Why Special Species Of Exotic Pets Require Specialized Veterinary Care

In human medicine, special medical problems typically require specialized medical care. For example, if you have a broken bone, you see an orthopedist who specializes in the care of broken bones. If you have an eye problem, you seek the care of an ophthalmologist who specializes in the care of eyes. If you have a skin problem, you look for help from a dermatologist who specializes in the care of skin. So, logically, if you own a special or unique species of exotic pet – such as a bird, rabbit, rodent, ferret, reptile, amphibian, hedgehog, sugar glider, or pot-bellied pig – you should seek care from a veterinarian specially trained in the treatment of these unique species. While general veterinarians may have good basic knowledge about these animals, just as general practitioner physicians have about humans, only veterinarians with advanced training (such as residency training and/or board-certification) truly have specialized knowledge about these non-traditional (non-cat and dog) pets.Veterinarian treating hedgehog exotic pet at animal hospital

Veterinarians vs. Physicians

Unlike physicians who are taught to care for only one species — humans — veterinarians are taught to care for many species, including cats, dogs, horses, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. While veterinary schools typically concentrate on training veterinarians about these well-known animals, only a few schools teach about other, less commonly kept species, such as birds, bunnies, or reptiles. Even fewer schools train students in the care of very unusual pets, such as potbellied pigs, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders. Yet when veterinary students graduate, they are expected to know how to care for any type of pet that ends up at the animal hospital. In fact, young veterinarians may have little to no training in caring for any exotic pet species.

In addition, unlike physicians who routinely specialize in specific medical fields, such ophthalmology or dermatology, veterinarians are trained to be generalists, performing everything from surgery to dentistry to pathology. It’s difficult enough to know how to practice all these duties on just commonly kept pets, such as cats and dogs, no less on a dozen different species (see https://avianexoticsvet.com/preventive-care-check-ups/).

Specializing in Exotic Pet Care

While upon graduation, veterinarians theoretically are licensed to work with all exotic animals that are legal to own, unless they have advanced postgraduate training, such as completion of a residency and board-certification, they cannot call themselves bird, small mammal, reptile/amphibian, or zoo animal specialists. Board certification in the field of exotic animal veterinary medicine exists for avian medicine and surgery, exotic mammal medicine and surgery, reptile and amphibian medicine and surgery, and zoo animal medicine. Each of these specialized fields requires publication in peer-reviewed journals to qualify to take the specialty exam, along with passing the exam, and recertification of this specialty degree every 10 years. All these fields of exotic animal specialization require three to six years of training beyond graduation from veterinary school (see https://avianexoticsvet.com/staff/). It is an extremely long and difficult process, often that pays very little during the advanced training period; thus, very few veterinarians actually complete the process (for example, there are only about 125 board-certified bird specialists worldwide). Therefore, veterinarians must be truly committed to their chosen fields of exotic animal specialty medicine if they want to be called “specialists” in their field.

Finding an Exotic Animal Veterinarian

So, if you have a bird or other exotic pet, and you want the best care for your animal, how do you find a true specialist in the care of exotic animals? The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and the American College of Zoological Medicine — the organizations that certify veterinary specialists in exotic pet fields — list specialists according to field and location on their websites. Exotic pet owners can visit these sites to see whether there is a board-certified veterinarian who treats the species of pet they own in their area.

In addition, the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians, and the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, provide continuing education to general veterinarians who want to learn more about a certain species. Pet owners can also search these organizations’ websites to locate veterinarians near them with exotic pet training.

All veterinarians can be great at providing medical and surgical care for birds and exotic pets, but only veterinarians with advanced training and certification can truly provide specialty care. When we have our own medical problems, we seek out the most experience doctors to help ourselves get better. Why wouldn’t we do the same for our birds and exotic pets?

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Getting An Exotic Pet

By Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)

Birds can make great pets in the right situations. However, unlike pet cats and dogs who often enjoy the company of other animals, not all birds welcome other birds into their environments once they have been established there for a while. Some species of birds do well living in flocks, while others prefer to remain as solo birds in homes. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are thinking about getting a second bird.

Should You Get a Second Bird?

Many bird owners considering getting another bird do so because they are concerned that their pets are lonely or bored. Some birds, especially small species such as finches and budgerigars (commonly known as parakeets), do enjoy the company of other birds. However, many birds see their human caretakers as flock-mates and do not necessarily want to interact with other birds, even of the same species, particularly if they have been the only bird in the house for a number of years. Certainly, small species should not be mixed with larger species (such as macaws, Amazon parrots, cockatoos, Eclectus and other big parrots) due to the potential for injury to the small bird. Some bird owners rush to bring in a new bird when an existing pet’s cage-mate passes away; however, not all birds will accept new mates, even if they have successfully lived with a mate in the past.

If a bird seems bored or depressed, as long as there is no underlying medical reason for the behavior, it is often better to try providing the bird with more mentally stimulating activities (for example, toys to chew on, TV to watch, music to listen to, or more time out of the cage) than to introduce another bird. If the resident bird still seems unhappy after being given more to do, trying out the company of a second bird isn’t a bad idea; however, a resident bird’s acceptance of a new bird is a process that can take weeks to months and will not likely be a quick fix for the original bird’s problems. The resident pet may ultimately come to enjoy the company of the new bird, but the introduction must be done correctly and patiently.

Where to Get a Second Bird

There are many places to get birds, including rescue facilities, shelters, breeders and pet stores. There are so many unwanted birds available (and need to be rehomed) that adoption is always a great place to start. Searching the Internet can lead to you to places in your area to find an adoptable bird. Most of the birds on these sites or in rescue facilities are adults, so if you are looking for a very young or juvenile bird, you may not find one there. Existing birds in homes may be no more likely to accept new young birds than older ones, so there is really no rule for success when it comes to introducing birds of different ages.

Regardless of where you get a new bird, you should have it examined by a bird-savvy veterinarian to help ensure it is healthy before exposing your existing bird to the new one, and you should discuss with the facility from which you are adopting what happens if your existing bird doesn’t accept the new bird or if the new bird ends up being sick. Do they have a return policy or guarantee period during which you can bring back the new animal? If they do, you will certainly want to have that in writing.

How to Introduce Your New Bird to Your Resident Bird

Once your new bird has been checked out by a veterinarian and deemed healthy, you will want to house it in another room (ideally a separate air space so that any potential undiagnosed or developing disease cannot be spread through airborne transmission) for a minimum of a month (ideally three months, to be sure). This will give your existing bird a chance to hear, but not necessarily see, the new addition and will give you a chance to see how both birds react.

After this initial separation period, you can try moving the new bird’s cage into the existing bird’s room, close enough to be visible to the resident bird but not so close as to be able to reach out to the new bird. If the existing bird seems fine with this set up, you can try moving the new pet’s cage closer to the original pet’s and see how they both react. Some resident birds are threatened by having new birds moved into their territories; in these cases, a neutral territory, such as a room not yet inhabited by either bird, may be a better place for an introduction.

Some birds can coexist happily in the same room, a distance apart, but do not like to have other birds in their immediate living spaces. Still other birds will not accept new animals at all into their environments and may act jealous or frightened. Typically, unless you are introducing a small bird (such as a budgerigar, canary, or finch) to another (or a group) of similar small species, the two birds should not be housed together but rather should be given their own cages, feeding stations, perches and toys. Birds of similar sizes living in separate cages may sometimes tolerate being out in the same room on separate perches or play stands, but they must be supervised at all times because of potential for injury.

It is generally not advised to let big birds out around little birds, as bigger birds have the ability to attack and kill smaller ones if they feel threatened. Even birds that have come to live happily in the same room for years can squabble and injure each other if left alone out of their cages. Of course, all birds must be supervised at all times, too, if they are out of their cages and other predatory pets, such as cats and dogs, also live in the home.

Additional Tips for New Bird Introductions

Adding a new bird to an existing bird’s environment can be stressful at first, even if the birds ultimately learn to tolerate each other or better yet, enjoy each other’s company. It is critical that the resident bird not feel like it is being replaced by the new pet; thus, you will want to give the existing bird extra attention in the presence of the new bird to show the existing bird that the new one isn’t a threat. You will also want to interact with the new bird in the presence of the existing bird while giving them both verbal praise, head scratches and coveted novel food treats (that are unavailable at any other time) so that they understand that being around the other bird brings good things and not bad. Good treats to try, depending on what the bird likes, are nuts (or almond slivers for smaller birds that shouldn’t have a lot of nuts every day), small pieces of fruit, a small piece of an unsalted cracker or a piece of whole grain cereal.

Remember, just as adjusting to a new roommate, neighbor or relative in the house can take us time, adjusting to a new flock mate can take time for our pet birds. When introduced slowly and properly, many birds can learn to accept other birds in their homes over time. Bird owners have to accept, however, that there are certain birds who are just not into sharing their environments or family members with others and are better off flying solo.

Getting An Exotic Pet originally appeared on petMD.com

Holiday Hazards In Exotic Pets

By Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)

Like human infants, rabbits are very oral creatures; they like to put everything in their mouths to check things out. Unfortunately, also like babies, they put inappropriate, and sometimes dangerous, things in their mouths that can potentially injure or even kill them. That is why rabbit owners are advised to “bunny-proof” their houses even before they bring a rabbit home.

One of the very inappropriate objects that rabbits sometimes chew on is electric cords. A few times a year, I receive emergency calls at my veterinary hospital from rabbit owners whose pets have just gnawed on a cord.

If the cord isn’t live (plugged in and carrying current), the main risk to the rabbit is whether it has ingested any of the plastic or electrical wire (which may contain toxic metals like zinc) that can cause lacerations in the mouth and potentially gastrointestinal upset or even obstruction. If, on the other hand, the cord was plugged in, the rabbit could suffer anything from a mild burn in its mouth to heart damage, fluid in the lungs, and death.

If you witness your rabbit chewing on a live cord, do not reach out to pull the cord out of its mouth, or you risk electrocution as well. Keep calm and turn off the main electrical breaker. If you need to extract the cord from the rabbit’s mouth immediately, wear a rubber glove or oven mitt to unplug the cord from the outlet to protect yourself from getting shocked. Once the rabbit is free of the cord, have it examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Signs Your Bunny May Show After an Electric Cord Bite

The extent of injury that a rabbit experiences after biting an electric cord depends on the type and intensity of the electrical current and the length of time the rabbit is exposed to it. If a rabbit bites a live electrical cord, it may have burns (redness, swelling, ulceration) inside of and around its mouth, lips, gums, and tongue. The fur around its mouth may appear singed. Teeth may even appear discolored or cracked.

Since the electric current runs from the point of contact in the mouth throughout the body to critical organs such as the heart and lungs, cardiac and respiratory signs can ensue. Significantly affected rabbits may have trouble breathing (even with an open mouth), demonstrate excessive salivation and difficulty swallowing, and exhibit wheezing or crackling sounds as they breathe. Some rabbits may appear restless and agitated, having difficulty getting comfortable and refusing to sit or lie down. More significantly affected rabbits may have such trouble breathing that they collapse and lie on their sides.

Some effects associated with electric cord bite, such as fluid accumulation in the lungs (pulmonary edema), may not appear for up to two days after contact with the cord. All rabbits showing any signs of trauma — even mild burns in the mouth — after chewing on an electric cord should be checked out by a veterinarian.

What to Expect at the Vet’s Office

As soon as you arrive at the vet’s office, your vet will likely ask questions such as when the electric cord bite occurred, whether the cord was live with electrical current, how long the pet was exposed to the current, whether the animal appears to have ingested any of the cord, and how the pet has been acting since the bite happened.

If your rabbit is having trouble breathing or has pink frothy fluid around its mouth — a sign indicative of pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in the lungs — it will likely be given oxygen to help it breathe even before your vet examines it.

If your pet appears relatively stable when you arrive, the veterinarian will perform a full physical examination on your bunny, checking inside of and around its mouth for burns and listening to its heart and lungs for arrhythmias or crackling sounds suggestive of pulmonary edema. If the vet hears anything abnormal, he or she may then decide to take x-rays of the chest and/or an electrocardiogram (a printout showing how the heart beats) to further assess heart and lung function. He or she also may draw blood to test major organs such as the kidneys and liver.

Pulmonary edema can take several hours to develop after electrocution, so pets showing any cardiac or respiratory difficulty will likely be admitted to the hospital for monitoring and may need further evaluation with an echocardiogram (three-dimensional ultrasound examination of the heart).

Treatments Your Rabbit May Receive for Electric Cord Bite Injury

The extent of your rabbit’s injuries will determine the types of treatment the vet administers and how long the animal needs to be hospitalized.

Rabbits with extreme difficulty breathing and fluid in their lungs will be placed in an oxygen cage and given diuretics to help drain the fluid and ease breathing. To treat signs of shock and collapse, the rabbit may be given intravenous fluids containing essential electrolytes, many of which leak out through oozing burns. Antibiotics will likely be administered to try to prevent infection of burned, ulcerated tissue, and a pain reliever and/or anti-inflammatory agent will be given to lessen painful discomfort.

If the rabbit’s eyes have been burned or ulcerated, a topical ointment or eye drop may be administered. As proper nutrition is critical to helping burned tissues heal, if the rabbit’s mouth is too uncomfortable for the pet to eat on its own, it will likely be syringe fed a slurry of liquid food via syringe several times per day.

Questions to Ask Your Vet

Once your veterinarian assesses your bunny’s injuries, you will want him or her to review the physical examination findings and the planned course of treatment. Questions to ask include what types of medications will be administered, which tests will be done, how long the vet expects the rabbit to stay in the hospital, how much the vet estimates care will cost, what the long-term prognosis is, and what, if any, potential future complications the bunny may develop.

Your vet may not be able to give you definitive answers to all of these questions until he or she sees how your pet responds to initial treatment, but you should be able to have an ongoing dialogue with your vet over the first 24-48 hours your bunny is admitted to the hospital to see how the treatment, prognosis, and estimated cost of care evolve.

What to Expect at Home, After the Vet

Once your rabbit is stable enough to be released from the hospital, you may be asked to continue medical treatment at home. Depending on the extent of your pet’s injuries, you may have to continue to administer oral and/or topical antibiotics, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory drugs.

If the bunny isn’t eating well on its own, you may have to syringe feed several times a day until the appetite returns and any oral injuries have healed. Rabbits with heart damage or pulmonary edema may go home on cardiac medications or diuretics with instructions to rest them in their cages at home.

Most veterinarians will want to recheck a bunny within a week or two after an electric cord bite to ensure no further complications have arisen. Rabbits with severe burns will need to be examined again after their burns start to heal to ensure that infection hasn’t developed and that no additional treatment (such as skin graft or wound debridement surgery) is necessary.

Complications to Look for After Treatment for Cord Bite Injury

When your rabbit comes home from the hospital, you should carefully monitor its appetite (especially if it is receiving antibiotics that can throw off the delicate balance of bacteria in its intestinal tract) to ensure it is getting the critical nutrients it needs to heal. If your rabbit isn’t eating well, you should alert your vet, who may then prescribe supplemental syringe feeding.

In addition, you should monitor burns or wounds for the development of any discharge or foul smell indicative of the presence of infection; if these signs occur, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Rabbits recovering from electric cord bite should gradually regain their energy and appetite. If your rabbit appears more lethargic or weak after returning from the hospital, it should be rechecked by your vet as soon as possible.

How to Prevent Electric Cord Bite Injuries

The best way to prevent rabbits from chewing on electric cords is to make the cords inaccessible. Cords should be taped up, out of the rabbit’s reach. Those cords that cannot be made completely unreachable may be covered with inexpensive cord covers (often called spiral cable wrap) available at electronic stores. Most bunnies cannot chew through this wrap, but a few persistent ones have; thus, it’s safer to remove cords from bunnies’ reach rather than rely on cord covers, if possible.

Finally, providing your rabbit with lots of nutritious hay on which to chew and wooden toys on which to gnaw may satisfy their oral needs and make them less likely to chew on electric cords. And above all, rabbits should never be left unsupervised in rooms that haven’t been “bunny-proofed,” or their curiosity could prove deadly.

Holiday Hazards in Pets originally appeared on petMD.com