“When do I need to bring my pet back to Ohana Animal Hospital to see you again Dr. Steffes?” That is the most common question I hear at the end of an appointment with my exotic animal clients, and I think one that it’s time we discuss. At the beginning of my career as an exotic animal veterinarian I would answer with once a year, but was not so sure how much I really meant it. I was young, and did not yet have the experience under my belt to be able to answer that question with absolute confidence. At this point in my career, I realize that many of the issues that arise in our exotic pets could have been easily prevented with a yearly, or bi-yearly health evaluation. So, when I am now asked that question I answer without any doubt in my mind, “once yearly in young pets, and twice per year once your pet reaches his/her senior years.”
“Why should I bring my pet to see the veterinarian when it seems healthy Dr. Steffes?” I knew that was what you were thinking, so let’s address that. The majority of exotic pets are very good at hiding signs of illness. If you appear sick and weak in the wild, you are most likely going to be some predator’s next meal. This is one of the main reasons why so many people have stories that go like this: “My bearded dragon was acting completely normal, but it had not eaten for the last 4 months. Yesterday it started to act lethargic so I figured it was time to bring it to the vet. The vet put my beloved beardie on medications, and it died the same night! The vet killed my bearded dragon with the medications he/she gave, and now I will never bring my exotic pet to the vet again because they can never fix these pets anyway.” I understand this thought process, but I want to try to help us move past this. Is it possible that the medication caused the demise of your beloved lizard? I suppose it is possible, but it is much more likely that your dragon was too sick to be saved. I never blame an owner for coming in too late, and I never try make people feel bad. It can be very hard to tell when your exotic pet is sick, and we exotic animal veterinarians know this. That is why it is beneficial to go to your exotic animal veterinarian once to twice per year, even if your pet looks healthy. We are here to help you, and you should not be afraid to use us. Believe me, we are much less likely to bite than your hamster or green tree python. 🙂
Another reason why it is so important to bring your exotic pet in to see the veterinarian, even though it appears healthy, is that we can help you keep it that way. There is a good chance that with a good physical exam we will find issues well before your pet will ever show signs of disease. We may find early signs of pododermatitis (irritation on a rabbit or rodent’s feet that can lead to serious bone infection), and we can help you redesign your housing. We may palpate a mass in the abdomen of your monitor lizard, and with early diagnosis we may be able to save your pet before disease spreads. We may find out that we need to adjust the diet you are feeding your panther chameleon, or that you need to switch the multivitamin supplement you are using for your insectivore because it lacks preformed vitamin a. You may not have known that we can almost completely prevent ferret adrenal disease with the implantation of a deslorelin implant every 16 months. We may find that your animal has a parasite on a fecal test, and by treating it early we can prevent weight loss and gastrointestinal disease. There is great value in preventative medicine, and believe me it will save you money and heartbreak in the long run.
I have learned over time that many of the issues I encounter in exotic animal medicine could have been prevented with early diagnosis, or early adjustment of basic husbandry. Exotic animal medicine has unfortunately been very reactionary in nature, and we often start working on these pets when they are very ill, and the prognosis for recovery is poor. I have started to see a shift in exotic animal clients though, and many people are now interested in preventative care, just like they are for dog and cat family members. This is allowing us to keep many of these exotic pets healthy, and in the home with their caregivers for a much longer time. I am not going to lie and say that by seeing us you will never have a problem with your exotic pet. That is, unfortunately, not how medicine works. If we partner together, and we both take an active role in care, we can provide your exotic pet the best opportunity to thrive.
Here at Ohana Animal Hospital we are doing our best to keep you and your pets together as long as possible. Dr. Zach Steffes can’t wait to meet you and your exotic pet! If you do not live in the Bay Area, a good place to start looking for a good exotic veterinarian is on the ARAV (association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians), AEMV (Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians), and AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians) websites. They have excellent find-a-vet sections, and are a great resource when you are looking for a vet who sees exotic pets.
Thanks for reading!
Zach Steffes, and the Ohana Animal Hospital Team