Day in the life of an exotic vet

I started working with exotic animals 15 years ago, and since then no two days have been the same. Work is mainly split between our exotics clinic at the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital in Camden and teaching our vet and vet nurse students.

On Thursdays, I also make a trip up to the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals on our Hertfordshire Campus for any patients which need advanced imaging or input from the other specialist services.

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A day normally starts with a handover from our night nurse and full review of all our inpatients. We can have quite a number of different patients in our wards, from the small furries to the larger parrots, reptiles and even amphibians and fish. However, we’re lucky to have separate quiet wards for the more nervous animals to keep them away from predator species.

Once all the inpatients are checked over, morning consults then begin. Again, these can be quite varied, ranging from health checks and vaccinations to dealing with unexpected emergencies. Most exotic pets will generally hide any signs of illness until problems are very advanced, so we have to take any possible signs of illness very seriously.

Recently, I had a little ferret in who had started to slow down and was dragging his back legs at times. His owner was concerned about possible trauma or arthritis, but on clinical examination my main concern was that he had an irregular heartbeat and his breathing appeared heavier than normal. I admitted him to hospital for investigations and an ultrasound scan showed that, in fact, he had underlying heart disease. Heart problems can be treated in ferrets, but need to be detected at an early stage, one of the many reasons why we advise regular health checks for our patients.

Afternoons are usually when we carry out any procedures. Some days this can be surgeries, such as neutering procedures, removing lumps or abscesses or dental work. Alternatively, this may be when we perform any diagnostic procedures such as x-rays, ultrasound scans or endoscopy.

I always particularly enjoy working with our reptile patients, and chameleons never fail to impress me. Our most recent chameleon patient presented to us just showing fairly subtle signs of illness, being slightly less active than normal and starting to appear a little distended around her abdomen region. X-rays were taken and showed multiple round follicles taking up most of the space within her body cavity.

Chameleons can naturally lay large clutches of eggs, but in captivity we see problems when their reproductive cycle does not progress normally. In this case, we were suspicious of a condition called follicular stasis. We took a blood sample to check her general health status and particularly her calcium levels as we see calcium/vitamin D deficiencies very commonly in captive chameleons leading to metabolic bone disease. However, results were luckily normal, so it was onto dealing with the follicles.

Surgery on a 200g lizard can be a tricky procedure and requires some very small pieces of equipment. However, when there are that many follicles, surgical removal is the best option. We managed to remove both ovaries without problems, including 70g of follicles! Recovery is always a slow process in a reptile, so she was kept in overnight for observation and pain relief, but bright and active the next morning so ready to go home.

Finally, at the end of the day, it’s time to review all our patients again, update any changes to their treatment plans and handover to the night team for another shift to begin.

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