Sometimes I see a frightened exotic pet arrive at my office, and I try to put myself in their place.
I imagine I’m Alice, the parrot, in non-Wonderland: I have just become very small, while everything around me is very big. Someone has caught me in my bedroom and put me in a dark, cold, plastic cave. The lid comes down and the light of the world goes away. I feel the earth trembling beneath me, and I don’t know where they are taking me.
I am terrified.
April Is National Stress Awareness Month
Those of us with pets know they help us immeasurably with the stress of our everyday lives. But are we aware as we can be about managing their stress?
All animals experience stress, but our exotic pets are most sensitive to changes in their environment, their health status and their routine. Even in a well-adjusted, stress-free exotic pet, when illness hits, they become very stressed.
If you need to make a trip to the veterinarian, in sickness or in health, here are some tips to make the trip as safe and stress-free as possible.
Preparing for a Trip
Most exotic pets should be taken for a wellness exam shortly after they are acquired. Doing this:
- Gets them used to the veterinary experience.
- Helps your avian or exotics vet verify that you’re starting out on the right and healthy furry or feathered foot.
- Makes a good exotics practice question you about husbandry and nutrition, and it’ll make sure you’re starting out on the right human foot with your special new addition.
Lessening stress in our creatures begins at home and immediately after adopting your special friend. Too many exotic pets are not handled and never get used to people, making a trip to a veterinarian absolutely daunting.
A good exotics vet will first try to observe with as little intervention as possible. If I’m presented with a presumably healthy pet who isn’t used to being handled, I’ll do very little handling, if any. If the pet is obviously ill, restraint of any kind can push the suffering creature over the edge.
It’s sad when I meet a bird who’s never been out of their cage or a rabbit who’s never been cuddled. This makes my attempt to examine such a creature possibly the most stressful and frightening experience of its little life.
Birds, for example, should be taught to perch on your finger and step up to perches outside their cage. Ideally, after your bird trusts you, you should be able to cautiously restrain it in a familiar towel to inspect feathers, toenails, etc. This way, when seen by a veterinarian, your bird will be used to safe and gentle restraint techniques. Use the same towel for gentle restraint and bring it with you to the vet.
The pet’s familiar cage or aquarium is the best housing for travel, but that’s not always possible. And too many exotic pets arrive at the vet in a dilapidated old shoe box or dark, frightening plastic storage container. This creates terrible stress and is unsafe.
So get your exotic used to a smaller home suitable for travel, like a travel cage or a smaller aquarium. Put your exotic in this environment for short intervals when they’re not stressed before a trip in the car. Put favorite toys or food treats in the travel cage.
Car rides can be intensely stressful for any pet if they’re not accustomed to the sights, sounds and motion of a vehicle. Sitting with your pet in a car with the motor running for several minutes a few times a month is a great way to lessen stress when it’s time to take a trip for real. After a few “parked car” lessons, drive around the block. Get home quickly before your pet becomes scared, then slowly work up to going around the block twice.
Get your vehicle at the correct temperature to alleviate climate stress. If your pet is not used to the car, arrange for a travel companion to drive while you hold your precious cargo steady.
If we take a pet’s-eye view more often, we’ll become more aware of their stress. Sneaking a peek at my bird preening in a sunlit spot or hearing my little guinea pig munching veggies immediately lowers my stress level. Now it’s time for me to lower theirs.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed April 26, 2017.