Approximately 10 percent of American households own an exotic pet, such as a rodent, rabbit, guinea pig, ferret, bird, reptile, or amphibian. And, like dogs and cats, exotic pets can be beloved companions to their owners. They also require regular veterinary care.
Similar to a new puppy exam, your exotic pet’s first veterinary visit should take place shortly after he is added to your household. This first visit will allow our team to assess your pet’s current health status. Previous lack of proper diet, lighting, temperature, and caging can leave exotic animals susceptible to parasites and disease. Our team has experience treating many exotic species and can offer advice about appropriate nutrition and housing.
After this initial visit, your exotic pet should visit our office at least once a year for health checks. Read on for health tips, information, and situations that might warrant a veterinary visit for a few common exotic pet species.
Rodents (rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters)
- Misaligned teeth — Rodents’ front teeth grow continuously and are worn down as they grind against each other when chewing. If the teeth do not align correctly, they may wear unevenly or overgrow. Misaligned teeth should be professionally trimmed by our veterinary staff using the appropriate tools. Trimming the teeth on your own can cause the teeth to split or may leave sharp edges that can traumatize the tissues of the mouth.
- Intestinal infections — Intestinal infections can cause diarrhea in rodents (particularly hamsters), often referred to as “wet tail.” If a rodent is not producing solid fecal pellets, he should be evaluated to determine the cause of the diarrhea.
- Tumors — A common problem in all rodent species, tumors often arise from extensive mammary tissue and typically develop on the abdomen or shoulder area. If evaluated before they become too large, many tumors can be safely removed.
- Digestive problems — Rabbits should graze on small meals throughout the day to maintain constant movement of food through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. A lack of appetite or pellet production for as few as 12 hours can lead to severe digestive problems and warrant a veterinary consultation.
- Spay/neuter — Pet rabbits should be spayed or neutered to avoid unwanted breeding, behavioral problems, and reproductive problems, such as uterine cancer.
- Feet trouble — Exposure to wire flooring and soiled bedding can lead to pododermatitis, an infection of the feet that causes pain and lameness. If you see scabs, ulcers, or blood on your rabbit’s feet, call our office.
- Respiratory disease — Any rabbit that is sneezing or has nasal discharge should be brought into our office immediately. The culprit could be a bacterial respiratory disease referred to as “snuffles.” Left untreated, snuffles can progress to cause skin abscesses, inner ear infections, pneumonia, or even death.
- Hiding illness — As a prey species in the wild, birds are masters at hiding signs of illness. It is often not until a bird is so sick that he can no longer hide his illness that an owner will notice unusual behavior. Signs of illness in birds include:
- A ruffled or fluffed appearance to the feathers
- Sitting on the bottom of the cage instead of perching on an elevated surface
- Regurgitation of food
- Abrupt change in behavior, especially if a previously aloof or unsocial bird allows handling and seems friendlier
- Decreased production of dropping
- Open-mouth breathing, often with the tail bobbing up and down as the bird struggles to breathe (this is always a medical emergency, and the bird should be seen immediately)
- Behavioral problems — Many bird species live for decades in the wild and, when caged and provided little mental stimulation, develop behavioral problems. Birds that are plucking their feathers out or acting aggressively toward their owners should be evaluated for behavior disorders.
- Inappropriate husbandry — Most disease conditions of reptiles are related to inappropriate husbandry. It can be tricky to provide just the right diet, temperature, humidity, cage substrate, and water source for perfect health, as different reptile species have different needs. Inadequate nutrition and environmental conditions can lead to malnutrition, suppression of the immune system, and a host of illnesses.
- Metabolic bone disease — All captive lizard species require calcium supplementation and UV light exposure, as debilitating metabolic bone disease can result from a lack of either. This disease can cause weakness, paralysis, soft bones, and fractures.
- Difficulties shedding skin — Both snakes and lizards can experience difficulty during the periodic shedding of their skin. Termed dysecdysis, this condition can lead to the buildup of layers of unshed skin around areas such as the toes or tail. These body parts can eventually be constricted, causing death of the tissue and loss of the toes or tail tip. If you see skin accumulating around parts of the body after your lizard or snake sheds, call our office.
If you have an exotic pet or are thinking of adding one to your household, give our office a call at 303-680-5050.