People in the UK love animals. They are members of their family, even those you would not necessarily expect. Maybe you’re thinking that if you work in clinical practice, you’ll come across mostly dogs and cats – and you are right… But there are other animals that you will frequently encounter during clinical practice too. We’ll talk about the most common ones on this article.
Pet rabbits are so common that some vets don’t even consider them as “exotics”. Vaccinating and neutering rabbits is common practice, particularly in some small animal practices. That means you also have to deal with sick rabbits once in a while. The majority of times, pet rabbits suffer from problems such as gut stasis, dental disease, respiratory infections and uterine tumors. Other infectious diseases may also be common in some areas of the country or outdoor rabbits. There is pet insurance for rabbits, meaning some of these may well have owners willing to spend a good bit of money on them – I knew a case of a 9-year old rabbit receiving chemotherapy for a thymoma!
Some clients will own ferrets and they are probably the second most common larger mammal after rabbits. Ferrets may be quite dangerous when they bite (they have a VERY strong bite!), so you need to be careful handling them. Ferrets are not like small dogs or small cats, although neutering is similar to cats. They are prone to endocrine diseases like insulinoma and adrenal disease, as well as lymphoma. They can also get canine distemper, to which they are extremely sensitive to!
Llamas and alpacas
Ah you didn’t see that coming! Ok, so this is not common in small animal practice, but in mixed and farm practice. Some of the clients will own and keep llamas and alpacas. They are both camelids and have only three stomach compartments, and remember, their red blood cells are elliptical! They may have respiratory and gastro-intestinal disease, but to leave you with a different overview, here’s a chapter about diseases of llamas and alpacas.
Hamsters and guinea pigs
These two are often called “small furries” and they are very different from one another. Hamsters are often smaller and Syrian hamsters are solitary animals and do NOT cope easily with other hamsters! Put two together in a cage = bad idea!!! Dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, may be kept in pairs (females get along much better than males, though they can still fall out).
Guinea pigs are the opposite – they are social animals and thrive when kept together.
Both can have teeth problems regularly, often because of an inappropriate diet, and guinea pigs are prone to foot problems (“bumblefoot”) and obesity.
Now, chickens are not “exotics”, but it’s common in some areas to find pet “backyard” chickens. In these cases, you are treating the chicken as an individual and not as part of the flock. Many of these will be rescue chickens or previous egg-laying chickens (also called “hens”). They may have problems with egg binding, parasites, infectious diseases (coccidiosis, salmonellosis) and many others.