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How to Find the Best Veterinarian for Your Bird

By: Dr. Don Harris

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For owners of exotic animals, one of the greatest challenges is finding qualified medical care for their pets. Here's some advice about how to – and how not to – go about finding a veterinarian for your bird.

  • Yellow Pages. Letting your fingers do the walking may be one of the easiest ways to find someone who is willing to work on exotic pets, but phone book listings don't, in any way, qualify a veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) prohibits the use of the term "specialist" by anyone who has not fulfilled certain strictly defined criteria. But beyond that prohibition, anyone can make any claims they want to make. Remember that, in the phone book, it is not a person's credentials that dictate the listing; it's the marketing budget.

  • Association Rosters. Bird owners often turn to the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) in an effort to locate a veterinarian. While members of the organization have demonstrated enough interest in the subject to join the association, clinical competence is not a requirement for membership. All they have to do to belong is pay their dues. It is safe to say, however, that if a veterinarian is not a member, he or she probably isn't serious about avian medicine.

  • Certifying Organizations. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP)) is a veterinary certifying organization that requires the demonstration of some degree of clinical competence in order to belong. Within this umbrella is the Avian Practice category of specialization. Individuals who complete this certification process are recognized by the AVMA as true specialists and are identified by the suffix "ABVP, Avian Practice" in addition to the "DVM" behind their names. In the real world, most (but not all) of these practitioners could be trusted as competent with avian pets.

  • Breeder Recommendations. Exotic pet owners are often referred to veterinarians by breeders, pet shops or people from whom they acquire the pet. While the pet supplier may have developed an ethical relationship with the veterinarian because of his high-quality care and clinical success, a supplier may also have a relationships with a veterinarian based on discounted services in exchange for referrals.

  • Internet. Searching the web may reveal qualified veterinarians in your area. Several search engines also have vet locators to help you find a veterinarian. If you cannot find a veterinarian in your area, search for local bird organizations. Often, these will have lists of veterinarians in your area experienced in the care of birds.

  • Word of Mouth. This is probably the second-best means of finding competent exotic animal veterinarians. Unfortunately, though, it can be unreliable or – as is more often the case – unavailable. When a person arrives in a new town, or acquires a pet for the first time, he or she may not know whom to ask for a recommendation.

  • Colleague Recommendations. This is the most nearly fool-proof method for finding the best exotic animal veterinarian. No one knows a local veterinary population better than veterinarians themselves. A simple technique goes as follows: Identify veterinarians in the yellow pages who do not claim to see exotic pets. Call and ask if they'll see an exotic pet. If the veterinarian agrees, thank him or her and move on. If the veterinarian declines, ask who he or she recommends. Continue until you have several recommendations for the same veterinarian.

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