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Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 5 Turtles

Which species of exotic pets tend to pack on the pounds? This week, we’re looking at the top five species I treat for obesity. So far we’ve covered parrots, hedgehogs, rabbits and rats.

What’s No. 5 on my list of obesity-prone pets? Turtles!

When turtles want to hide, they pull their heads and limbs into their shells and look effectively like paperweights. Yet overweight turtles may get locked out of their shell homes. This is because their legs and necks have so much fat on them that they get stuck outside.

Tubby Isn’t Terrific

If you’re not sure whether you’ve even seen a fat turtle, it’s likely you haven’t. When you see one, you won’t forget it. It looks like a typical turtle but with an upper shell (the carapace) and a lower shell (the plastron) that look like they are a few sizes too small. Fat bulges out from their armpits and in front of their back legs. Sometimes their necks are so fat that they can’t pull their heads back into their shells. Excessively obese turtles may not even be able to bear weight on their legs on land and sit beached, like paperweights, until they are back in the water and buoyant. Even in water, their mobility is limited. Turtles typically become fat living in small tanks with little room to swim and by consuming excessive amounts of high-starch pellets that float at the top of their tanks until they have eaten them all.

Turtle owners can help prevent obesity by giving their pets lots of both vertical and horizontal space in which to swim and dive and by offering them limited quantities of high-quality pellets with some vegetables. Turtles have a high requirement for vitamin A in their diets, so feeding them shredded vitamin A-enriched foods, such as carrots, peppers and sweet potatoes, is a great way to encourage weight loss while providing good nutrition. Turtles also can be prompted to exercise by feeding them live fish, such as goldfish and guppies, which they have to catch to consume. They will enjoy the hunt and relish the food reward. Just remember to consult with your veterinarian first before starting any diet or exercise program with your turtle to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely.

Just like people, pets love food, and just as in people, too much food can lead to obesity and associated health issues, even for exotic pets. Our animal friends should enjoy their meals as we do, but we need to feed them as we should feed ourselves: everything in moderation. If we live by this rule, our exotic pets should enjoy a happier and healthier New Year!

How to Keep Your Exotic Pet Safe When a Hurricane Hits

View of a hurricane from space
Thinkstock

Hurricanes are phenomena no one can be completely prepared for, as demonstrated by the devastation to people and property caused by some of the powerful storms that have hit the United States in the past few years. There are so many things to think about when getting ready for a major storm that it can be overwhelming. It’s difficult enough for families to secure food and shelter for themselves in the wake of a hurricane, much less to focus on keeping their pets safe. Several agencies and websites offer advice to cat and dog owners about pet safety during a storm; however, given the wide variety of exotic pet species and their hugely varying nutritional and environmental requirements, very little has been written to guide owners of such pets on preparing their animals for severe weather and keeping them safe during storms.

Before the Storm

Though exotic pet species — birds, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, ferrets, amphibians, pot-bellied pigs, marsupials and others — each have very specific requirements to keep them healthy, many of the guidelines for keeping cats and dogs safe during inclement weather apply to exotic pets as well. Several great resources exist for pet owners, regardless of pet type, to referernce in advance of bad weather, to be as ready as possible when it comes.

Very little advice exists specific to exotic pet safety during storms, says Dr. Cynda Crawford, a veterinarian in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine. Crawford also serves as medical director for the University of Florida’s Veterinary Emergency Treatment Services, a resource for the state’s animal and agricultural emergency response system. But she says all pet owners should “have a seven-day supply of food, the habitat and detailed step-by-step instructions for care on hand for emergencies, whether sheltering in place or going to a temporary shelter to get out of harm’s way.”

This places an extra burden on snake owners to find secure housing if evacuation is necessaryMost importantly, Dr. Crawford says, exotic pet owners should discuss emergency preparation procedures with their veterinarians before emergencies arise.
Lizard in a cage

iStockphoto

 

Outfitted for Emergencies

One step all exotic pet owners can take ahead of time is to create a pet emergency supply kit that can be stored with your family emergency supply kit in a waterproof container. (Online resources are available to further help you compile an emergency kit.) Your kit should include:

  1. A safe, escape-proof pet carrier in which to transport your pet and house him temporarily. Carriers should be large enough to house the animal comfortably for several days and be coverable with a thin sheet or towel to provide security and shade. They should be labeled with your contact information and other emergency numbers, including your veterinarian’s.
  2. Pet food (at least a seven-day supply) stored in airtight, waterproof and spoil-proof containers. Dry food (such as pellets for birds, reptiles and small mammals) are preferable to fresh produce or live prey.
  3. Water (at least enough for seven days).
  4. A box of resealable plastic bags for storing opened food.
  5. Bowls and sipper bottles for food and water.
  6. Essential cage accessories, such as lights, heaters and misters for reptiles, dust baths for chinchillas and perches for birds.
  7. Important medical records, including proof of vaccination for ferrets.
  8. Any medications your pet is on (at least a two-week supply, plus a prescription for more).
  9. Microchip, tattoo or leg band information if applicable.
  10. A recent photo of the pet in case he must be identified later.
  11. Bedding.
  12. Toys/blankets/comfort items, including hide boxes for reptiles and small mammals to minimize stress.
  13. Grooming items such as brushes and nail trimmers, plus cuttlebones for birds.
  14. Treats that won’t spoil.
  15.  A list of pet-friendly hotels, shelters and boarding facilities that will accept an exotic pet. (See www.takeyourpet.com, www.petswelcome.com, www.letsgopets.com and www.travelpets.com.)
  16. A local map and an evacuation plan that you can practice with your pet in advance, especially if he is stressed by riding in a car.
  17. A flashlight, batteries and a radio.
  18. An emergency fund to cover last-minute housing in a veterinary hospital or shelter.
  19. An emergency medical kit containing gauze pads, scissors, styptic powder or sticks to clot bleeding nails and beaks, bandage material cut into small sizes, bandaging tape, towels, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, latex gloves, a freezer pack, antiseptic solution (recommended by your vet), tweezers and a washcloth.

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10 Tips for Stress-Free Exams for Birds and Exotic Pets

Annual checkups are as important for birds and exotic pets as they are for dogs and cats. Many bird and exotic pet owners know this, but are reluctant to bring their animals to the vet because they think the experience will be too stressful. However, any stress your pet may experience is generally outweighed by the benefits of a thorough veterinary examination.

Here are 10 strategies you can use to help reduce stress when taking your bird or exotic pet for a checkup:

Make towel wrapping no big deal. Many pets (especially birds) get upset when they’re held with towels. Since vets often have to restrain animals by wrapping them in towels, you can reduce the stress by practicing this activity at home first. Each time you practice, use the same towels (of the same color) and leave them unwashed between sessions so that your pet can be reassured by her own scent. Start slowly, initially giving your pet treats just for having brief contact with towels, and then working up to her allowing you to briefly enclose her in the towel. This is positive-reinforcement training. As long as she is comfortable, gradually increase the degree and duration of her contact with the towels by continuing to entice and reward her with treats. Remember to bring your pet’s own towels to the animal hospital for the veterinary staff to use during her examination!

Teach your pet to use a travel carrier. This can be a tough one, as many birds and other exotic pets never leave the house and are afraid of even the sight of a carrier. That’s why it’s important to start familiarizing your pet with her carrier weeks in advance of any veterinary appointments. Initially, place the carrier in your pet’s view while rewarding her with her favorite treats — again, using the principles of positive reinforcement. Over several days, gradually move the carrier closer while continuously rewarding her with treats near the carrier. The ultimate goal is for her to only receive a treat when she is actually inside the carrier. Many birds or other exotic pets will learn to sit comfortably in carriers as long as they can see outside. In the case of extreme cold or wind, you may need to cover the carrier with a blanket or towels, and some pets may become upset when they can’t see what’s going on. Continuing to use a favorite food treat or effusive verbal praise can gradually accustom your pet to being comfortable in a covered carrier.

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