Fur, Feather and Scales

When people I meet find out I’m a veterinarian, they often ask what kind of animals I see. They will ask if I work with this, that, or the other strange and exotic species. The truth is the large majority of my patients are cats and dogs. Most days, that’s all I see. However, some days get a special surprise!

The most common “exotic” animals I see are rabbits. I can’t even keep track of how many different rabbits I’ve seen over these past 2 years. Probably coming in as second most frequent would be rats. Most of the rabbits I see are for teeth problems, occasional parasite issues, general health checkups, infections, and some other random problems. The rats have been mostly general health checks, couple respiratory issues, and maybe a lump or two.

Also in the small mammals category I have seen a couple guinea pigs, a couple chinchillas, a hamster, a hedgehog and a sugar glider. The hedgehog was probably my favourite. What do I see them all for? Urine problems, teeth problems, respiratory infections, lumps, and an injured foot.

Moving from fur the feathers, I have seen a few birds. Not very many, but a few. I’ve seen a budgie, a cockatiel, a dove, and a french finch. The problems I’ve seen are a lump, a broken wing, an eye infection, and a broken foot.

This finally brings us to scales, which I see the least often, but I get the most excited about! I’ve seen two different geckos, and a chameleon. I’ve taken calls regarding lizards, and might be seeing a snake (ball python, specifically) in the near future.

Whenever any of these critters come in, I’m all over the textbooks and internet trying to figure things out . . . there’s over a dozen things that can be wrong with any of these animals, and if you’re keeping track I haven’t seen nearly that many of any one species (except the rabbits. I don’t have to always look things up with rabbits.) We learn comparative medicine in school, but we only have one year to cover all of the ‘exotic’ species, such as birds, fish, rodents, and beyond.

So why would you bring your ‘exotic’ pet to see inexperienced me? Well, sometimes you have no choice – if you live in Newfoundland, there aren’t a whole lot of veterinarians who have experience or are even willing to see you. I’m at least willing to see anything, and will take the time to figure out what we should do, and get in touch with specialists as applicable.

That’s right, specialists. There are definitely vets who see a lot of different species and are much more experienced and knowledgeable. If you have one of these unusual, or less usual, pets you might be in luck if you live in an area where such a veterinarian is practicing. If you don’t know, I’d recommend that you look into the situation. Better to know while your pet is well who you can call in case it gets ill. You don’t want to be stuck on a mad hunt for a vet while your rabbit is having a seizure, or your finch is bleeding all over its cage with a broken leg. You probably know where to go if you accidently chop your own thumb off, good idea to know where to go it your sugar glider chews its own foot off!


About dottiemaggie

A veterinarian living and working in St John's, Newfoundland. I love my job, and I love my home. Professionally I am passionate about critical care and client education. Away from work I am passionate about enjoying life, spending time with friends, enjoying hobbies of all sorts, and exploring this wonderful province I call home.
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6 Responses to Fur, Feather and Scales

  1. linlah says:

    Sugar Glider sounds like a really great drink but I’m guessing it’s a squirrel.

  2. ok but.

    there are just SO MANY rabbits in the world. there’s about fifty chillin in my yard right now eating blueberry plants. i just dont understand someone who would pay to have their rabbit cured.

    just rescue one from being shot in my garden by my dad. free + good deed.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      LMAO. I don’t necessarily disagree with you. . . but I get how some people get attached to particular animals (gift from husband who’s now dead, for example. . . that was one of the bunnies I couldn’t save, though 😦 )

      Though I think a lot of people agree with you, which would explain why despite the massive number of bunnies in the world, I only see a scattered few 😉

  3. Kate says:

    This is very interesting…do you see any large animals? And with the tiny animals, how are they even big enough to do anything with? I love snakes. I think it’s nice of you to do your best attempt to help all animals. Would you see an elephant? I bet the different kinds of animals have very different kinds of insides. Also, I have a very important question. So vets will specialize in kinds of animals, are there cancer specialists in vets?

    • dottiemaggie says:

      In theory, I could see large animals. We had a lot of equine and bovine stuff in school (horse and cows), and some pig & sheep& goats. However, I’m considered a “small animal” vet, and despite all the stuff we covered in school.. I would be in the same boat with a horse as i am with a rabbit, at this point 😉 Would have to do a lot of research!
      There are ‘large animal’ vets who deal with the farm animals 🙂

      We definitely are limited by the size of some of these animals… it becomes difficult to get them medication because their body weight is so small and so the amount of drug they need is challenging to measure! A lot of the time we need to put these animals under general anesthesia to do much with them, as well… because holding them still covers up most of the body!

      I would be willing to try with an elephant, sure! Zoos usually have their own vets, who are experienced with comparative medicine. These animals aren’t really tame, so it’s a whole different approach to things 🙂 I’ve had behind the scenes tours of zoo medical centres, pretty neat stuff!

      And, yes, there are veterinary oncologists 🙂 The oncology area in vet med is growing, and there’s a lot of research done especially in cancer in dogs. There are cancer centres and radiation therapy centres and everything. If you live in the right area, anything you can have done for a person you can have done for your dog 🙂

      And, yes, there a

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