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Posted By: Greg - Vet

New Exotics Ward

At any veterinary practice, kennels and a cattery are required to hospitalise pets. This may be for the day, prior to or following a procedure, or can be to administer treatment and provide nursing care to an ill patient, possibly extending to overnight or weekend stays. Dogs and cats must be ideally kept separate, minimising stress so as to aid their recovery.

But our smaller pets such as rabbits, rodents, birds and reptiles, may also need to be admitted for hospitalisation at the practice – and they too need somewhere separate to recover. Providing an ‘exotics’ ward that can house these patients is then also an important part of the practice, as these animals can have very individual requirements.

Although our third most popular pet in the U.K., rabbits and any animal smaller than this – those essentially not a cat or dog - have traditionally been classed as ‘exotic’ within veterinary medicine! This term groups together the many species of different pets that are now increasing in popularity, and as ownership increases, so does knowledge as well as advances in their health care. Vets can now provide lots of different medical and surgical procedures to treat our smallest pets from ferrets to hamsters, and so it is important that they have their own place to stay in the practice, but to do so their different needs must be understood.

Rabbits and rodents especially are very good at hiding signs of stress as they are a ‘prey’ species and must not give the game away in the wild! Hospitalising these animals with a potential predator, such as a cat or dog, would cause such stress, and this can cause a medical condition to worsen, or hamper a recovery from an operation. If worried or provided with incorrect food or housing, they may refuse to eat which quickly becomes an emergency situation in these animals. As they are small patients, they have a high metabolic rate and need to keep eating throughout their stay at the practice to prevent further illness. They can be easily stressed by travel or handling too, so it is really important to keep noise to a minimum and provide lots of places to hide – therefore an exotics ward should be a dark, quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of veterinary practice.

Reptiles are complex, often misunderstood animals that need a high level of care which can range substantially not only between tortoises, lizards and snakes, but between the individual species themselves as their habitats can vary from deserts to rainforests. Temporary hospitalisation in the practice requires a vivarium, with a thermostat (to control the temperature), UV-B (ultraviolet) light source (to stimulate activity and appetite and so reptiles can make vitamin D to use calcium within the body) and a basking lamp (providing a hot-spot and temperature gradient so that the reptiles can regulate their own body temperature), with thermometers to monitor the heat. A thermostat is particularly important as each species has its own ideal temperature (usually between 25 and 30 degrees celsius) so the exotics ward must be warm, as well as humid – with humidity provided by spraying or misting water. If this equipment is not provided, any reptile may become more unwell, refuse food or have a prolonged recovery.

Wildlife too should not be forgotten. They are often presented to general practice by members of the public, sometimes injured, but usually stressed as they are outside their usual habitat and are not familiar with human contact. A dark, quiet space like the exotics ward can provide the perfect place for temporary rehabilitation for these animals. A large proportion of birds that come in to the practice fall into this category and are wild, ranging from small songbirds to pigeons and gulls (sometimes caught by the local cat!) but parrots, budgies and even chickens may need to be hospitalised for blood samples, nail or beak trimming and minor procedures such as crop surgery. Birds, too can become easily stressed without showing obvious signs, and for especially smaller birds this can prove fatal, so whilst these winged patients are waiting they should be housed in a really quiet, calm environment.

Obviously cats and dogs remain hugely popular and make up the bulk of patients in general veterinary practice, but there is an emerging number of more unusual pets that need to be catered for when they too become ill. So it is important for somewhere to hospitalise our other patients, whether they are small and furry, feathered or covered in scales!

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