Veterinary medicine today is not what it was just 40 years ago. The specialization required by veterinarians has changed. They face new challenges, new diseases, new technologies and—why not?—new species to deal with. Vets must solve the most varied problems you can imagine, showing up at the doors of our offices and hospitals in ever-increasing numbers, looking for a helping hand.
For a long time, veterinarians were divided into two large groups with some degree of interaction: veterinarians for large species or productive species such as pigs, cattle, and horses, and small animal veterinarians, who traditionally saw only dogs and cats. As time went on, groups began to emerge made up of veterinarians who are interested in non-traditional species and are beginning to open up space in the veterinary field. However, these new fields were not well defined, and sometimes not very practical, since caring for a rabbit is not the same as caring for a jaguar—not only because the species are different, but also because of the different interaction levels that these species have with humans. The jaguar will never interact with a human in an everyday environment, but a rabbit could well be farmed or wild. These variations began to pose problems.
Over time, lectures and conferences in the field began to address the topic of wild animals that are free-living and should not be kept as pets, as well as pets that are exotic or unconventional. This second group is made up of those animals that have had some degree of contact or adaptation to humans for some time, but are not part of the local fauna; most are the product of controlled captive breeding. An example is rabbits, which have been interacting with humans for 4,000 years.
Our country is no exception to this trend of diversification in the world of pets. Over time, an increasing number of people have become interested in pets other than dogs and cats. Many people choose a rabbit or a guinea pig (cuilo in Costa Rica), which, because of their size, are easy to have loose around the house. They’re also able to interact with their owners. Others select a gerbil or a hamster in those big cages full of tubes and mazes. Others prefer a farmed cockatiel, budgerigar, farmed snake, bearded dragon, baby turtle or green iguana. Those are some of the pets we have to deal with today in our profession.
This trend means that the veterinarian is forced to train more extensively—through courses, seminars, and postgraduate courses—in order to treat pets with very particular needs. Many people assume that owners might forego significant treatment for small animals, since it might be cheaper to replace the animal than to treat it. To their surprise, however, many people today invest significant amounts of money and time in giving the best care and quality of life to their small pet when it is suffering from an ailment, or to prevent such an illness.
Blanquita, a garden hen, is one of those pets that are lucky enough to have owners who see value in giving them quality of life. Blanquita recently had an orthopedic splint made: we performed X-rays and a cutting-edge procedure with inhalation anesthesia. No skimping. The owner sought the best of the best for the hen. Today, she is in recovery with her three chicks.
There are many cases like Blanquita’s. Paco the cockatiel, Blacky the guinea pig, Tortilla the bunny, or even very unusual stories like the animal who came into the hospital as Hermione—and left as Ron Weasley. During the evaluation prior to a surgical procedure, I informed the owners that the cuilito they loved so much was male and not female.
In general terms, veterinary practice has been enriched by the variety of species to be treated. It has made it almost mandatory for new veterinary hospitals to have professionals on staff who are trained to treat exotic mammals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, hamsters, and gerbils.
We also have to be prepared for the occasional squirrel, raccoon, opossum, and ornamental or wild singing birds such as goldfinches, parrots and parakeets—to mention some wild animals that we see near our homes and that we should not have as pets. . Their possession is prohibited and punishable by law, and we should not have them in our homes. However, that does not mean that we veterinarians cannot give them a hand while they are taken to a rescue center, and for that we must be prepared.
There is something magical about exotic species. In many homes, they are already an important part of life.
Many people now know what it’s like to open the fridge just to hear the particular sound cuilos make when they want something, or the purr when they are happy. That’s magic. There are also those who enjoy having a rabbit on their legs or the armrest of the chair while watching a movie.
To all those who enjoy the affection of these pets, I want to remind you that you have to be aware of their basic needs at all times: food, space, and medical attention. These small animals have a very fast metabolism and for this reason, among others, it is important to pay attention to their diet, which must be of the best quality and balance; to their medical care and deworming; and to their dental care, among others. They are a new world that we are beginning to discover, each one with its own way of life.
However, we cannot forget that exotic pets have been taken from their natural environment. It is difficult to fully attend to their natural needs. We are responsible for their health, because the diseases that most afflict these species are produced by their separation from their normal conditions. Sometimes we put them in contexts where they do not interact with other animals, or in overcrowded spaces, or with humidity, temperature and UV radiation conditions that are not right for them. This often happens with reptiles, amphibians and birds. At other times, owners provide improper diets.
It is important to carry out a careful study of the species that you want as a pet—its requirements and maintenance costs—before acquiring it. Exotic pets are generally cheap to buy, but their proper maintenance, so that they live in the best conditions, can be expensive.
Support for this story was provided by Instinct, a dog and cat food produced in the United States and imported to Costa Rica since 2014 by PROVETCRE, a MyPYME that cares about Costa Rican pets and what they eat. Instinct’s mission is to transform the lives of pets: “We believe that all pets deserve the best life possible. And if you ask us — it starts with food.”
This week INSTINCT invited Dr. Esteban González to write about the health of exotic pets. Dr. González works at the Hospital Veterinario Hipermascotas in Guadalupe. You can request an appointment with Dr González at 4082-8100
You can find Instinct in every province of Costa Rica. Find your closest point of sale on Instagram, @Instinct.CostaRica
Follow the brand in Costa Rica on Facebook at @Instinct.CostaRica.
If you are a veterinarian interested in providing Instinct as an option for customers, call PROVETCRE at 2215-4399.