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How Can I Tell When My Exotic Pet is Sick?

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It’s a tragically common scenario in exotic pet medicine: the pet’s parent tells me that my patient’s symptoms (no appetite and not moving around much) just started yesterday. Before that, it was normal. Then I do my physical exam. I discover the bird’s prominent keel bone sticking far out beyond its emaciated breast muscles. The hamster’s incisor teeth that have overgrown so much they’ve made a full circle and are now penetrating into the roof of the mouth. The lizard with a colon full of impacted sand. Immediately, I know that this problem has been going on for far longer than the parent realized.

Many exotic pets often hide their signs of illness until things have advanced so far that the animal can’t pretend any longer. So what can these pet parents do to avoid the above scenarios? How can you know if your exotic pet is sick? Here are a few tips for how owners of exotic pets can learn to look for certain subtle changes and take preventative measures.

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1. Provide Your Pet with Its Optimal Diet and Environment

Each species has its own particular nutritional and habitat needs, and these have profound impacts on the animal’s health. Consult with a credible source such as experienced exotic animal veterinarians, exotic veterinarian professional associations, and well-established periodicals for proper husbandry information.

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2. Weigh Your Pet Regularly

Chronic disease often begins to manifest with weight loss which is why it’s important to regularly weigh your pet. Invest in an appropriate-size scale such as a kitchen gram scale for small animals and a baby scale or adult scale for larger animals. Check your pet’s weight 2-3 times weekly and maintain a record on your phone or in a notebook. Discovering a decrease in weight can help owners catch a sickness earlier in its course.

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3. Regular Preventative Care Veterinary Visits

Having your exotic pet assessed regularly by an experienced exotic pet veterinarian can help catch and address problems before the animal becomes debilitated. Performing regular bloodwork and parasite screenings on healthy animals can also help detect disease earlier in its course. In general, animals with no chronic health concerns should be examined every 6-12 weeks.

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4. Interact with Your Pet Frequently

Changes in an animal’s behavior, appetite, or eliminations can be more quickly noticed if you know what your pet is normally like. Physically handling the animal (if safe to do) and paying attention to hair/skin color, body condition, and body symmetry provides additional points to use for monitoring your pet’s health.

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Bringing a pet in for assessment before its disease has advanced to a life-threatening condition can make a huge difference in the animal’s chances of survival. If you have questions or concerns regarding whether or how soon your animal should be examined by a veterinarian, call and consult with your family veterinarian about what you’re seeing, and they can advise on an appropriate course of action.

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Avian and Exotic Medicine Service sees many different kinds of pets including rabbits, rodents, ferrets, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, parrots, songbirds, waterfowl, turtles, tortoises, and non-venomous lizards and snakes. Your family veterinarian may choose to refer your exotic pet to our service if your pet is sick, not responding to current treatment, or needs advanced diagnostics (CT/MRI). If your family veterinarian does not see exotic pets, our service can also offer wellness care and anesthetized procedures.

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