It’s that time again – time to make that annual resolution that we all make to improve our diets, get into shape, and take better care of ourselves, including having an annual medical check-up. If you love your exotic pets, you should be making those same resolutions for them. Now that it’s a new year, we should all commit to getting our pets on healthier nutrition and to ensuring that they get adequate exercise. Plus, we should make sure that once a year they are examined by a veterinarian well-versed in their particular species to help ensure they are healthy. Just like us as we age, our pets are subject to many of the same ailments – high cholesterol with atherosclerosis (fat deposits in the walls of blood vessels), obesity, kidney disease, vitamin and mineral deficiencies – that we suffer. While we can’t always prevent illness in our pets, with better nutrition and exercise, we can try to lessen the chances that these diseases develop.
So, how do you improve your exotic pet’s diet? It very much depends on what type of exotic pet you have. For birds, improving the diet typically means adding more formulated products, such as pellets. For rabbits and rodents, it means making sure they’re not eating seeds and dried fruit but instead, large amounts of hay with limited amounts of pellets and greens. For reptiles, it often means adding more variety to their meals, whether it’s varying their veggies if your reptile is herbivorous (vegetable-eating), or adding different insects or other prey for reptiles that are omnivorous (vegetable and meat eating) and carnivorous (meat-eating). And for ferrets, it generally means cutting out high sugar and high fat treats in favor of a pelleted diet lower in fat and containing more complex carbohydrates.
Exercise is important for animals, just as it is for people. Too many exotic pets are housed in small cages for many hours every day as owners are at work or at school. How do we get them to exercise? Encouraging exotic pets to exercise doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. It can be as simple as having your bird stand on your arm and vigorously flap his wings, placing treats far apart on the floor so that your rabbit or ferret has to move from place to place to get them, having a wheel on which your small rodent or hedgehog can run, or having a large multi-level cage in which your reptile can climb. In addition, regardless of what species of exotic pet you have, by providing him with foraging toys packed with nutritious treats to motivate him to move around, you can encourage him to exercise. It may just be for a few minutes a day, but exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system, decreases the likelihood of obesity, and stimulates pets psychologically.
No one likes to go to the doctor. But, just as you should not start any change in diet or exercise without consulting your doctor first, neither should your exotic pet. Plus, just like you, your exotic pet should have a thorough physical examination annually to try to catch any developing diseases before they are too advanced to treat and to help ensure that you are as up-to-date as possible in the latest recommendations for care and feeding of your particular type of exotic pet.
So, to get your exotic pet into tip-top shape this new year, call your exotic animal veterinarian and ask about a wellness exam, nutritional counseling, and an exercise plan for your pet. This way, you and your pet can start the new year out right together!
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