pets.

I don't think literary pets get enough credit. Aside from the mystery-solving cats and talking horses of the book world, fictional characters' scaly, furry, and feathered friends don't get a lot of love. Everyone knows who Lassie is, but do you remember Pilot from Jane Eyre, or Cat from Breakfast at Tiffany's?

Harder to both find and forget are the unusual pets. Beyond dogs, cats, horses, and your average finch lies a whole wonderful world of exotic animal companions. Although these creatures do not make good pets in the main, there's no reason not to enjoy some fun and funny tales about animal ownership involving all kinds of different critters.

For the list below, I've picked out 20 novels and memoirs with a common theme — they all feature unique pets you'd be hard pressed to find in other books.

'Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers' by Sara Ackerman

Set in World War II-era Hawaii, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers centers on Violet, a newly single mother who opens a small business to support herself and her daughter after her husband mysteriously disappears. Violet sells pies to the marines who are training on the island, and who keep a pet lion cub named Roscoe as a mascot, but soon she and her friends find themselves accused of spying on the military's operations.

Click here to buy.

'H Is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald

In the wake of her father's death, Helen Macdonald seized upon a childhood dream as a means of fighting grief: She purchased an English goshawk named Mabel, and began training her in the ancient art of falconry. Weaving together tales from Macdonald's life with Mabel and stories from The Once and Future King author T.H. White's own failed attempt to master the bird of prey, H Is for Hawk is a gripping and unique story you won't find elsewhere.

Click here to buy.

'The Raven Boys' by Maggie Stiefvater

The first installment of Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle, The Raven Boys centers on Blue, who spies the spirit of a boy whose days are numbered, and learns that he's either her true love, or he's going to die by her hand. As Blue grows close to the spirit's living boy, Gansey, she meets his small circle of friends, including the brooding Ronan and his pet raven, Chainsaw.

Click here to buy.

'Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF' by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, Natacha Bustos, and Tamra Bonvillain

An attempt to circumvent the challenges posed by a latent gene goes horribly right in this comics series by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, Natacha Bustos, and Tamra Bonvillain. When supergenius preteen Lunella's use of alien technology yanks a T. rex through time and into the present, the girl and her new pet team up to become Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.

Click here to buy.

'Paradise' by Elena Castedo

A satirical classic that centers on refugees of Franco's Spain, Paradise follows nine-year-old Solita and her family to La Topaz, a sprawling hacienda in Latin America. The "paradise" her mother promised her turns out to be a bust, as La Topaz is filled with awful adults and their equally awful children. The only bright spot in this dim new world is the estate's menagerie, which houses a tamed guanaco and a goat named Jali.

Click here to buy.

'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' by Karen Joy Fowler

A young woman confronts the dirty secrets of her family's past in this novel from The Jane Austen Book Club author Karen Joy Fowler. While five-year-old Rosemary was spending time with her grandparents, her family moved, and her sister disappeared. Now a college student, Rosemary wants to know what really happened to Fern, the chimpanzee who was once her sister.

Click here to buy.

'The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood' by Sy Montgomery

A sick piglet seizes on his chance to survive and becomes the talk of the town in this poignant memoir. Given almost no chance in his early days, Christopher Hogwood grew big and bright under Sy Montgomery's care, eventually becoming a local celebrity and unwitting presidential candidate. Read all about Christopher in The Good Good Pig.

Click here to buy.

'Saga, Vol. 1' by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Hailing from the two sides of an epic space war, an interracial couple fights to survive and raise their daughter in this comics series. They're pursued by a bounty hunter known as The Will, whose sole companion is a large, hairless, lie-detecting feline known as Lying Cat.

Click here to buy.

'Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator' by Homer Hickam, Jr.

From the author of Rocket Boys comes this big-hearted story about his parents and their pet alligator. When Elsie Lavender marries Homer Hickam, Sr., she receives a baby alligator, Albert, as a wedding present from a famous ex-lover. The bathtub-raised pet reminds her of her days in far-off Orlando, but when he bites her new husband, Elsie decides that the only thing to do is drive Albert back to sunny Florida.

Click here to buy.

'Romancing the Duke' by Tessa Dare

Izzy Goodnight's family doesn't have a lot of money, but that never mattered in fairy tales. Now 26 years old, unwed, and becoming more than a bit jaded, Izzy sets off with her pet ermine to claim an unexpected inheritance: Gostley Castle.

Click here to buy.

'Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl' by Stacey O'Brien

When she saved an injured, four-day-old barn owl in 1985, Stacey O'Brien had no idea that the bird she named Wesley would stick with her for nearly 20 years — and remain loyal enough to return the favor. Wesley the Owl is the poignant story of a researcher, her owl, and the 28,000 mice he ate along the way.

Click here to buy.

'Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging' by Louise Rennison

There's a lot to love in this irreverent YA classic, but perhaps more memorable than Georgia Nicholson's diary of teen angst is her family's pet cat, Angus, who definitely descended from Scottish wildcats and is the size of a small Labrador.

Click here to buy.

'That Quail, Robert' by Margaret A. Stanger

A memoir in the vein of Born Free, Margaret A. Stanger's That Quail, Robert tells the story of the eponymous bird, hatched from an abandoned egg on a Cape Code property, who turned out to lay an egg of her own. The affectionate quail who preferred people to birds, Robert has captured the hearts of readers for generations.

Click here to buy.

'Southern Spirits' by Angie Fox

When trapping a ghost on her property awakens new, supernatural abilities for Verity Long, she changes career fields to become a paranormal detective. Aiding the former graphic designer in her new line of work are a pet skunk named Lucy and the ghost of a mobster called Frankie the German.

Click here to buy.

'The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating' by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

A memoir of illness and recovery, Elisabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating focuses on the author's relationship with a small woodland snail, who became her only company when she was sick in bed for an extended period.

Click here to buy.

'The Portable Veblen' by Elizabeth McKenzie

Have you ever wanted to take a road trip with a squirrel? That's exactly what Veblen does when she begins to have second thoughts about her impending marriage to the newly celebritized Paul. A funny and light-hearted read that manages to plumb the depths of humanity's relationship to love, The Portable Veblen is a must-read.

Click here to buy.

'I Can Explain Everything: Confessions of a Pet Capybara' by Dobby the Capybara, Stacy Winnick, and Sonya Reasor

The 300-page confessional of a 100-pound pet capybara named Dobby, I Can Explain Everything is a funny and fascinating look into the world of exotic pet ownership, written by the owner.

Click here to buy.

'The Theory of Everything' by J.J. Johnson

A year after her best friend's untimely death, Sarah continues to have trouble picking up the pieces of her life. But a job working at a Christmas-tree farm, owned by an eccentric fellow who keeps a pet possum, might provide Sarah with the exact lesson she needs to move past her grief.

Click here to buy.

'Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury' by Sigrid Nunez

The Friend author and winner of the National Book Award Sigrid Nunez resurrects Virginia and Leonard Woolf's pet monkey, Mitz, in this shining work of biographic fiction. Rescued while sick in 1934, Mitz the marmoset became an integral part of the Woolfs' lives, and the lives of their illustrious, literary friends.

Click here to buy.

'The Spring Duchess' by Jillian Eaton

Caught up in a marriage neither of them wanted, Eleanor Ward and her husband Derek part ways when he runs away. With someone threatening to expose their union as a false front, however, Derek must court his own wife if everything is to be OK. But how is he supposed to love a woman who keeps a pet hedgehog?

Click here to buy.

This article was originally published on