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Exotic animal medicine

5 March 2021

But which animals fall into this category?
Why go to the vet instead of the pet store?

Exotic animals are also called the new pets by our European colleagues. These are pets which include birds, reptiles, snakes, rabbits, ferrets, rats, guinea pigs, flying phalanxes, Vietnamese pigs, and other small mammals. Each of these species has very specific characteristics. Specific needs, care required, diet, etc., they also have varying longevities, sterilization may be highly recommended, and the incidence (frequency) of different illnesses varies. These animals are often very attractive since they are easily accessible in pet stores and they seem to require less maintenance, but in these capsules you will see that this is not necessarily the case!

Here, I want to discuss the importance of veterinarians in the care of your little ones. In our practice, unfortunately too often we hear the following: “I went to the pet store before going to see you about my pet’s illness.” Sometimes the 2-3 day postponement of a visit to a veterinarian can cost your pet’s life, leaving too much time for the disease to progress. It is true that accessibility to veterinary care for exotic animals can be difficult. We are few veterinarians to offer this service and the fees can sometimes hamper your visits. However, it is important to recognize the relevance of veterinary care.

“As a veterinarian, we have studied the medicine of your animals for 5 years and more according to the degree of specialization. Diagnosing a disease in an animal is strictly a veterinary act, so that your animal receives the care it needs. “

It is therefore important to call a veterinarian if your pet is sick, shows a change in routine or behavior. A simple call is usually toll-free and can help to guide you. The person on the phone will be able to tell you if a visit is recommended or if it can wait a bit. Also, we can send you documentation to provide an environment that meets your pet’s needs.

It is important not to wait before seeking advice from a veterinarian, exotic animals are for the most part fragile species and very much camouflage their signs of suffering or illness. Waiting more than 24-48 hours before taking action can have a significant impact on their health.

During your visit, we discuss the health, but also the needs for the environment, the diet of your exotic animals. I seem to be repeating myself here, but be aware that management issues (the needs of each species) are the number one cause of visits to a veterinarian. A physical examination will then allow us to complete our assessment. Without a complete physical examination and possibly additional tests (blood test, x-rays, etc.), it may be difficult for us to know the nature of the disease in your animals. It is important to know that diagnosing and prescribing medication is an act reserved for veterinarians, otherwise it illegal practice of medicine. Pet stores can supply you with equipment for the exotic animal environment while the veterinarian is trained to diagnose and make sure their environment is right. We therefore work together with animal stores for the well-being of your animals, but each has its own role.

To conclude this little introduction to exotic animals, I would also like to share with you my motivation to take care of your little ones. I grew up in downtown Quebec City in an apartment, I have had exotic animals all my life, from mice, to birds to snakes. I had never heard of accessible veterinary care. I read books and did my best like most of us. I studied biology, which was fascinating, and then once I got into veterinary medicine, I saw that the reality of exotics was still too little known. So I chose this practice in order to offer a chance to give a better quality of life to our lesser known animals. When I finished my studies to be a veterinarian, I did a one-year internship at the Saint-Hyacinthe Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in order to perfect my knowledge of exotic animals. As our knowledge is constantly evolving in relation to these species, I regularly train in this area and exchange with my peers to learn more. Being passionate about biology, I often refer to their behavior in nature in order to better understand them. I am therefore a generalist for exotic animals. If your animal needs more in-depth care, we will be able to refer him to specialists in exotic animals for more in-depth care.

Dr. Maude Gauthier-Bouchard, B.Sc, DMV, IPSAV in exotic animal medicine.