The vet’s office: Rabbits, ferrets, and reptiles, oh my
Caring for non-traditional pets
By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
In 2012 there were an estimated 70 million dogs, 75 million cats, and 8 million birds as pets in the United States. Most owners seek routine veterinary care for these pets, but many forget about the other pets they own such as rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and reptiles.
Each year more information comes to light about vaccines and duration of immunity. While your cat or dog may not be due for their shots, the yearly exam—or bi-yearly exam for older pets—becomes more important. By examining your pet yearly or bi-yearly, some ailments can be caught early and can be managed, helping your pet live a longer, healthier, and happier life. This yearly exam should be applied to the non-traditional “exotic” or “pocket pets” as well.
For rabbits and guinea pigs, the wellness exams can evaluate their teeth, listen to hearts, feel abdomens, and assess mobility. It is also an excellent time to evaluate diet and living environment. Diet, especially in rabbits, is important to their health.
Frequently, rabbits and other rodents hide illness for as long as possible. This is a natural instinct that comes from being a prey species. Monitoring for subtle changes in weight or appetite may catch a large problem early.
Ferrets have their own unique needs and issues. They are also one of the only exotic pets that receive vaccines. Some municipalities require rabies vaccines like the dogs and cats. Ferrets should also receive a distemper vaccine, which is different than the dog and cat vaccine.
Ferrets have special nutritional requirements. They are also prone to certain conditions, many of which can be managed long term. As with many diseases, early diagnosis and treatment is key.
Reptiles also tend to not show illness until they are very sick. Yearly check-ups look at weight, muscle mass and tone, hearts, and health of the skin and eyes. It is an excellent time to talk about their living environment. Each species of reptile requires different temperatures, humidity, and diet. Most need special lighting for proper health and digestion. A proper living environment can prevent many illnesses.
For many veterinarians, education on non-traditional pets was limited. Some veterinarians have taken steps to learn more about these pets. However, some veterinarians are not comfortable working with certain pets.
Referral may be necessary, but traveling to a veterinarian equipped to handle your particular pet may be the best chance for successful treatment. Finding a veterinarian and establishing a relationship with him or her through wellness exams is important. Should your pet become ill, you can then call a veterinarian familiar with your pet.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.