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A day in the life of an exotics practice

It was a rare moment between consults where I could sit down and catch my breath. Whew! It was a busy day already, full of vaccine appointments and itchy dogs and the skinny old cat who couldn’t stop drinking water. And it was only 11am! I scrolled down the schedule on the computer in front of me. Another dog vaccine, a kitten first appointment (exciting!), and… a turkey?! Well, that was certainly interesting. I wondered how I would have to help restrain the bird for the vet to examine it. Surely there was no way, it would be huge! I told myself we would figure it out later, one way or another. I looked further down the schedule, and even more to my excitement, there were two ferrets coming in later for their hormone injection and a turtle who, according to the appointment notes, had a lump on its head. I smiled and got out of my chair. Time to get ready for more consults, and it certainly wouldn’t be boring!

Before I started vet school, I worked as a veterinary assistant in a small animal clinic that also saw a lot of exotics. By exotics, I mean anything besides your “regular” dog and cat – so this includes rabbits, guinea pigs, leopard geckos, even the odd newt! (The only thing this doesn’t include are your actual wildlife and zoo animals – those are a different category that requires a whole other level of expertise).

I loved working in this clinic. The veterinarians were so passionate about all the different animals they saw, and this shone through in their extensive knowledge of how to handle and treat them. I mean, who knows how to properly restrain a chinchilla for their dental exam? (I do now!). It was so interesting being able to learn about every different animal that came in through the door. So much of exotic animal health focuses on their husbandry as well (managing their diet, their environment, etc) so I learned a lot about how to take care of them as well.

One of the most exciting animals I saw was a macaw that had come in for a beak and nail trim. Sometimes birds just have beaks and nails that keep growing, due to poor conformation or lack of proper perches for their nails to wear down, and they have to come in to get them filed down manually. It was one of the most beautiful birds I’d ever seen, and also such a large bird! We needed two people to help hold it, also simply because it was just so angry at needing its nails done.

I’ve learned how to hold rabbits for blood draws, that legally you must wear earplugs when working with pigs (because they squeal so loudly it’s dangerous), that ferrets enjoy pickle juice and will lick it off your finger, how to listen for the heartbeat of a turtle or tortoise (a wet piece of kitchen roll on top of the shell will do the trick!), and how to examine a snake (simply because where are its organs?? You have to figure that out!).

One thing I find a bit daunting with veterinary medicine is the absolute breadth of animals that I will be qualified to treat when I graduate as a vet. I already can’t remember all of the differential diagnoses for a vomiting dog, let alone what could be wrong with this sick bearded dragon in front of me! However, if you are passionate about a certain species or type of animal, by all means, pursue this knowledge. I know I said dealing with the variety of species as a veterinarian can be challenging, but I think this is also one of the most amazing things about veterinary medicine. From a mouse to a dog to a giraffe, you could work with them all.

Written by: Nora Kuo

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