How to Find a Veterinarian for Your Exotic Pet

Veterinarian holding a bearded dragon
Some veterinarians specialize in reptile medicine. Getty Images/Robert Daly

Establishing a trusting relationship with a veterinarian can be a challenge for any pet owner, especially if you have an exotic pet. An exotic pet owner must not only find a veterinarian who is willing to see and knows something about their pet but also has the facility, equipment, and materials to treat their specific kind of animal. Not all vets have these things so it is important to know where an exotic pet will go before it needs medical attention.

Why Don't All Veterinarians Treat Exotic Pets?

Many veterinarians are experienced in treating cats and dogs and may enjoy working with exotic pets but most have not spent as much time working with different species as they have common canines and felines. This is usually because dogs and cats are simply more commonly seen as pets and most veterinarians and their staff have very limited, if any, training with exotic pets. College courses focus more heavily on dogs, cats, and farm animals so very little training is to be had in exotic animal medicine. Because of this lack of experience and training, some veterinarians who have an interest in exotic pets may be willing to provide routine or preventative care to some more common species such as rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs but if a major medical concern arises or if a less commonly seen species needs care, they will refer the pet owners to a veterinary specialist.

What Veterinarians Will Treat Exotic Pets?

Veterinarians that are willing to treat exotic pets have typically received extra training from continuing education classes, internships, co-workers, and hands-on practice. Most training is done after veterinary school and not all vets will seek out this knowledge if they don't have a personal interest in animals other than dogs and cats. Some veterinarians even get specialized in exotic pet medicine. Specialization requires a veterinarian to prove their knowledge and skills in exotic animal medicine and then pass a licensing board exam. This is not required of any veterinarian to allow them to work on exotic animals but it shows a pet owner that they have a true vested interest and experience in treating exotic pets.

Exotic pet specialists can be hard to come by so a pet owner's next best option is to find a veterinarian that simply has experience treating exotic pets. When looking for a veterinarian, ask them about their training, credentials, and memberships in specialty organizations such as the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (AEMV), or the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV). At the very least, choose a veterinarian with a real interest in exotic species who is willing to learn more about them and consult with a specialist when needed.

Where to Find an Exotics Vet

A personal recommendation is often the most efficient way of finding a veterinarian. Friends, breeders, or organizations such local herpetological societies or species specific rescue groups are good starting points to aid you in finding a vet that is capable of treating your exotic pet. The aforementioned professional organizations also list their member veterinarians on their website and can be great resources for finding exotic pet vets.

When Does an Exotic Pet Need a Vet?

Pet owners should never wait until an emergency happens to find a vet. If your pet should get sick, a veterinarian that you feel comfortable working with and who is comfortable treating your specific species of pet will make the situation less stressful for both you and your animal.

Prior to needing emergency veterinary care, an initial check-up is well advised for any new pet. This is a good chance to meet the veterinarian, ask questions, and confirm what hours they are available for emergencies. You can also see how they handle and how comfortable they are with your pet and see if you like the veterinarian. Sometimes there is a personality clash and this can make it difficult to trust and work with a veterinarian.

What to Expect from an Exotic Pet Vet

A veterinarian familiar with exotics will spend a good deal of time discussing the care and husbandry of a particular pet since many problems with exotic pets are related to improper diet or husbandry. The veterinarian should also appear confident and comfortable handling your pet and have the appropriate equipment needed to record an accurate weight and examine your particular animal. Knowledgeable staff are also vital to providing exceptional care to exotic pets so technicians, assistants, and front desk team members should also be familiar with exotic pets.

Having one primary veterinarian and one or two back up vets in case someone is out of the office or closed when you need them is ideal. Hopefully you'll never have to see your new exotics vet for anything other than a routine check up but knowing where you need to go if your pet has an emergency is priceless.

Edited by Adrienne A. Kruzer, RVT, LVT