When It Comes to Exotic Pets, Do Your Homework

Whether they are hamsters, parrots or iguanas, exotic pets have specific veterinary needs. Don’t get an exotic pet until you read this first.

If your exotic pet gets sick, do you know a vet who can help? By: pamas

What is an exotic pet? Good question.

In my experience, it’s anything but a dog or a cat. That leaves a lot of fantastic creatures that people keep in their homes in between the “dog” and “cat” label.

Veterinarians usually specialize in large or small animal medicine. Large means, well, large, like cows and horses. Throw in the other ruminants — and don’t forget the poultry. “Small animal medicine” means dogs and cats.


So what’s in between? The exotics.

Who sees the bird, the degu, the rabbit, the, ferret, the rat, the guinea pig, the iguana, the monitor, the canary, the Amazon, the, well … I think you know where this is going. Who sees these fascinating creatures? It’s a vet who is dedicated to becoming specialized in some or all of these critters and referring when necessary.

Exotic Pet Precautions

Birds (Avian Medicine)

Parakeet to canary to cockatoo to un-tamed macaw. It’s a big bird world out there, and we need to know their idiosyncratic needs. An African gray is not an Amazon is not a rosella. Avian medicine is a specialty. My respect to those veterinarians who are changing the world for our feathered friends.

Don’t Miss: What You Need to Know Before You Get a Parrot


There is no simple handbook for these guys. They are an extremely diverse category. Does your vet know everything she should about the iguana left in a dorm room for the summer? The monitor lizard who won’t eat? The snake who might be egg bound? The badly colored gecko?

Like I said, big world out there…

According to Dr. Shawn Messonnier, DVM, writing in Exotic Pets: A Veterinary Guide for Owners, you should ask yourself 4 questions before you get a reptile:

  1. Do I want a pet just to look at, or do I want to handle and socialize it?
  2. How much time can I devote to my pet?
  3. Can I afford proper medical care?
  4. Can I make or buy the correct habitat (home) for my reptile?
Gerbils, guinea pigs and ferrets — and most species, in fact — have distinct veterinary needs from one another. By: npobre

Amphibians and Chelonians

What about the African dwarf frog with a bad leg or the turtle that was found under the couch for several weeks? Oy.

Small Mammals

Is a rabbit like a ferret or a guinea pig? Or a chinchilla? No, it is not. If we treat them all as the same species, that’s not cool. All these guys are special. They require special treatment.

Pocket Pets

You’ve got your hamsters, your mice, your rats. Throw in the occasional degu. Don’t forget those gerbils. Do you treat them the same? No, you don’t.

What’s a degu, you ask? Check out this video of a particularly affectionate one:

Animals Who Are Not Easy to Fit Into a Category

The micro pigs, the sugar gliders. The occasional squirrel or pet skunk or — well, let’s not go down this road of crazies. Ask me to take out the canines of a monkey? I don’t think so.

Perhaps in a later article I’ll discuss how hard it is to diagnose, anesthetize, do surgery, etc. on these guys, but I think I’ve made my point today — treating these guys is not easy.

“Veterinary care for birds and exotic pets has gotten quite specialized in the last few decades,” says Dr. Douglas E. Knueven, DVM, adding that “many veterinarians … refuse to treat these unusual pets altogether.”

Do Your Homework

Don’t let your kid get a hedgehog for her bedroom and don’t buy the snake that your son is supposed to take care of if you can’t back them up with support. Don’t keep the bird in the cage for 10 years without changing anything but the water.

We are responsible for these creatures who may not belong in a suburban bedroom or a garage. Or a dorm room. Or in a hutch. Or in a cage. We must take responsibility. We must do the right thing.

My heart breaks when an exotic pet comes in because the caretaker neglected to research its needs. Before you give the green light on buying an exotic pet for your household, think of the requirements that must be met to give these animals a good life in your home.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Dec. 17, 2018.


Please share this with your friends below:

Also Popular