Exotic companion mammals are living longer, happier, healthier lives than anyone ever thought possible just a generation ago. Advancements in species-appropriate nutrition and husbandry certainly play a significant role in your fur babies’ overall well-being, but consistent, high-quality veterinary care is also essential for healthful longevity. Unfortunately, finding an experienced exotic-savvy veterinarian can prove quite challenging. Whether you are looking for a new veterinarian or are interested in determining whether your current vet is still the best fit for you and your exotic pet, the information and tips below are aimed to help you make a confident decision.
Don’t ALL Vets Know How to Treat ALL Species?
While it’s true that many veterinarians are skilled in treating more than one species, their typical schooling consists of a generalized curriculum establishing the basics of care for common species like dogs, cats, cattle, and equine. After all, learning how to properly diagnose and treat every single animal species would take far longer than four years of vet school. This means that many veterinarians graduate and start practicing with minimal exposure to exotics. For fledgling veterinarians with a special interest in treating exotic pets, some universities offer additional training and licensing to expand their skill set beyond the more “traditional” domesticated animals.
Why is Finding an Exotics-Savvy Vet so Important?
There is a common saying in veterinary medicine: “cats aren’t small dogs.” The meaning of this seemingly ambiguous statement is the fact that even though there can be several similarities between species, treating all animals the same could lead to tragic consequences. Exotics veterinarians understand the importance of treating each species uniquely. They also realize that most exotic pets are prey species and expertly camouflage signs of illness or injury, so they are skilled at detecting subtle changes that may indicate a brewing health concern.
If your dog’s vet refuses to see your rabbit (or guinea pig, rat, hamster, etc) – don’t be upset. They are still an incredibly smart, highly skilled professional perfectly capable of caring for your pooch. Rabbits likely fall outside of their comfort zone or they don’t have the appropriate equipment to properly care for small mammals. Regardless of their reasoning, be grateful they were honest about their strengths and abilities.
Let the Vet Search Begin
We’ve established that finding a veterinarian with the right training, knowledge, and skills to treat your fur baby may not be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible. The following resources will help aid in your search for your exotic friend’s new vet.
- Word of Mouth – As any successful veterinarian will tell you, one of the best ways find a veterinary practice that fits your needs is good old-fashioned word-of mouth referral. Talk to fellow animal lovers. Join online species-specific forums and social media groups with other exotic animal enthusiasts in your area. Ask questions. Be specific about your needs and preferences. You might be surprised how many people jump at the chance to brag about their favorite veterinarian.
- Ask Your Dog or Cat Vet – There are many veterinarians who have experience treating both traditional companion species (dogs and cats) as well as exotics. This tends to be especially common in rural areas where veterinarians are less populous and therefore need to expand their skillset to include more species. It’s also possible that even if your cat’s vet doesn’t see exotics, one of their associates does. Additionally, even if your veterinarian doesn’t feel comfortable seeing exotics, they may have a good idea of other hospitals in the area who will. The fact that you’ve already established a relationship with your current veterinarian will also help them provide references for exotics-friendly clinics with a similar feel and flow.
- Shelters and Rescues – Animal shelters and rescue organizations work very closely with veterinarians to care for the animals under their watch. There’s a good chance your local shelter or humane society will have a list of exotic-savvy veterinarians in your area. If you have any species-specific rescues nearby, don’t hesitate to reach out to them as well. Private rescue organizations will generally have at least one well-established relationship with an exotics veterinarian, and are usually more than happy to help any pet parent looking to provide appropriate veterinary care for their furry family members. Don’t have a local shelter or small mammal rescue nearby? Some larger rescue organizations, like the House Rabbit Society, keep a list of reputable veterinarians by state on their website.
- Veterinary Associations – There are a several professional associations for veterinarians who have a particular interest or expertise in exotic species. Searching through the listings on their websites will lead you to veterinarians who you can be certain have a passion for small mammals. One of the most well respected of these organizations, the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (AEMV) has a handy “Find an AEMV Vet” feature on their website that allows you to search by hospital name, country, city, etc.
- Referral or Teaching Hospitals – Large referral-only hospitals are generally filled with a variety of veterinary specialists and often have a department dedicated to just to exotic species. The same is true for many of the veterinary teaching hospitals found at colleges of veterinary medicine. The state-of-the-art treatment and care provided at these facilities makes them the obvious choice for little ones suffering from complicated or chronic medical issues, but they often do not perform routine healthcare (spays, neuters, nail trims, etc). Their vast, species-specific knowledge, however, makes them an excellent resource for finding a general practice well-versed in these unique species.
Once you’ve tracked down a few potential exotics-savvy veterinarians, it will be time to narrow the list even further by gathering some important details from the veterinarians themselves. Before taking your furry companion to see a new vet for the first time, it’s important to either call or make an appointment to go over the important questions below.
- How many exotic pets of the same (or similar) species do they see each year?
- Is the veterinarian board certified or the member of any professional organizations?
- Do they have the appropriate equipment needed to diagnose and treat your species?
- Has the support staff been trained on proper handling and care of exotic animals?
- Have any of the veterinary technicians pursued a specialty in exotics?
- Is the hospital fear-free certified?
- Does the hospital have a special ward or “quiet room” to house exotic species? Do they have a separate entrance to avoid run-ins with predators (dogs and cats)? If not, how do they limit the stress of these animals in clinic?
- What services do they provide for exotics?
- Do they allow pet parents to be present for treatment and examinations, or do they take the pets out of the room? Are there any exceptions to their policy? Why?
- Do they provide their own emergency services? If not, who do they suggest for after-hour care?
Once you’ve found a potential veterinarian who answers the above questions to your liking, it’s time to make your pet’s first appointment. While new and likely a little stressful (for both you and your little one), your first visit should feel comfortable and inviting. Did reception greet you kindly? How does the staff interact with your fur baby? Is the veterinarian warm and knowledgeable? If the veterinarian, or any member of their staff, does not treat your pet as one of their own or is dismissive about any of your concerns, you might want to continue your search until you find a better match.
It is important to take as much time deciding upon an exotic veterinarian as you would take finding a new doctor for yourself. While the search can be a challenge, especially if you happen to live in less densely populated areas, the effort is certainly worth the hassle. Knowing your furry family member has access to the most species-appropriate veterinary care will not only bring you peace of mind but will help ensure you get to share as many years as possible with your beloved exotic companions.