Farm animals can make for wonderful pets when all the necessary provisions have been put in place for their health and welfare. One such provision is to make sure that they are registered with a veterinary practice that is fully equipped to deal with their specific needs.
All vets study to be an “all-rounder”. But many sooner or later pick a group of species they are happier to treat. Many practices are mixed (i.e. they will treat any species), and this used to be the norm in the past; therefore all vets should be happy to treat any animal. Right? Sometimes; often, but not always.
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You might have come across something along these lines on social media: “Why my [city centre] vets cannot tell me what is wrong with my pet Kune-kune pig? My cats are registered there. My pig is well behaved – she can come in the car and wait in reception just like a dog”. Or “I don’t understand, they are happy enough to treat snakes and budgies, but not my flock of chickens!”
At the time of looking for a vet practice, you will need to do some research; not just about their prices but most importantly about the species they treat. This is very relevant, for three main reasons:
As vets progress in their careers, they will often acquire experience in treating some animals more regularly than others. Even in truly mixed practices, where all vets are happy to see all animals, there will be someone who just likes some species better than others. It doesn’t make them a bad vet; we are all just human, with human tastes. For example, I prefer chocolate ice cream but it doesn’t mean I don’t like other flavours!
The progression of a vet career is not dissimilar to that of a doctor. You need to be a registrar before you can become a consultant. At some point in your medical studies you need to decide which speciality you will be focusing on. A 100% small animal practice might have some vets who have relevant farm animal experience – but is not guaranteed. A mixed, or purely farm animal practice, on the other hand, will certainly have someone more indicated to help.
2) Veterinary medicines; not all drugs are equal!
Not all medications are suitable, or safe, for use in all animals. A farm vet practice will be best placed to not only offer advice on what to use, and when/how, but to dispense it as well. For certain products that need to be ordered in, a small animal vet practice is very unlikely to have livestock-specific medicines on the shelf “just in case”. Medicines go out of date and the practice cannot be expected to send large amounts of drugs to waste facilities, or indeed lose money by purchasing something that is unlikely to be prescribed.
As hospital departments have different facilities, mixed veterinary practices will have areas that are better suited to certain animals. For logistical reasons, farm animals are usually examined at their holding, rather than taken to the vets. Although some larger farm practices have good facilities to examine, treat and even hospitalise livestock, the majority may not. It is always better to ask whether the goat could be taken to the vets – and small animal practices will likely say best not in their waiting area!
Referral to other practices
This is what may happen if you wanted to have your farm animal pet examined in a small animal surgery. Most vets will try their best to accommodate any enquiries. However, it would be unfair to expect, for example, a small animal orthopaedic surgeon to know their way 100% around a llama. It takes many years to become a specialist in one field, and the original vet school classes on all animals might well be a distant memory.
Ultimately, especially in case of emergencies, if the vet practice where you might have pets registered at is unable to help, please rest assured they would try their best to suggest an alternative practice nearby that is used to treating farm animals. Sometimes a small animal vet will be able to provide emergency first aid, and then refer the patient to a clinic better equipped to deal with farm patients. Always phone first!