In the last few years the amount of exotic animals kept as pets has grown at a rapid pace. Exotic pets include: rabbits, guinea pigs and other rodents, snakes, turtles, ferrets and reptiles, and birds in cages. New species, the popular prairie dogs, chipmunks and pygmy hedgehogs are part of these patients. Even so, exotic animals as pets and patients are still rarer than dogs and cats.
An exotic animal as a patient is often a challenge and brings up the need for information different from dog and cat patients. This is because we still know little about their normal needs and illnesses and there is little knowledge and it’s difficult to find. But little by little knowledge increases, and today we routinely care for rabbits, guinea pigs and the more common rodents at our clinic. Turtles and traditional caged birds also belong to our patient roster. Rabbits and rodents have a lot of skin problems, and the ailment and symptoms usually derive from ectoparasites.
The dental problems of rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters are becoming more common, and for this reason we get a lot of patients with tooth problems at the clinic. Almost without exception this care is given under sedation.
More common surgical procedures such as the castration and sterilization operations on rabbits and guinea pigs, and removal of tumours, are done almost daily.
The risk of narcosis to exotic animals must be remembered and this is always mentioned when a time is being booked. These pets are more sensitive to narcosis than dogs and cats, and therefore they require precise and experienced handling at the clinic, during and after the procedure, until the patient has woken up properly and therefore is ready to go home.
In relation to narcosis it is important to especially take care to maintain the patient’s body temperature. When the patient goes to the post-op room we take care that the patient is regularly turned from one side to the other, so that it breathes with no difficulty. Give food and water when the patient begins to awaken. This is then different from the care dogs and cats get when waking from narcosis.
We try to keep exotic patients at the clinic on operation day for long enough to ensure that they wake up properly from a procedure that required narcosis, and only then are they ready to go home.
When booking a time we advise the owner about the special needs of the patient. Whether it is minus 20 degrees or 30 degree heat, according to the situation it has to be made sure that for these ‘sensitive’ patients it will be as safe as possible to travel to the clinic for care.
For an exotic patient a time should be booked immediately if and when the first symptoms appear. With these patients it is not possible to wait for a few days at home and see how the symptoms develop, because more often than not possible medication and support care has to begin immediately, because otherwise it may often be too late!