Bigging Up The Little Pets!

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While a love of animals may be the backbone of every vet, we all have our favourite aspects of the job.  For me a love of learning and teaching sit alongside my love of animals and it is this which has drawn me more and more into the world of exotic pets.  Since graduating in 2006 I have worked in several first opinion small animal practices where a small, but inevitable, caseload of small-furry and “exotic” pets always exists. Predominantly rabbits, guinea pigs and tortoises, this group also includes a wide and varied range of other small mammals, reptiles, birds, aquatics and wildlife. 

For a vet who is committed to lifelong learning and the acquisition of new skills, the area of exotic pets opens up a world of exciting opportunities.  The kind of in-depth knowledge a small animal vet quickly builds up about dogs or cats isn’t just at our fingertips for exotics – and sometimes it needs to be carefully searched for.  Out-of-the-ordinary patients are regularly encountered, everything from examination techniques to diagnostic and treatment plans must be approached creatively, and it is incredibly important to collaborate with clients, keeping a channel for knowledge sharing (in both directions) open at all times. 

I attended my first “exotics” CPD course nearly fifteen years ago, in 2009. Focussed entirely on tortoises, it transformed my care for these (and other similar) animals, adding pre and post hibernation checks to my repertoire and changing the way I performed diagnostics, including blood sampling and faecal tests.  I quickly became known as “the small furry vet” in that practice, something which has not changed in the years (and other practices) that have followed.   

It is a great pleasure to me to note that, while the majority of my colleagues will see an overall caseload of about 80% dogs and 20% cats, a workday rarely goes by for me without a rabbit or “exotic” pet consult or procedure.  And my CPD has remained focussed on these areas as well, including attending the Rabbit Medicine Conference, making time for a great many webinars, and even working with a local rescue centre in my own time (and at cost price) to neuter a large backlog of rabbits and guinea pigs. 

And this is all something that can benefit practices and employers as well.  For example, in my current practice, the (self-named) ‘Crazy Rabbit Lady’ member of our nursing team and I, have worked hard to tighten up anaesthesia and surgical protocols for rabbits, created a plan for responsible antibiotic prescribing in this species, and delivered in house training on subjects such as gastrointestinal syndrome (or gut stasis). 

The icing on the cake for me was when we submitted our RWAF application to become a Rabbit Friendly Practice and were granted Silver Status. And, just in case we were looking for a cherry on the top as well(!), in the same year we were also shortlisted in the Burgess Vet Awards for both Rabbit Friendly Practice of the Year and Guinea Pig Friendly Practice of the Year. 

But while being overjoyed by these three commendations, the ongoing pleasure of “exotic” pet care is the ability it offers me to learn and grow every single day, and to know that when a client entrusts their unusual pet to me, they will be getting a depth of knowledge, experience and teaching that they can safely rely on, and which can sometimes prove transformative. 

Lucy has just left general practice and is now starting up her own independent small mammal and exotics mobile veterinary service, The Tiny Vet, at the same time as doing her certificate in exotic animal practice. 

At the time of writing, she was working with the amazing team at Nurture Vet Hospital, an independent small animal practice in Wells, Somerset. 

You can find Lucy on Facebook “The TinyVet” or X @thetinyvet and she can be contacted by email, tinyvetuk@gmail.com

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