Nontraditional animal medicine has absolutely become an integral part of our companion animal practice, not to mention a passion of mine.
While traditional veterinary medicine is concerned with only eight or less species, exotic animal veterinarians are expected to be proficient in the care, husbandry, and medicine of dozens of species.
There has been increased interest in ownership of exotic animals since I have been in practice (22 years). Restrictions on dog and cat ownership in urban areas, apartments and condominiums, and dormitories are often more lenient for non-traditional animals. For example, we once had a UC med student who brought in a pet rabbit. Many exotic pets due not require as much interaction and are more compatible with our mobile and active lifestyles. Ferrets are examples of pets that sleep 22 hours a day and many busy people can keep despite never being home. Regarding ferrets, we see many and people drive from many miles away to come to All Creatures.
There is also an increased interest in exotic pets because of cable shows such as Animal Planet and television shows such as Jeff Corwin. Reptiles are gaining popularity because of these shows and require detailed husbandry requirements but minimal owner interaction.
Speaking of Jeff Corwin, I have had the opportunity to meet him twice and he is really a great zoologist and speaker. (While in Costa Rica however our group of herpetologists did catch his filming crew planting the Bushmaster that he was to “find” – little secret!)
Speaking of exotic pets, we have had our share of unusual experiences here at all Creatures. A boy drove from Wilmington with his sick snake and forgot to inform me it was venomous – a rear fanged Australian Mangrove snake. Fortunately while retrieving the snake from the snake bag, I recognized that it was unusual and grasped it safely behind the neck. The snake was safely examined and treated before returning it to the bag. Don’t be worried, it was only the second time in 11 years at All Creatures that we had seen a venomous reptile.
Although some individuals may make reasonable and educated decisions about pet ownership, others may adopt exotic pets for the wrong reasons. Some may get an exotic pet because they think it will be cool.
Pot bellied pigs are an example of a fad pet that many people give up once the fad wears off. I got all my pigs that way and they live for 15 –20 years. Once we spayed a prairie dog which, although cute as could be, may be a problematic digger or aggressive as it grows up. Sugar Gliders are also very cute, but require very strict diets and are very prone to biting and dental problems. Hedgehogs come in periodically and, like turtles, can be almost impossible to examine. Sedation is frequently required and we have to be careful about using that. Surprisingly, cancer is very common in hedgehogs and they are often short-lived because of this.
We could go on and on, we probably treat two dozen species at All Creatures – from chickens to bearded dragons.
Out the ordinary pets require out of the ordinary care. Veterinarians working with exotic animals must have some knowledge of their biology, nutrition, husbandry, behavior, and medical conditions. We will often leave the exam room to look something up on the interne or in a textbook during an exam.
It is impossible to be an expert in so many diverse species; therefore exotic animal medicine emphasizes the use of logical approach to clinical problems rather than memorizing common disease presentations and treatments for the different species. We rely on our training and experience and extrapolating from one species to another.
I always ask myself when I am unsure of how to handle something, “what would I do if it was dog or cat”? Most of all handling exotic pets and wildlife keeps life from getting boring around All Creatures.
Dr. Dan Meakin is the owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital, 1894 Ohio Pike in Amelia. Call (513) 797-PETS.