“He’s never been sick before, so I’ve never had to bring him to a vet.”
This is the answer I commonly hear from bird and exotic pet owners when I ask them whether their animals have ever been treated by a veterinarian. Actually, all exotic pets, regardless of species, should have regular veterinary checkups.
Why Annual Wellness Exams Matter
Environment: Many exotic pets have specific requirements regarding heat, light, temperature and cage bedding. There are so many products for birds and exotics that it’s hard to know what’s best. A veterinarian educated in exotic pet care will review your pet’s cage setup to help ensure that you are providing an appropriate environment for your pet’s specific species and keeping up-to-date on the latest product recommendations.
Nutrition: Birds and exotic pets have very specific nutritional requirements, and offering proper nutrition is key to preventing illness. Feeding an exotic pet involves more than just opening a can or a bag of kibble. A knowledgeable exotic animal vet can teach you specifically what your exotic pet needs to eat to stay healthy.
Vaccinations: In many states where exotic species such as ferrets, potbellied or mini-pigs, kinkajous and fennec foxes can be kept legally as pets, these animals require annual vaccinations to prevent illness. If you own one of these types of animals, by taking him for a yearly checkup, you’re ensuring that your pet is current on vaccinations against often deadly diseases.
Behavior: Unlike cat and dog behavior, which generally remains constant throughout the year, the behavior of many birds and exotic pets can change in response to variations in daylight cycle and temperature. A veterinarian who treats birds and exotics can provide you with a better understanding of normal versus abnormal behavior for your type of exotic pet so that you’ll know when to be concerned.
Preventive care: Preventing disease is better for your pet (and for your pocketbook) than treating it once it occurs. A veterinarian well-versed in bird/exotic pet care can teach you about diseases commonly seen in your pet’s species, so that you’ll know what signs to look for before these conditions progress.
Parasites: Just like cats and dogs, certain birds and exotic pets can carry intestinal parasites that potentially can be transmittable to people. By having your pet’s stool sample checked annually by a veterinarian, you’ll be eliminating parasites that could steal valuable nutrients from your animal’s diet and infect your family.
Nail trims: If you’ve ever tried to trim the nails of a wiggly guinea pig, a slippery lizard or a flapping bird, you know how hard it can be, particularly if you’re by yourself. In fact, many bird and exotic pet owners are unable to trim their pets’ nails and often just let them overgrow. Overgrown nails are unpleasant for both the owner, who may get scratched inadvertently, and the pet, who may catch his nails on the owner’s clothing and bleed. Veterinarians familiar with birds and exotic species are generally very comfortable trimming birds’ and other exotic animals’ nails, making grooming these pets simple and safe.
Teeth cleanings: Just like dogs, cats and people, certain exotic pets, including ferrets, hedgehogs and some reptiles (bearded dragons), should have their teeth cleaned regularly to prevent buildup of dental tartar and gingivitis. With an annual trip to the vet for dental cleaning, you’re helping to protect your exotic pet’s dental health and potentially prolong his life.
Vacation: Bird and exotic pet owners often have difficulty finding care for their animals when they go out of town. Many hospitals that treat birds or other exotic animals also offer care when owners go away, providing a safe place to board exotic pets, so that you can have peace of mind when you travel.
Emergencies: When birds and exotic pets get sick, there’s no time to waste. Other than reptiles, most exotic pets have such rapid metabolisms that they can’t go more than a day without food, or they become very ill. However, finding a vet willing to treat birds or other exotic animals (especially during the night or on weekends) can be very difficult. Establishing a relationship with an exotics-savvy vet before you have an emergency can be life-saving for your pet.
If you own a bird or other exotic pet, annual checkups are extremely important for these animals. But how do you get your exotic pet to the vet without you or your animals suffering a great deal of stress? Stay tuned! In my next article, I will cover safe handling, training and transportation tips to help make getting to the exotic pet vet as stress-free as possible.