Maybe you’ve always had a love of vampires from Carmilla and Nosferatu to Dracula – maybe even a certain sparkly Robert Pattinson-looking one. Maybe you’re a huge Batman fan and dream of having a Batcave of your own. Maybe you simply live for the night and would love a pet who shares your same bewitching love of the Witching Hour.
Or, hey – maybe you just can’t say no to a cute little fuzzball with wings.
There are any number of reasons why you might want to keep a bat as a pet. There is no denying that there has been a surge in interest in bats as pets in recent years, as more people take advantage of the wealth of bat care resources online.
Still, it’s worth asking – are bats actually good pets? What does that entail? Is it even legal?
Let’s take a closer look at what actually goes into taking care of bats and why you probably shouldn’t keep them as pets.
The Case for Bats as Pets
The best reason for keeping bats as pets is that you have found a stray and want to give it a good home. We’ll see why that might not be the best choice below, but there is nothing wrong with that basic impulse of empathy. If you see a bat on its own without anyone to care for it, or a bat that seems to be injured, it’s understandable why you might want to “take it under your wing.”
Farmers sometimes try to keep bats as a means of mosquito control. There is a lot of uncertainty and debate about the efficacy of this idea, but it already has much more going for it than simply keeping a bat in a tiny cage which, as we’ll see, is a horrible idea. Instead, bats in these cages are typically kept in large, certified bat towers. Moreover, they are not kept in isolation, but in groups, which is important. Bats aren’t as social as some other mammals, but they are still far happier with some other bats around. They also produce a ton of guano, which possess fertilizing powers that could obviously be very useful for farmers.
Add to that the fact that bats are pollinators and look cute, and it’s easy to see why some might think they could make bat pet ownership work.
The Case Against Bats as Pets
For any nice words about keeping bats as pets, however, not everybody is charmed. There are plenty of people who don’t think bats can make great pets, and they definitely have their fair share of red flags.
For one thing, it’s a bit odd to go for a pet that loves to bite and boasts long sharp fangs. Sure, your bat isn’t actually a vampire, but that doesn’t mean that a bat’s bite can’t leave a nasty scar.
What’s more, bats are noted carriers of disease in the wild. There is some evidence to suggest bats in food markets were an original cause for the deadly SARS virus. Granted, your pet bat shouldn’t have that problem given that you’ll be getting them from a pet shop and not a food market, but from SARS to rabies, bats have a reputation for being carriers of disease.
In addition, bats have a varied diet that can be difficult for pet owners to replicate. For one thing, they eat a lot of different types of fruits. Some of these can be tropical or hard to find depending on the breed of bat, but regardless, buying enough fruit to satiate your bat’s hunger can prove costly. Then there’s the bugs, which once again need to be found in abundance to support your bat. While it isn’t true that bats eat as much as a thousand mosquitos per day, they do still eat lots of insects every day. Unless you live in the wilderness with insects everywhere around you, chances are you cannot count on nature to provide enough for your bat to eat, which means you’ll need to buy them. Add to that the blood some bat species need (hence the vampire association) and the difficulty of providing for bats as pets becomes clear.
Then there is the fact that putting a bat in a barren indoor area can cause them to be quite lonely and bored. Imagine being stuck in a space which has none of the amenities you are used to, perhaps in isolation, with the only variation in your days being what you get to eat and when. That is the kind of existence bats face in the worst pet setups. While bats can live for more than 25 years in the wild, they can sometimes die within a year in these horrible conditions. Any attempt to keep a bat as a pet should be done with far better conditions than those mentioned here, but there are those who believe that bats are best off in animal sanctuaries or in the wild.
In states such as Nevada and Montana, bats are classified among other exotic animals for which you need a permit, and that’s the case with most states. Overall, bats are hard to own legally in the Unite States. Not only do you need a permit, but the transfer of bats is also closely regulated by the CDC and other organizations to prevent the spread of diseases such as SARS.
Then there’s the fact that these creatures of the night aren’t exactly the most, erm, “decorous” of animals when it comes to bodily functions. Do you feel that the one thing missing from your interior décor is nice spattering of bat scat or eau d’urine? No? Then bats might not be for you, because they’re not shy about bodily functions, and they’re certainly “prolific” when it comes to urination, defecation, and the foul odor that comes with them (to say nothing of the sanitation issues, adding to their reputation as spreaders of disease).
Then there’s the fact that bats naturally need a lot of exercise. This is yet another reason why it is extremely unethical to keep them in a cage and not allow them to fly free. Imagine if someone kept you in a tiny cell day after day, year after year. There are ethical questions about doing that to inmates in prison, and even they get more space and are able to stretch their legs and move to new rooms more freely and more often than a bat in a tiny cage. It simply is not ethical to keep bats this way, which means that you’ll need to provide them with a lot of open space in which to flap their wings and fly free – which is going to be very expensive. Even building an adequate bat box within an enclosure will cost hundreds of dollars – and that’s just for the bat equivalent of a single room within a larger home.
Bat enclosures are not only costly but require certification to be cleared, which is typically necessary to receive permits for legally keeping bats as mentioned above. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries is a nonprofit group that performs checks for this kind of certification, and they have an exhaustive list of requirements for what constitutes an adequate bat sanctuary.
Finally, there is the fact that bats aren’t just cramped when they’re stuck in small cages, but also that this can affect their eyes and sleep cycles. As you certainly know, bats are nocturnal, which means that they have a very fixed sleep schedule. They are awake at night and sleep during the day. However, if you’re up at night reading this article on a laptop, phone, or device long after you’ve gone to sleep, you know how easy it can be to disrupt your circadian rhythm. Bats may not be browsing Facebook or binging Netflix, but they are nevertheless hypersensitive to light, and changes in the amount of light in their environment on a day-to-day basis can have a profound impact on their sleep schedule and thus their overall health.
As you can see from the mound of evidence presented above, bats do not make good pets. They are incredibly costly, and you probably don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on all of the equipment and food you will need to care for them. Even if you have the money, not any structure will do, and you’ll need to ensure that these spaces are certified. Then, if you somehow manage to clear the legal hurdles, you’ll still have to deal with the consequences that come from keeping an animal that may look cute but is odiferous, filthy, and potentially dangerous.
It is understandable why some farms might want to keep bat towers, and it is sometimes possible for them to erect bat towers and sanctuary spaces that meet with legal requirements and the guidelines set down by animal welfare organizations.
For the rest of us, however, bats as pets, like vampires, are best left to the world of fantasy.