Finding Vets for Exotic Pets

Clare Deming
vet holding a lizard

For those who decide to keep an exotic species as a pet, it can be a challenge to find a veterinarian to care for a unique pet. Whether you have a rabbit, ferret, gecko, or parrot, not all veterinarians are trained or equipped to diagnose and treat these kinds of animals. Depending on what kind of species you have, finding a vet to work with may be a real challenge.

Where to Look for an Exotic Pet Veterinarian

While finding a doctor to care for your exotic pet may be challenging, it's not impossible. One of the best ways to find a vet that will treat exotic animals is through word-of-mouth. Your fellow exotic pet enthusiasts are likely to know and use someone and may be able to make a recommendation. However, if you don't have anyone to ask, there are a few other resources you can try.

Your Local Vet as a Resource

One of the best places to start when searching for a vet for your exotic pet is your regular local veterinarian. Many private practices employ vets who specialize in exotic pets. If you already have an established relationship with a practice, call the office and ask if the doctors there will see your exotic pet. At some larger veterinary hospitals, you may find a greater variety of experience with the doctors when it comes to exotic species.

Veterinary Associations

Several national and international associations exist for vets who have a particular interest in a certain class of animals. These groups do not require anything more than a membership fee for the vet to join, but if you search for a veterinarian listed through one of these organizations, you will likely find someone who has taken the time and money to learn extra skills and medicine to treat that species.

The following associations have a feature that allows you to search for a vet in your area:

In addition to these species-specific veterinarian associations, you can also search the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners by specialty and the local area.

Larger Hospitals

You may also check with a veterinary school or large institution-style practice (such as Animal Medical Center in New York City). These types of places will usually have an entire department dedicated to exotic species.

In order to become a specialist, the veterinarian has to complete two to three years of formal training in that species area through a residency after veterinary school. A research paper, case reports, presentations at meetings, a case log, letters of recommendation, and continuing education attendance may also be required. After all that, the vet has to pass a written and practical exam.

How to Pick the Right Vet

You may not have a lot of choice when it comes to finding a vet in your area that will see an exotic pet. However, before you choose, you may want to ask a few questions:

  • Does the office have the right kind of equipment to deal with your species of exotic pet?
  • If you're going to a private practice, how many exotic pets of the same or similar species do they see each year?
  • Is the vet a member of any special associations?
  • If the vet doesn't specialize specifically in your species of pet, what is his experience in dealing with the species?

Just as with dogs and cats, most veterinarians will know when specialty care is needed and will refer you to a larger hospital or a specialist if need be.

Fish Are a Special Case

Since fish do not take to travel well, their medical care can be difficult. Most of the advice in these species ends up coming from experienced hobbyists. For large pet fish, particularly koi, some veterinarians have developed a niche area of practice. Koivet.com has a list of veterinarians with a special interest and knowledge in fish medicine. Your nearby aquarium store may also be able to suggest a local vet who can help you with fish.

Care for All Species

Hopefully your exotic pet will never need complicated veterinary care. However, with a little research, you can find the best vet for whatever species you have at home.

Finding Vets for Exotic Pets