Exotic pets are extremely rewarding to keep as a pet owner and once you have one, you seem to get the bug and want to add to your collection! Exotic pets come in all shapes and sizes, from birds to lizards and from tortoises to skunks – pet owners seem to have them all. However, when adding to your collection, it is important to consider not only your animal’s safety, but your own safety too! Let’s look at some considerations that might be important when adding to your exotic collection.
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General health check
Whether you have acquired your new exotic pet from a pet store, private breeder, or even a rescue, it may be a good idea to take them to your local vet for a health check. Veterinary surgeons are highly skilled individuals. They can carry out an in-depth examination of your new family member, identifying any causes for concern. You can find your closest exotic veterinary practice here.
Even though 99% of pet stores, private owners or rescue centres take excellent care of animals, it is best for them to receive a veterinary health check, regardless of whether you have been told that they have already been checked over by a vet. It’s better to receive a clean bill of health from your vet now, rather than find a problem in a few months’ time.
You may have a passion for a particular type of exotic animal and want to add an animal to an already established group. For example, you may own a group of rats (commonly known as a “mischief” of rats!) and want to add a new member to the clan. However, introducing the new member straight into the group may cause potential problems, as they may be carrying an undiagnosed disease that can be passed to other members.
Quarantining new animals is a great way to ensure that they have no hidden illness or disease that may spread to the rest of the animals. When thinking about quarantine, face masks and people in scary boiler suits usually spring to mind, however, it doesn’t need to be that intense.
A new member of the group can simply be placed in a separate enclosure, ideally in another room. They should be housed with all of their required needs catered for, as if they were already living with the group. Disposable bedding should be used and changed regularly, so that any disease or parasite is disposed of accordingly.
The quarantine period allows you time to observe your new animal and ensure that no health issues occur that may have previously been missed. Quarantine time lengths vary, depending on the animal. If we were using the example of a rat, around 2-3 weeks are usually a sufficient time period for quarantine.
Are they treated for parasites?
Regardless of the species of animal, they should always be treated for parasites. Similar to dogs and cats, exotic animals can suffer from parasites such as fleas, mites, ticks and intestinal worms. Parasites are contagious and new exotic animals can pass on these parasites to your existing animals.
In some cases, these parasites can spread from your exotic pet to your cat or dog and in unfortunate cases, to the actual owner themselves! During the quarantine period, it may be a good idea to speak with your veterinary surgeon regarding parasite treatment; and treat the new pet with whichever treatment your veterinary surgeon recommends. That way, you can be sure that there is a minimised chance of them spreading any parasites to the rest of your animal companions.
General hygiene is an absolute must when dealing with a new exotic pet. Let’s say you’ve been a fabulous new pet owner and placed your new lizard in a separate room for quarantine, but you forget to follow simple hand hygiene. You already own 10 other reptiles, however you’re being smart and disposing of the new lizard’s bedding and keeping them separate from any other animals. Gold star for you!
Suddenly, your new lizard is diagnosed with salmonella; and it turns out the rest of the lizards in your collection do too! How is this possible? You did everything you were supposed to by keeping them separate?
A fomite is an object that can carry pathogens. The pathogens can stay on this object until they infect their new hosts, but can also be passed from object to object. Let’s break it down.
Your lizard has salmonella and is shedding the bacteria into the environment via their faeces. Any object that comes into contact with the faeces will then carry salmonella until it’s disinfected. This includes bedding, water bowls, hides and even your hands. Say you have salmonella on your hands and you touch a door handle, change another lizard’s water bowl or handle another animal. Salmonella will then be found on each of these objects.
It’s all sounding very dramatic, but that’s how easy diseases can spread. With new animals, ensure that you are being extra cautious with hand washing, as well as disinfecting any items within their enclosure before sharing them with new animals.
Examples of contagious diseases in exotics
A fatal disease in rabbits, myxomatosis affects wild and captive rabbits and infects all rabbits, regardless of whether they are kept indoors or outdoors. Common symptoms include swelling and discharge around the eyes, as well as the lips, nostrils and ears. Often, myxomatosis is fatal. Myxomatosis is highly contagious as is easily spread between rabbits.
Also known as RHD, this is usually fatal in rabbits. There are two different strains of the disease, both of which are highly contagious. Unfortunately, some rabbits can often die without showing any obvious symptoms. Others can present with symptoms such as lethargy, depression and bleeding from the nose and mouth.
Often found in reptiles, Salmonella is highly contagious and can even be passed to humans. Any animal can carry or contract salmonella. Some animals may not show any clinical signs, however, others may display symptoms such as lethargy, diarrhoea, vomiting and a decreased appetite.
Commonly seen in hamsters, wet tail can be seen by a wet area around a hamster’s tail. This is caused by a bacteria that is affecting the ileum, part of the hamster’s small intestine. Symptoms include diarrhoea, lethargy and abdominal pain. Wet tail is contagious and can be spread amongst groups of hamsters.
Polyomavirus is an infection that affects birds, commonly those within the parrot family. The infection is usually fatal and is contagious between bird species. Symptoms include a swollen abdomen, diarrhoea, dehydration and difficulty breathing.
Final thoughts on biosecurity
No matter what new exotic animal you decide to invite into your home, it may be important to follow biosecurity measures to reduce the risk to both you and your other animals. If you’re unsure on how to do this, speak with your veterinary surgeon who will be able to advise you on the best cause of action. Medication may be prescribed by your vet in order to minimise the spread of parasites or potential diseases. If you are worried about any of your animals after introducing a new exotic pet, always seek veterinary assistance.