An "exotics" veterinarian sounds like someone who provides medical care for zoo animals or unusual pets, but the term usually refers to vets who specialize in small animals other than cats and dogs. That can include rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles, or birds. Sometimes, these animals are known as "pocket pets"—but they need specialized care in order to live long, happy lives.
While many people may have these animals as pets, these animals have unique needs that are best addressed by a veterinarian familiar with the species. If you have a small animal and require an exotics veterinarian, how do you choose one? Here are four tips for finding the best exotics vet for your pet.
1. Look for a vet who specializes in the type of animal you have.
Some exotics vets see primarily small mammals, while others see just reptiles and amphibians and still others are experts on bird care. You will find many vets who see any animal that's not a dog or cat, but you're likely to get the best care from a doctor who is very knowledgeable about your type of pet. This should include familiarity with common diseases as well as well-pet care.
Ask how long the vet has been treating your type of pet and whether the vet is familiar with your species. Many qualified exotics vets will also be members of the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians or Association of Avian Veterinarians. Vets who belong to these organizations show that they are familiar with these animals and have opportunities for continuing education and staying up to date with the latest advances in care.
2. The clinic should be able to provide proper care for your pet.
This may be harder than it sounds. For example, many exotics are small and must have a small scale suitable for weighing them in grams. Additionally, exotics animals need special anesthesia during surgeries; they can't necessarily use the same medications as cats and dogs. A clinic that sees exotics should have the equipment necessary to provide both check-ups and emergency care.
3. Technicians should be trained in handling exotics.
It's great if the vet is really knowledgeable, but you need to be assured that your pet will be in good hands no matter what care is required. Is there a technician who can prevent your rabbit from twisting the wrong way while being weighed and potentially damaging its back? Can a tech properly manage a snake that needs an x-ray? Make sure that all the staff members—or at least the ones that will be seeing you and your pets—have experience with that type of animal.
4. The vet should have a plan for emergency care.
One issue with small exotics is that they can hide signs of illness well, so by the time you notice a problem, the animal may need immediate care. Many 24-hour emergency vet clinics do not have an exotics vet on staff.
Your exotics vet should have a recommendation or plan for how to provide after-hours care for your pet. Some clinics have an answering service after hours, while some vets with specialized knowledge are "on call" with an emergency clinic. They provide over-the-phone assistance in case of major problems.
The time to seek out an exotics vet is before your pet gets sick. In fact, it's important for most species of exotics to have regular check-ups, so you should find a vet who can provide preventative care as well as manage illnesses and emergencies.