For Exotic Pet Owners

The Vet Is In

Birds, rabbits, ferrets, bearded dragons, iguanas, turtles, snakes, hedgehogs, rats, guinea pigs, sugar gliders, bamboo sharks, and more!

You already have or are thinking about embarking on exotic pet ownership? Those owners that have had exotic pets for years will quickly testify that they are not like owning cats and dogs. They may take up less space and some require less of your time on a daily basis but they still can give you lots of companionship and enjoyment. For many species, you may become a caretaker for several years especially for many birds that can live for 20-50 years.
Like any other time you think about obtaining a new pet, start with research. While the idea of getting a cat or a dog can sound simple, if you have done it during your life, you know that even that requires some planning. This includes thinking about your time spent away from the pet, purchasing the right food and toys, and making sure it has a safe home. These same elements are in play for exotic pets but often times at a more complicated level.

  • What type of space, equipment, and/or caging is needed? This might include lighting, heat, special water, etc. Will these needs change as your new pet ages?
  • What do they eat and can you obtain the right food easily?
  • How easy is it to maintain this pet – in terms of feeding and cleaning?
  • What are you going to do with the pet when you travel?
  • Where are you going to obtain the pet? From someone that specializes in the species? Start by talking with people that own the type of pet you are thinking about acquiring.
  • Do you know an exotic pet veterinarian in your area? If you don’t, you need to ask for references. This highly trained professional will be an extended part of your team for years. Make sure you know of an exotic animal veterinarian committed to your species care BEFORE you purchase the pet. Then, once you obtain the pet, see your veterinarian soon so they can make sure your new family member is healthy and you are following the proper husbandry and care. You can learn more about exotic pet medicine by visiting veterinary organizations including the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, and the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians. Many of these sites have great information for new owners and Find-A-Vet databases.
  • If you have other exotic pets (like other birds), you need to plan to quarantine them for an extended period of time and have your new pet thoroughly checked out by your veterinarian. You need to be aware that bringing a new pet into the family will cause possible stress on your existing pets and that some infectious diseases may be present in your pets that can only be properly detected through specialized testing.
  • Owning an exotic pet means making a commitment to the continuing health of your pet. This can be simple things like feather and nail trims but, more importantly, routine visits to your exotic pet veterinarian. Exotic pets are especially good at hiding illness since most of them are prey species, so routine checkups and veterinary visits when you notice changes in activity, eating, vocalization are all key to having a long rewarding life with your new pet.

Comments and Ideas from Our Team of Specialized Veterinarians

Our valued staff of veterinarians is available to consult with your exotic pet veterinarian if they need assistance in diagnosing and treating your pet. Like many veterinarians, our team has worked with thousands of pet owners and own exotic pets themselves so they know the pros and cons of pet ownership. Here are some of their thoughts –

  • Dr. Susan Clubb : Proper husbandry and nutrition are especially important in maintaining birds and exotic animals properly in a captive environment. Routine health exams can be instrumental in detecting problems early, before your pet gets sick. If possible establish a relationship with an avian and/or exotic animal vet when you first bring your pet home to get off to a good start.
  • Dr. Don Harris : The best way to determine if a veterinarian is an exotic animal veterinarian is to… ask his colleagues. Simply claiming to be willing to care for birds and exotics is not a qualifier. Even the recommendations of local pet shops and breeders is not always reliable, since “arrangements” have been known to occur between vets and shops. VETERINARIANS WHO DON’T TREAT EXOTICS ARE THE BEST SOURCES OF INFORMATION ON VETERINARIANS WHO DO TREAT EXOTICS. Veterinarians are usually very protective of their reputations, so they won’ t refer you to someone they don’t know to be qualified. Now, what makes that individual qualified? Two things: continuing education and networking. Veterinarians are required to complete a certain number of courses throughout their career in order to maintain their license. Vets who frequently attend courses on exotic pets are generally more knowledgable. Networking does an even better job of keeping colleagues abreast of the most recent developments in exotic pet medicine. Did you know it takes an average of two years for a recent discovery to be published in a book or medical journal? Networking makes that information available almost immediately.
  • Dr. Lauren Thielen : The number one reason exotic pets present to the animal hospital is due improper diet, care, and husbandry. Each exotic species also has unique personalities and requirements that may not fit into everyone’s lifestyle. Therefore, educating yourself with the help of an experienced exotic animal veterinarian is crucial to the overall health and wellbeing of your pet.

Role of the University of Miami Avian & Wildlife Laboratory

The University of Miami established the first full time academic laboratory for avian, exotic pet, and wildlife species in 1993. The laboratory service quickly began to serve exotic pet and wildlife veterinarians throughout the United States and Canada and continues to be recognized at the international level for its expertise. Several one-of-a-kind diagnostic tests are available and the laboratory has a strong clinical research program that has resulted in hundreds of presentations at national and international veterinary conferences and over 100 publications in veterinary journals. We are proud to have had an impact in the development of this very specialized area of veterinary medicine.

When your veterinarian chooses to send a diagnostic sample from your pet to the University of Miami, they are making a conscious choice to use your money to help support our clinical research program. In trade, they know that your pet’s sample will be examined using only gold standard technology by a caring, educated, and highly experienced laboratory staff. We are pleased to work with samples from all extremes of species from manatees to birds to sharks to bearded dragons to rabbits. We have experience with all these amazing species and special samples and know how critical it is to provide diagnostic information of the highest integrity to your exotic pet veterinarians. Your veterinarian does have options on where to send their samples – make sure to ask them where your pet’s samples are analyzed. Be part of the decision!

Some tests your veterinarian may want to order –

  • Complete blood count (CBC) – A common test much like is done in your own annual bloodwork to examine for possible infection or inflammation. This requires a very small amount of blood.
  • Basic plasma biochemistry – A routine or specialized panel that will help assess the general health of your pet including special testing for kidney and liver function. This requires a very small amount of blood.
  • Protein electrophoresis – A specialized test to look for inflammation and infection. This requires a very small amount of blood.
  • Special infectious disease testing – Several different tests are available depending on the species of your pet. Some involve use of swabs only where others require small amounts of blood. It is important to make sure your pet is not carrying some of these infections after purchase and before boarding your bird at your veterinarian’s clinic.