Exotic Pet Care – Basic Guidelines
We believe that education is a vital part of preventative medicine. That’s why we encourage everyone to establish a strong relationship with their veterinarian. Our clients know our commitment to educating pet owners is sincere – and our future clients will discover that at their first visit!
If you are looking for or already have a bird, reptile, rabbit or other small mammal, one of the best things you can do is make sure it has the best chance of being healthy. Educate yourself by knowing what you should be feeding you pet, how it should be kept, and what signs you should look for to detect illness. By establishing a relationship with a veterinarian that is experienced with these unusual animals, you should be able to have many of your pets and your own needs met. Here are a few points to consider in providing the best care for your exotic pet.
Malnutrition is one of the problems most often seen in exotic pets, and offering the correct diet is critical for your pet’s health. We see a lot of patients on poor and/or nutrient deficient diets that have resulted in the development of illnesses. Whether it is a rabbit, bird, chinchilla, ferret, iguana or any pet at all, what they eat can very well determine how healthy they are and, in some cases, how long they live. Rabbits and guinea pigs, for instance, require an unlimited supply of timothy hay because of their high fiber requirement for normal gastrointestinal function. They also need certain fresh vegetables and fruits, but there are limits on what should be fed and how much should be fed. Ferrets have a very specific formulated food that they should be fed and other small mammals or rodents have specific requirements as well.
Birds are sometimes even more difficult to feed properly. It is almost impossible to replicate that exact diet that birds have in the wild, especially when it is dependent on what part of the world the birds are from. There are several formulated (pelleted or extruded) diets currently on the market for birds, and a lot of exceptional work in the field of avian nutrition has been accomplished over the last 25 years. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also important for them to have, but within moderation. Seed based diets seem to be the most common diet provided to pet birds, but they are one of least nutritionally balanced. In general, seeds are lacking in many of the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to keep your bird healthy. Seed based diets can also be very fattening. Converting your bird to a healthier diet should be a slow, gradual process that is monitored closely with the help of your veterinarian.
Reptiles also have very specific dietary requirements. There are some reptiles that are herbivores (eat plants only), carnivores (eat animals only), omnivores (eat both plant and animal matter), or insectivores (eat insects). Care should be taken when feeding herbivorous reptiles as exposure to animal based proteins (in dog food, cat food, or monkey chow) can damage their kidneys resulting in an illness that is often life-threatening.
Finding the particular dietary needs of your reptile, bird, or small mammal can lead to a healthier, more active pet.
How and Where Your Pet Lives
Another important factor in keeping an exotic pet properly is husbandry, or how and where your pet lives. They should be in a clean environment that is also very safe and secure. Any time the pet is let out of its home and handled, he/she should be supervised for the entire duration of their ”adventure”. Pets should also be brought to a place where they do not have to worry about other animals (dogs, cats, or other exotics) being able to bother (or even injure) them. We have seen plenty of pets that got a little too close to a cat or dog (or even a bird) and had been badly hurt during the encounter. Some of our little friends, especially birds, hamsters, rabbits, and ferrets like to chew on or eat things that they are not supposed to eat, which can cause them to become ill.
Outside their cage or enclosure, all pets should be closely monitored – but what about the inside? The cage itself should be clean and free of any rust or sharp points. It should also be secure so that your pet cannot get out on its own. There should be plenty of easily accessible areas for fresh food and water. The types of toys and other accessories that your pet has should also be approved for each particular pet and checked routinely to see when and if it needs to be replaced. Even the type of bedding (or substrate) is extremely important. Simple is usually better, and newspaper or recycled paper products make excellent choices for many exotic pets. Check with your veterinarian about the proper substrate for your pet. There are a lot of things on the market that are sold for exotic pets that may be dangerous for them. A veterinarian should approve anything used in your pet’s environment.
Most of the exotic pets have certain temperatures, humidity, and sunlight (or UV light) requirements. Requirements differ between species. For example, if an environment is too cold, some reptiles cannot digest their food properly, even if they continue to eat. If too hot, some pets (such as guinea pigs and rabbits) can become very ill from the stress of the heat and can even suffer a heat stroke. Proper humidity in a pet’s environment is very beneficial to promote, for instance, normal shedding of a reptile. Temperatures and humidity levels should be measured and it is usually very easy to do so with one of the many thermometers/hygrometers available.
Monitoring your pet’s health is extremely important. Having routine check ups by an experienced veterinarian can help prevent illness, find diseases or other problems early, and advise owners on proper nutrition and husbandry. Checking things like weight, body condition, eyes, nose, feather/scale/skin condition, and other physical aspects of your pet help determine if your pet is healthy. Routine examinations may also include bloodwork, radiographs, stool checks, and other laboratory tests.
The most important thing that an owner (or ”Pet Parent”) can do to help their pet live a long and active life is to become familiar with each pet’s specific needs and personality. Know and understand your exotic pet’s normal habits, routines, and behavior. If something just doesn’t seem right, it could indicate that he/she is getting sick. Exotic animals usually maintain the look of a healthy pet, even when they are sick, for as long as possible. A lot of owners do not even realize their pet has been sick until it is not moving, having a hard time breathing, or even worse. Monitoring the amount of food they eat, the look and amount of stools and urine they produce, and other aspects of their daily life can help you recognize when your pet is ill more quickly. It is also better to get them examined if you have any doubts, concerns, or questions than to wait until they are showing obvious signs of illness. Many exotic pets are very difficult to treat when they are obviously ill, because many times this indicates an already critical situation.
Please contact one of us at Griffin Avian and Exotic Veterinary Hospital if you have any questions about your current (or future) exotic pet. Thanks for taking the time to read this!