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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Time To Get Exotic

Most people in the US have dogs and cats as pets. But there are rapidly increasing numbers of so-called "exotic" pets. Exotics pets include pretty much anything you can have in a standard home besides the canines and felines. These animals could be lizards, snakes, hamsters, rabbits, ferrets, frogs, turtles, fish, hedgehogs, and many others. These pets can be very interesting and rewarding, but are much different than having a traditional pet. They require special care and housing requirements, and many people get these animals on impulse without properly researching them. It's estimated that 80-90% of health problems in exotic pets are related to husbandry (housing and diet). That means that the majority of illnesses in exotics are very preventable.

Now, going into the ins-and-outs of disease in every kind of species is pretty much impossible. What I'm going to try and do is give a few quick pointers if you have one of these pets or are considering getting one.

The first and foremost recommendation is to research the species carefully. Buy or rent a book on their housing and care. Many people don't know or realize the specialized conditions under which these pets need to be kept, or what they will be like as adults. For example, did you know that a major cause of disease in green iguanas is improper lighting and calcium metabolism? Or that full-grown iguanas can be over five feet long? These are the kinds of things you want to know ahead of time.

Second, call around and find a vet who has the knowledge and experience to care for the species. Even though we receive some basic education in most species, proper medical care and surgery of these pets requires more than the basics covered in veterinary school. And not every vet even wants to see exotics. Ask many questions about your vet's qualifications and experience, and what they are equipped to handle. In my own case, I can do many basic avian diagnostics and procedures, but do not feel comfortable doing major surgeries on birds, especially large and expensive ones.

Lastly, be prepared for the responsibility. It's easy to find boarding for dogs and cats, but exotic pets are more difficult. Who will take care of your pet when you go on vacation? Some pets, such as birds, can live for many decades, and can rival a human's lifespan. What will happen to your pet if it outlives you? The newness of the pet can fade away as the long-term care becomes more difficult. Do you really want this pet for it's whole life?

Having an exotic pet can be extremely fun and rewarding, but only if you're prepared for it.

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