exotics 101
Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee Rebecca
Words by:
Rebecca Timmons, DVM — Associate IndeVet

It has happened to all of us at some point (or if it hasn’t yet, then it may)!

Whether you have a big heart (and just couldn’t say no) or there’s been a miscommunication …  you end up outside an exam room, look down at the intake paperwork, and realize it’s an exotic pet.  (Or in my case, maybe you heard the rooster’s crow before you even saw the paperwork and thought, This will be an interesting appointment!)

Either way, take a step back and take a deep breath.

Whether you’ve wanted to dabble in exotics or not, you always have a minute to gather your thoughts and set yourself up for success.

Take a second to assess what resources you will need to make sure that this pet gets what it needs. And remember: there is never anything wrong with doing your best and suggesting a referral, pending what is going on with the pet.

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Preparing for an exotics appointment: Know your resources

The most important thing for any exotic appointment is knowing your resources. There are so many species and everything is always being updated as exotic pet medicine evolves, so don’t be afraid to look up information or rebrief yourself on a species.

Here are some great quick resources for exotic pets:

  • Lafeber Vet: Fantastic online resource for quick tidbits of information, care guides and more! I like that they have information for both the veterinarian and resources for owners. This is my first go-to many times if I need some quick information.
  • UC Davis has some great quick information on their website as well.
  • VIN: Our trusted veterinarian forum tends to have the most up-to-date information regarding drugs, diagnoses, and any information you may need.
  • Carpenters Formulary: a must have if you are interested in starting in exotics! You can even buy an online version when you are in a quick pinch!

Veterinary resources for reptiles/chelonians/amphibians

Veterinary resources for small mammals

Veterinary resources for avian

Animal husbandry matters!

The second most important thing for any exotics appointment: husbandry, husbandry, husbandry!

While you are gathering the information you need, have your assistant or technician go back in the room and get ALL of the information on this pet’s husbandry — housing, lighting, food, bedding substrate, supplements…etc.

It’s also important to learn everything you can: when did they get it? Do they know if the age is accurate? Has it been sexed? Have they had that species before? Any other pets in the house?

More exotics content: Treating GI stasis in rabbits with Dr. Cathy

If you intend on seeing exotics more regularly, you can create a quick intake questionnaire. It doesn’t have to look fancy or anything but all of the information will help.

See below for what I use for my quick questionnaire. Feel free to copy/paste it into a document, print it and have the owner fill out or the technician walk through the questions as you prepare. (For a pdf version, click here!)

Exotics 101 questionnaire for reptiles
Intake questionnaires for reptiles/chelonians
Exotics 101 questionnaire for aquatic pets
Intake questionnaires for aquatic pets (water turtles and fish)
Exotics 101 questionnaire for birds
Intake questionnaires for birds
Exotics 101 questionnaire for small mammals
Intake questionnaires for small mammals (rodents, ferrets, hedgehogs, rabbits)
Exotics 101 questionnaire for all other pets
Intake questionnaires for all other pets

Anytime before going into an exotics appointment you should jump onto Lafeber Vet or open your book or check on VIN and see what are the basic husbandry requirements (or have there been any updates to what you know) for this animal:

  • What kind and how big of housing does it need?
  • Exact humidity levels and range?
  • What is the temperature range requirement?
  • What kind of lighting does it need — heat and UVB? What kind of food does it need?
  • Any supplement requirements?
  • Is it diurnal? Nocturnal?
  • Does it brumate or slow down in the winter?

Some of these are similar questions that you need to be asking the owner — and if they aren’t giving you EXACT numbers on what they are doing at home or exact information on their pet’s setup then they probably aren’t meeting the needs of that pet — which means our job is to educate!

In conclusion: Treating exotic pets

Luckily, more and more owners are doing their research before buying these exotic pets. However, it’s still not uncommon to get the owner that thought it would be an easy pet and they don’t realize that they need all of the information that you can offer.

You can be this owner’s greatest resource! Us veterinarians have the awesome ability to evaluate what information is good and bad.

I feel that we as GP veterinarians are more than capable to set exotic pet owners up for success and utilize our exotic specialists for the more extensive care issues!

Read more: 5 tips for seamless case transfers

Quick tip summary:

Knowledge is power! And with great power comes great…wait nevermind.

Never just jump into an exotic appointment — give yourself a minute to prepare! Allow your staff to help gather all the information they can while you gather yours.

Exotic husbandry and medicine is constantly evolving — which means its always a good idea to make sure nothing has changed before going into a room.

Husbandry is KEY and essential in an exotic pet’s health and wellbeing. Even if an owner is doing everything right — I still send them with handouts and resources.

Know your resources: for your information as a vet, for a clients information as an owner, and where the nearest exotic specialist is.

Dr. Rebecca Timmons is an Associate IndeVet practicing in North Carolina.

More from IndeVets:

“Doc, how do I know if it’s time?” Advising pet owners on euthanasia

On grief and grieving: An ER vet’s tale

Exploring the human-animal bond from a One Health framework

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