By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views
Most veterinarians treat dogs and cats. So what do you do if you have an exotic animal? Who takes care of your bird, gerbil, or snake?
Yukiko Kuwahara, DVM, AKA Dr. Youkey, has offices in California and Colorado. She was kind enough to answer my questions about caring for exotics.
Q. Pet News and Views (PNAV): How can pet owners—those with pets other than a dog or cat—find a veterinarian?
A. Dr. Youkey: You can always begin by asking for general advice on on-line boards such as PetDocsOnCall or other online veterinary medical advice websites.
You can also seek a veterinarian who has paid to be on a searchable list online. But remember that this is a paid list and not everyone is listed that may be practicing in your area. One example is Exotic Animal Vets.
Your neighborhood veterinary hospital can also help locate a doctor experienced in exotic medicine. It is highly suggested to go meet and visit with the doctor prior to needing them for true emergencies.
The veterinary association in your state has lists of all the veterinarians practicing in each state along with their specialty. There are also local veterinary associations such as the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association and Denver Area Veterinary Medical Association. And finally, there are subcategories listing exotic veterinary medicine practitioners within each association as well as associations specifically for exotic veterinary medicine.
Q. PNAV: How often should pet owners—of a snake or gerbil or bird—take their pets for wellness exams?
A. Dr. Youkey: Ideally, just like pet dogs and cats, we would like exotic pet owners to bring their pets in for a yearly wellness exam. Unfortunately because of both the cost and the stress put on these delicate pets, we often only see them when the pet is ill. To eliminate some of the stress of having to bring in a pet to a hospital, it is recommended to have a mobile pet vet visit your home.
Even with this advice, most pet owners of pocket pets will not bring their pet in for a wellness exam. When the cost of the pet was $20 and their lifespan is only 2 years, it is highly unlikely that an owner is willing to spend money for a wellness exam. Most people rationalize that if their pet develops a disease process such as cancer, they will opt to simply get a replacement pet (like another hamster) instead of spending the money on surgery.
Q. PNAV: What about emergencies?
A: Dr. Youkey: Once again, the pet owner will have to do their homework before needing an exotic veterinarian’s service. Please call around to several Emergency Veterinary Hospitals to locate an associate on staff that is knowledgeable in exotic pets. Not all vets will work on all species. I have known vets who refuse to work on certain dangerous snakes, tarantulas, or aggressive parrots. Also, the hospital may not be equipped with all the specialized equipment necessary to diagnose and treat your specific exotic pet.
The truly exotic species (such as wildlife) can only be treated by veterinarians who have a special license allowing them to treat wildlife species. So it is important to locate an emergency vet that can treat your specific species before you really need them. Also find out which days they are working as most vets take certain days off.
Michele’s Note: I am not advocating getting an exotic animal. I do believe wildlife should be kept in the wild. If you do have a pet other than a cat or dog, this is an option.