The world’s best veterinarian – that kindly DVM who has been seeing your dogs and cats for years and in whom you have complete faith – may not be the best choice to treat your small mammal. You may not think of your sweet little rat as exotic, but in the world of companion animal veterinary medicine, if it is not a dog or cat, it is usually referred to as exotic.
These animals present a variety of unique illnesses that simply are not seen in dogs and cats. While the average veterinarian may be competent to give a routine exam or diagnose one or two of the most common small mammal ailments, the day will come when that’s not enough and you’ll need a veterinarian well-trained in the intricacies of the internal workings of a gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc.
Begin with the 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.
Search the Web
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 small mammal organizations. Often, these will have lists of veterinarians in your area experienced in the care of small mammals.
Word of Mouth Is the Best Way
Word of mouth tends to be the best way to find a veterinarian for your little critter. Ask around at pet stores and breeders. Even ask your own current veterinarian. If you get more than one source referring you to the same name, then you can feel pretty comfortable about that veterinarian.
If you live in a large city, there almost certainly will be a handful of exotic animal veterinarians from which you can choose. But if you’re in a rural location, the only available veterinarians may see far more cows and horses than they see hamsters. In that case, look for a veterinarian that’s willing to learn. If your veterinarian is willing to make some phone calls and get some consultations, that usually indicates an interested, concerned and caring veterinarian.
Once you’ve identified a potential care provider, visit the hospital and make sure you’re comfortable with what you see. Ask questions.
Be sure to ask the veterinarian how many exotic pets per week the hospital sees, and if there is more than one doctor on staff that can see exotics. You can’t expect one veterinarian to be available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If they have an associate you can also see, you can feel pretty good about that hospital.
Other Questions to Ask
Be on the alert for telltale signs that this is not the veterinarian you want treating your pet. Consider your veterinarian’s comfort level in handling and examining your pet. It should be a very thorough exam from nose to tail, and the veterinarian should not seem intimidated or nervous.