How to Find an Exotic Pet Vet (and Pick the Right One)

Updated March 31, 2022
Smiling female vet holding bearded dragon

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. Use these tips to locate an experienced exotic pet veterinarian who can care for your friend.

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. There are several resources you can try.

  • Other exotic pet owners - 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.
  • Your local vet - Another great place to look 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. Even if they won't see them, they can likely provide you with a referral for another practice that will.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Exotic Pet Vets by Species

Because exotic pet care varies significantly from species to species, it can be helpful to search for a vet based on your pet's type.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Smiling female vet holding bearded dragon

If you have a pet snake, lizard, turtle, tortoise, or frog, you'll need to find an exotic vet who specializes in reptiles and amphibians (sometimes referred to as "herp veterinarians"). These vets not only have extensive knowledge of these pets, but their facilities also have specialized equipment and medication for reptiles and amphibians. The best ways to find one is through the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians. You could also contact your local herp society or wildlife rescue to find out which vets they use.

Birds

Experienced veterinarian examining young Ara parrots health

Like other exotic pets, birds are unique creatures that require specialized handling. You want to ensure both the vet and staff are experienced with avian patients in addition to having bird-safe exam rooms and equipment. Use the Association of Avian Veterinarians website to search for a bird vet. You can also search the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners by specialty and your local area.

Small Mammals

Adorable ferret receives check up at the vet

Fortunately for small mammal owners, more and more vets are comfortable seeing pocket pets. Many small animal hospitals have the knowledge and resources to accommodate both wellness and sick pet visits for species like rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, and mice. Some offices even carry vaccines for these animals. Phone your local vet office to find out if any of their doctors see these pets.

However, if you have a more unusual exotic mammals like a sugar glider or fennec fox, you may have to go to greater lengths to find a vet. You can search for an exotic companion animal vet in your area through the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians website.

Fish

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. The American Association of Fish Veterinarians offers 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.

How to Pick the Right Vet

In order to become a specialist, a 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.

Depending on where you live, 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 their 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.

Seeking Emergency Exotic Veterinary Care

If your exotic pet is in distress or you worry they are dying and need immediate attention, don't delay by searching for an exotic veterinarian. Most small animal practices and after hours emergency hospitals are equipped to stabilize exotic patients with support like oxygen therapy and heat. Although they may not have the resources to diagnose or treat your pet, it's possible they can buy you valuable time and even help you search for a specialized vet to whom they can transfer the case.

Care for All Species

Hopefully, your exotic pet will never need complicated veterinary care. However, routine wellness exams with a specialized vet will help keep your pet healthy. With a little research, you can find the best vet for whatever species you have at home.

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