Monthly Archives August 2011

Five fun facts about exotic pets

By Dr. Laurie Hess

As an exotic animal veterinarian, I am often told that I have the coolest job. I mean, who else gets to play with birds, ferrets, rabbits, rodents, and other even more uncommon species all day long? And even if reptiles or rodents aren’t your ideal pet, the fact is, many people are intrigued by these creatures and are fascinated to hear more about them. While we all know a little about many of these species, here are 5 fun facts you might not know about exotic pets:

1.        Most birds have only 1 ovary

In general, most birds (other than a few, like the brown kiwi bird from Australia, a member of the ratite family) have only a left ovary and a left oviduct (Fallopian tube). The right ovary and right oviduct are present in the developing bird embryo but regress before most species hatch. When a bird is spayed, the left oviduct (and sometimes, the left ovary, is removed).

2.       Rabbits have to breathe through their noses

Rabbits are called “obligate nasal breathers” – they cannot breathe through their mouths, and when they do, it means their nasal passages are too inflamed or plugged with mucus, infection, or other substances for them to breathe effectively through their noses. Rabbits who are breathing with an open mouth should be checked by a vet right away.

3.       Guinea pigs do not make their own vitamin C

Guinea pigs must be supplemented with oral vitamin C; just feeding vitamin C-enriched foods, such as bell peppers, is not enough. Without adequate vitamin C in their diet, guinea pigs cannot make collagen and other proteins needed in their bodies; their teeth fall out, their gums bleed, and their blood vessels do not function normally. Simply supplementing with an oral vitamin C tablet daily can avoid all of these problems.

4.       Ferrets open their mouths & “yawn” when hung by the scruff of their  neck

This is a reflex in ferrets when they are held by the scruff. This is a trick every ferret veterinarian knows. If you want to see inside a ferret’s mouth, hold him by his scruff, and you will be able to see inside clearly. This is handy tip for both the veterinarian trying to examine a ferret’s teeth/gums and the ferret owner trying to extract whatever foreign object the ferret may be trying to gobble down.

5.       Some reptiles release their tails when predators grab them, & later they regrow

Some reptile species, particularly many lizards, break off their tails when they are grabbed by predators.  After the tail is released, it continues to wiggle, thereby distracting the predator and allowing the lizard to escape. Later, the tail regrows over several months, although it may be a different color or texture than the original tail.

Now, after hearing this exotic pet trivia, are you ready for a game show? Don’t you feel smarter? Well, maybe not smarter, but certainly more well-rounded. Just think of all the fun you’ll have chatting at the next cocktail party you attend.

Photo credit: michellehenry.fr