sealPurdue News

November 18, 2002

Exotic pets need wellness care, too

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Pet owners have lots of love for their animals, no matter if they have scales, fur, beaks or pouches.

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But often, people who own nontraditional pets, including exotics, don't plan for regular wellness visits as do cat and dog owners, says Lori Corriveau, a veterinarian at the Wellness Clinic in Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine.

"We often see nontraditional pet owners wait until their pet is sick before they ever bring it to a veterinarian," Corriveau says. "People in the veterinary profession want pet owners to know that we care for more than just cats and dogs. Often pet owners are not aware that this kind of care is out there for their snakes, hamsters or parakeets."

Nontraditional pets, which are anything other than a cat or dog, can include rodents such as mice, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, gerbils or degus, as well as birds and reptiles. Other popular nontraditional pets are rabbits, ferrets, sugar gliders, prairie dogs, pot-bellied pigs or frogs.

Corriveau says any pet deserves the best medical care, and veterinarians will always provide the best care for any nontraditional animal.

Some people may not take their animal to see the veterinarian because it's easier to replace a $5 hamster than pay for a chronic or life-threatening condition, Corriveau says. In contrast, she has seen the owners of a beloved pet rat invest more than a $1,000 for its care. Regular wellness care can help prevent greater health problems and, in the long term, keep medical costs down.

"Many nontraditional pets, especially small mammals, are prey species," Corriveau says. "These animals often don't exhibit signs of an illness to prevent displaying their weaknesses. It may be too late when they show their symptoms. Any exotic animal exhibiting signs of illness should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible."

Wellness visits can help a variety of animals.

For example, by bringing a guinea pig in for regular visits, the veterinarian can analyze its diet to determine if it's being fed adequate amounts of vitamin C. Guinea pigs are prone to scurvy, which can be fatal. Some guinea pig pellets may not contain enough vitamin C, and veterinarians also can instruct a pet owner how to properly handle food so it is not damaged by moisture or sunlight.

"Iguana owners often feed their reptiles a diet only of crickets," Corriveau says. "However, iguanas really are herbivores, and they need leafy green vegetables as a staple of their diet."

Reptiles kept indoors don't get enough ultraviolet light, which is essential for their calcium utilization and the prevention of a condition called metabolic bone disease.

Corriveau says many parakeet owners rarely bring these smaller tropical birds in for visits, but the trip can help prevent intestinal parasites and liver disease as well as ensure normal gastrointestinal bacteria levels and proper beak and feather growth.

During regular veterinary visits, owners also can learn about hygiene and other care issues. Wellness visits to the veterinarian also are important to determine what, if any, vaccinations a pet requires.

Potential nontraditional pet owners can benefit from a visit with a veterinarian before a new pet is selected. The veterinarian can review husbandry and care issues that are special to nontraditional pets, as well as the difference between pets and wildlife.

"When getting a rabbit, sugar glider or reptile, it's important to do your research," Corriveau says. "Learn what pets are more appropriate for small children."

For small children, Corriveau recommends mid-sized mammals, such as guinea pigs or pet rats, because they are personable, not as prone to bite and easier for small children to handle.

Research can expose pet owners to zoonotic issues, which are animal diseases that are contagious to humans. Some reptiles are prone to salmonella. Birds may have chlamydia, which although different from the human variety, can still infect humans, especially children.

The Wellness Clinic is Purdue's version of a private practice, located in the Teaching Hospital at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Senior veterinary students are assigned rotations to gain the same experience they would in a private practice dealing with wellness visits, geriatric issues and routine illnesses.

The Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine offers Indiana's only DVM degree program. In addition, the school offers associate and bachelor's degrees in veterinary technology; graduate training at the master's, doctorate and post-doctorate levels; and residencies in a variety of clinical and diagnostic specialties. Currently, 263 students are enrolled in the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine.

Since the first DVM class graduated in 1963, the school has produced nearly 2,400 veterinarians who practice in all 50 states. The school also is home to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital that cares for and treats diseases of all domestic and exotic animals. Also at the school is the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, which performs diagnostic tests in support of Indiana veterinarians, livestock owners, wildlife biologists, regulatory officials and university scientists.

The school's research areas include paralysis intervention research, the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, equine sports medicine, infectious disease, the human-animal bond and biomedical engineering.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Source: Lori Corriveau, (765) 494-1107

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web site:
Pet Wellness Clinic


Lori Corriveau, a veterinarian in the Wellness Clinic at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, examines Chili, a military macaw. Corriveau says many nontraditional pets never make it to the veterinarian for wellness exams. Bringing nontraditional pets for regular visits can help prevent health problems, Corriveau says. Routine veterinary care for birds includes checking for parasites, normal gastrointestinal bacteria levels and inspecting beak and feather growth. (Purdue News Service Photo/David Umberger)

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