Every few weeks, my hospital receives a call from a desperate exotic pet owner somewhere far away seeking advice about their sick pet. Sometimes it’s about a reptile, sometimes about a bird or bunny. The caller might be from the Midwest, Canada, or even from another country. Unfortunately, in most cases, there is little we can recommend over the phone, and we advise the pet owner to take their animal to an exotic pet-savvy vet to be checked. While there are several great resources on-line directing people to terrific local vets who are comfortable treating exotic species, for some people in certain remote locations, exotic pet veterinarians can be hard to find. What are the most important things to look for when you are seeking out the care of an exotic pet vet? Here are 5 essential considerations:
1. How many (snakes, birds, ferrets, rabbits, whatever species) has this vet ever treated?
While practice may not always make perfect, it certainly makes better. The more of any given species a veterinarian sees, the more likely that he or she is to recognize disease and be able to recommend appropriate treatment.
2. Is the veterinary hospital set up to accommodate exotic pets?
While many cat and dog hospitals will see exotic pets, they often do so because they are the only game in town. You can really tell whether a veterinary hospital is set up to treat exotic pets if they have some of the basic equipment and supplies needed to do so, such as Gram’s stain for checking birds’ stool or a tank for safely enclosing a reptile. If they have no equipment specifically designed for treating and examining typically smaller exotic patients, it is likely they don’t treat many of them.
3. Are the veterinary technicians comfortable handling exotic patients?
Knowing how to safely handle exotic pets is truly an art that takes years to master. No matter how good a veterinarian may be at the medical care of exotic pets, without great technical staff, that vet cannot perform great medical care. By just watching how veterinary technicians restrain and manipulate your exotic pet, you can get an idea about how often they actually handle exotic pets.
4. Are the veterinarians and/or the veterinary staff members of any exotic pet professional organizations?
There are several professional exotic animal groups, such as the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, or the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians. These organizations provide continuing education to veterinary professionals, and typically, individuals who want to remain up to date in exotic pet care knowledge will join one or more of these groups to stay current.
5. Does the veterinary hospital provide care for exotic pet emergencies?
This is something most exotic pet owners don’t think about until they are faced with an emergency, themselves. While a few animal hospitals have vets on call and technicians who remain in the hospital overnight to care for critical cases, the majority of small hospitals are not open 24/7 but have arrangements with local emergency clinics to care for their patients overnight and on emergency. However, while local emergency clinics are generally happy to take in dog and cat emergencies, they are not always equipped to handle exotic pet emergencies. When choosing an animal hospital to care for your unique exotic pet, be sure to ask the veterinary staff how they would help you in case you have an after-hours emergency.
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