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Choose a vet for an exotic pet

An x-ray of a green iguana with arthritis.
An x-ray of a green iguana with arthritis.
Holli Friedland

When buying that new bird, hedgehog, snake, sugar glider or tortoise people do not always think ahead to veterinary care. At some point in the animal’s life, chances are it will need to see a vet. Even if it is healthy, a wellness checkup is a good idea. When a new animal is purchased or adopted, think ahead and budget for caring for future medical needs.

If a pet owner has had exotics in the past, he may know where to look for a veterinarian or already have one. First time exotic pet owners will quickly discover that a lot of dog and cat vets have no idea what to do with these species.

Dr. Sue Felter, a veterinarian who sees reptiles and mainstream pets at Westview Animal Hospital said, “While all veterinary schools teach a little about all types of animals, the basic small animal curriculum focuses on dogs and cats, so not all veterinarians have adequate training with the exotic species.”

This is a critical point because some veterinarians are willing to try to help all of the clients’ pets. However, they may not have the equipment needed to treat exotics properly. Certain medications and their dosages are much different or even dangerous, with exotics and your veterinarian needs to know that. Dog and cat vets may not have reference materials on hand for exotic species since they rarely, if ever, see exotics as patients.

Dr. Felter went on to say, “Most vets who are interested in these animals do extensive elective coursework and join professional organizations devoted to these species in order to get continued training.”

For birds, reptiles and amphibians there is a website that can help. ARAV, the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, has a list of qualified veterinarians in each state to help people find the right vet for their pet.

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