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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – there’s just no substitute for quality medical advice from a trained veterinarian. Yes, there’s plenty of information and advice about chameleon care on the Internet, but if you think your precious pet may be sick, online research just isn’t enough to cut it.
Unfortunately, pet stores aren’t required to exclusively sell species for whom there are trained vets nearby. That’s why one of the most challenging aspects of owning an exotic pet can be finding and forming a relationship with a qualified, trustworthy vet.
Look for a Vet With Reptile-Specific Training and Experience
A “normal” vet who specializes in cats and dogs may know very little about how to treat a sick or injured reptile. Unlike a physician, whose many years of training and study are devoted to treating humans, small animal vets are working with potentially hundreds of species, only a few of which were covered in-depth in their veterinary school curriculum. Vet schools typically spend anywhere from one to six weeks, total, learning about exotic pets, which include more than 5,000 species of mammals, 10,000 bird species, more than 9,500 reptile species and 20,000 species of fish.
How can a vet learn more about species she hasn’t studied as thoroughly as cats, dogs and livestock? Committing to becoming an exotic animal vet requires additional training and education. Vets can take additional courses, attend conferences hosted by exotic animal veterinary organizations, subscribe to specialized vet publications and study textbooks devoted to specific types of exotics. There are also continuing education courses – many of which are online – for vets to learn more about various aspects of exotic pet care.
Do Your Research to Find a Trustworthy Vet
In other words, you should do your homework on your vet to find out if he’s been doing his homework to learn about caring for exotic pets. For reptile vets, that entails joining an organization such as the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV), which publishes both a journal and a newsletter, and also hosts regular educational conferences.
If you’re a new reptile owner and have no idea where to start looking for a vet, ARAV has a helpful vet finder on their website. Members of your local herpetological society may also be a good resource. If there are no herpetological societies in your area, you can reach out to nearby wildlife and bird rescue organizations to ask if they can recommend a vet with experience working with reptiles, or if they know someone who can. Zoo vets may also be a good resource, though they’ll probably be more difficult to get in touch with.
Be prepared to cast a wide net, geographically, to find a vet with the specialized knowledge and training necessary to treat reptiles. Exotic pet owners who live in more rural or isolated cities will probably have to commit to traveling to another city to get your pet cared for by a vet with training in treating reptiles. Depending on where you live, that may entail a long drive. If you aren’t prepared to go that distance, don’t adopt the pet.