A day in the life of exotic pet medicine

Dr Monica Capella | Associate Veterinarian, VCA Calvert Veterinary Center

What is an exotic animal? For our practice, any animal that is not a dog or cat is labeled as an exotic rendezvous. This can include small mammals, birds, reptiles, and more. The conversations I have with clients about each exotic animal I see mostly revolve around the same general principles. In this column, I’ll highlight the main aspects of care to consider when purchasing an exotic pet, easily accessible resources for caring for your pet, and ways to obtain an exotic pet.

If you are thinking of buying an exotic pet, the first step that I recommend for you is to check out a great website called EMODE pet score. EMODE is a program that was created by 18 scientists and veterinarians with specialized knowledge in the sciences of public health and animal welfare. You can search for each animal individually on the website, which will give you a pet score. For example, finding a “veiled chameleon” results in a score of “difficult to expert” to heal; searching for “hamster” gives a score of “moderate”. Here is the link to the site: www.emodepetscore.com/get-your-pet-score.

For any exotic pet, some general points that I discuss with owners are:

Appropriate housing, enclosure and temperature / humidity

The enclosure can vary widely between each individual species in a group (for example, a chameleon’s housing is different from a snake’s although they are both reptiles) and the cost of the required equipment. for installation may also vary. Humidity and temperature are important, especially for reptiles, but should be considered for all species. These can also vary from individual to individual (for example, a Northern Blue Tongue Skink requires different humidity than a Merauke Blue Tongue Skink). Obtain a hygrometer to measure humidity and a non-contact temperature gun to measure any point in the enclosure. It is also important to consider when monitoring temperature and humidity that the area the animal spends time in, inside the pen, is probably not the same temperature / humidity as it is. ‘at the top of the pen, so placing a measuring device there could lead to false results. .

Dietary recommendations

Each species is different in this category, so it is essential that you do your research thoroughly before getting your pet. There are many brands for different diets so if you have a question on which to buy please consult your vet. Some companies have had a more detailed nutritional analysis done on their feeds to make sure they meet the animal’s needs and are therefore preferred by vets. Diet also plays an important role in disease prevention; for example, rabbits need hay as a main part of their diet due to their type of gastrointestinal tract and the continuous growth of their teeth. Improper diet can lead to serious dental disease and secondary gastrointestinal problems.

Enrichment and social interaction

What animal doesn’t like play time? It is an equally important part of care and well-being. For example, the Indian ring-necked parakeet needs a lot of time out of its enclosure and interaction with owners, otherwise it can develop severe neurotic behaviors that are sometimes not reversible. Even the smallest critters, like our hamsters and gerbils, still need routine exercise. It’s also important to consider when your pet will be most active – if it’s nocturnal, it may not be interactive with you during the day. Also, is the animal you are considering doing better as a couple or alone? How will this animal interact with other animals in the house (especially if it is a prey species such as a rabbit)? Does this animal do well with children and what are the safety concerns?

General Health Conditions

Knowing the common conditions seen in exotic animals can help you take the necessary steps to prevent them if possible and also know the signs to look for regarding the disease. Many exotic animals that are prey species will hide disease until they are sick, so catching the signs early if you can really make a difference. For example, guinea pigs are predisposed to foot problems due to their body conformation, so ensuring proper bedding and maintaining a good weight can help prevent pododermatitis.

Rabbits that stop eating for 12-24 hours are already considered critical due to their type of gastrointestinal tract and require immediate medical attention. Most reptiles need calcium supplementation, and if they don’t get it in their diet, they will put this calcium from their underlying bones, making their bones weak and prone to fracture.

Where can I find an exotic animal?

I recommend checking out EMODE for some good resources, but furthermore, rescues are often overlooked when obtaining an exotic pet, but are a great resource for owners. Some rescues and organizations we often work with include:

  • Washington Humanitarian Society / SPCA
  • Domestic Rabbit Society
  • Guinea pig metropolitan rescue
  • Phoenix Landing Foundation Bird Rescue
  • Heart Reptile Rescue Sanctuary

When obtaining your pet, it is important to make sure you quarantine keep your pet away from other animals for the recommended length of time (usually 60 days, but this may vary by species) to prevent disease transmission and watch for signs of disease.

Exotic trade / wildlife

Although it is a difficult subject to broach, the illegal trade in exotic species / wildlife continues to impact animals everywhere and decimate populations. When purchasing your exotic pet, it is important to try to determine if this animal has been illegally taken from the environment. Unfortunately, one of the biggest parts of the exotic animal trade is the illegal capture and sale of exotic animals. Veterinarians, scientists, and volunteers are doing a tremendous job of tackling this, but educating clients is also key. Here are some links to learn more about it:

Resources before getting your exotic pet

I recommend that you check out the following resources for more information about your exotic pet before purchasing:

VCA Calvert Veterinary Center veterinarians have over 35 years of combined experience helping pets stay healthy and happy. For more information on making an appointment for your pet, call for an appointment at 410-360-PAWS (7297) or make an appointment online at www.vaccalvertvet.com. The VCA Calvert Veterinary Center is conveniently located at 4100 Mountain Road in Pasadena and has proudly served the community for over 17 years.

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