Sometimes elusive, complex, indefinite: The right exotic veterinarian for your pets can be hard to find. In my case, it was easy because I worked among several leading professionals at Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital, formerly in Westchester, Illinois. As the first veterinary practice dedicated to treating exotics exclusively, Midwest Bird was a very busy, thriving practice. As a part–time receptionist for nine years, I often just brought my pet to work with me. Once our family moved and I left that position, the search for a new vet began, but it was hard not to make comparisons with the former.
A nearby town had one vet that specialized in exotics, but after a third visit, I found him less than experienced. I had volunteered to take my neighbor’s guinea pig in for euthanasia. She was an older pig with recurring problems, but I was curious to know if she had tooth spurs or something else going on in her mouth. This veterinary practice was good enough to agree to euthanize a pet they’d not seen before and I was grateful for that, so I was probably pushing it by asking them to please have a look in her mouth, now that she was dead, for any abnormalities. Apparently, in order to do that, I was told they'd have to pry her mouth open thereby breaking her jaw. First of all this isn’t true if you’ve got the right tools which I would assume a veterinarian who specializes in exotics has, and second, who cares because she’s dead and it’s not going to hurt. I don’t recall my actual response though I’m sure one raised eyebrow was involved and a resolution to never return.
An ad in the newspaper led the way to the next exotic vet in a small town about 40 minutes away. The doctor was competent, but the place was tiny and cramped. For example, the employee coffee pot was on a small table in the bathroom. I went there a couple of times, but ended it after they wanted to charge me $63 for a routine cremation of a rat.
Oddly enough, I learned there’s a ferret sanctuary in another nearby small town so I had the bright idea, finally, to ask the proprietor what vet she uses. This led me to Dogwood Petcare Center and Dr. Katie Racek-Peters. I first went in with our newly acquired Senegal parrot, Louie, who needed a nail trim. I had tried to do it myself with a Dremel, but it was still tricky and stressful. Other visits followed and I found Dr. Katie was always willing to work within my budget and listen to my ideas. She understands that not everyone is prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on a small animal that has a short lifespan, but she also appreciates my knowledge and respect for her as a professional. I know she needs blood tests or x-rays to support a diagnosis and she never pressures me to go one way or another. She helps me make an educated decision.
There are a number of ways to choose a vet who specializes in exotics. One place to start is the Association of Avian Veterinarians. Many doctors who see birds are qualified to see other small animals. In my opinion, ferrets can be tricky so it would be best to talk to other ferret keepers for recommendations.
Even the finest exotic veterinarian may not always be the best fit for your personality or style of pet keeping. Some will ask you to do more than you’re capable of and even make you feel a little guilty, while perhaps unintentionally. Some will be so sure of themselves they boost your confidence only to get less than anticipated results. Some will make mistakes. The pets we’ve chosen aren’t always forthright with their symptoms and certainly can’t tell us how they feel so treatment isn’t always right on.
The field of exotic medicine is still new and expanding. Great strides have been made in the last two decades and the science continues to advance. Regardless, there ought to be some give and take between you and your exotic pet vet so you can work together for the animal’s benefit, which in turn, will transfer to the pet keeper’s happiness.
This is Louie free climbing up our cabinets. We had to put a stop to this eventually due to nicks from his beak and the trouble he caused once he got to the countertop.