Exotic animals are generally considered to be anything that is not a dog, cat or rabbit.
Many practices have one or more vets who are specifically interested in exotic species. Often, they can offer a GP service, including basic health checks and routine health care such as claw clipping, beak trimming, and husbandry advice (such as correct diet, housing and care).
When exotic pets become unwell, they can be challenging to diagnose as they do not show symptoms in the same way a cat or dog does. Vets can undertake additional training in exotic species, most commonly in the form of a post-graduate certificate in Zoological Medicine. Practices who have vets with, or studying towards, a certificate are more likely to have the specialised equipment required to safely house, diagnose and treat exotic species. Often these vets will accept referrals from other practices, and some even provide care for local zoo animals!
When we refer to exotic species in veterinary, we are generally talking about the following types of animals;
Most vets are happy to see commonly kept small mammal species such as guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, rats, mice, chinchillas and degus. Many practices may have a particular vet who prefers seeing these “small furries”. Less commonly encountered exotic mammals include sugar gliders, pygmy hedgehogs, skunks, racoons, marmoset monkeys and meerkats. These need specific knowledge, and some can be dangerous to handle, so are usually only seen by vets who have additional training in exotic species.
Commonly kept reptiles include bearded dragons, geckos, tortoises, terrapins and some snakes. Many practices are happy to see these for routine care and initial assessment but may refer them to a more experienced colleague if they are unwell and need investigations. Reptiles with more complex requirements such as chameleons, monitor lizards and large snakes may be better seeing a more experienced vet routinely. Very few vets will be able to treat large or dangerous reptiles such as crocodilians or venomous snakes.
Small pet birds such as budgies and canaries will be seen by most vets. Parrots are generally more challenging to treat, and can deteriorate very quickly, so specialist referral is often advised. Raptors, such as owls and falcons, also benefit from treatment by vets with experience seeing these species. Practices that routinely see and treat birds will have appropriate equipment to anaesthetise them, and facilities for endoscopy.
Most practices can see and treat chickens if kept in small numbers as pets. Many of the medications used in pet birds mean neither the chicken nor her eggs can ever enter the food chain, so commercial flocks are better treated by a specific farm animal or poultry vet.
Fish, Amphibians and Invertebrates
These are considered specialist exotic species, and most first opinion vets will not have the skills or equipment to treat these species. Often diagnostics and treatment are possible, especially for fish, however this will need to be undertaken at a practice with appropriate facilities.
Your local practice will be able to advise you on the level of care they can provide to exotic species, and whether there is a particular team member you should see. If they are not able to provide advanced care, or you keep more unusual species, it is strongly recommended to find and register with a specialist exotic practice before you need them.