We are in awe of veterinarians. Think for a moment: none of the patients can speak. The animals cannot let the vet know what hurts, or when it started. Vet patients come in a variety of species, sizes and breeds, most of which have their own little quirks. Vets have to provide care as anesthesiologists, internists, allergists, surgeons, dentists…and do these things with all kinds of animal-specific differences in mind. They are rock stars!
One human being, however, can only do so much. Dogs and cats, for the most part, have similar physical traits internally. Now…introduce, say, a caecum (that extra bit of the GI tract rabbits have, the part that produces caecoptrophs). Or teeth that grow continually over a lifetime.
Our tiny creatures have bits and parts and issues that dogs and cats just don’t have. Although a local veterinarian may be the world leader in handling a German Shepherd with a bad liver, it does not mean he or she can deal with stasis quickly and efficiently enough, or handle the intricacies of tiny creature dental health.
We often refer to our rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas as small animals. In the language of veterinary practice, however, small animals are dogs and cats, NOT the tiny creatures. When categorizing veterinary practices, large animal practices see horses and cows and stock animals, small animal practices see dogs and cats, and exotics practices see rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, turtles, iguanas, snakes…yup, our friends go to the same vet as turtles and iguanas.
It can be hard to find a vet trained in exotics, since many of them do practice at small animal clinics. You can’t go by the clinic or hospital name. You’ve got to seek out a specific veterinarian, then go to wherever he or she practices.
Working with an exotics vet has another benefit: the vet techs and other staff will also be more knowledgeable about your animal. Particular methods of holding or restraining, sites for blood draws and how to get to veins, all the little things that techs do will be second nature. This can lessen the stress on your animal significantly.
When a crisis happens, you do not want to be searching around for a vet who understands your animal thoroughly and is willing to see you immediately. In an emergency, you do not have the time for such negotiations. A lost hour could cost your animal’s life.
A big hint: if you establish a relationship with an exotics vet early, you will be much more likely to get an appointment if an emergency happens. Emergencies are a scheduling nightmare, and any veterinary office is more likely to push and shove on the schedule to accommodate you if you are a current client. Information on file, with base-line vitals and a history of dental check-ups, goes a long way to assuring you will get in the door at crisis time.
You can also check in rabbit, guinea pig, and chinchilla rescues in your area – they’ve often got a great relationship with a local vet.
Good luck, take care, and good health!