Some veterinarians thrive on the thrill of being faced with new situations every day — me, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy challenging cases, but I like to feel that I’m entering the fray with some level of competence. I suspect that most owners don’t want their pet to be the first case of its kind that their veterinarians have ever seen. This is a special concern for the owners of non-traditional pets or livestock, basically anything other than dogs, cats, horses, and cattle.
One of the dirty little secrets about veterinary school — strike that, all professional schools — is that there simply isn’t time to teach everything you need to know. The schools focus on the most pressing information (e.g., common diseases in common species), and if you have a special interest outside of these areas, it’s up to you to seek out the information and training.
So how can you ensure that you pick out a vet that has at least some familiarity with your species-of-choice?
Veterinary associations dedicated to particular types of animals are good places to start. Examples for exotic pets include The Association of Avian Veterinarians, The Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, and The Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarian. Each of these associations’ websites contains a link to a listing of their member veterinarians that is searchable by location.
If you are looking for a veterinarian who has extensively studied and been tested on their knowledge about a particular type of animal, the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) is a good resource. ABVP diplomates are "veterinarians who have demonstrated expertise in the broad range of clinical subjects relevant to their practice and who display the ability to communicate medical observations and data in an organized, appropriate manner."
ABVP is accredited to offer board-certification in clinical practice for the following practice categories:
- Avian Practice
- Equine Practice
- Beef Cattle Practice
- Feline Practice
- Canine/Feline Practice
- Exotic Companion Mammal Practice
- Food Animal Practice
- Dairy Practice
- Reptile and Amphibian Practice
- Swine Health Management
The ABVP website includes a searchable directory that makes finding an expert near (or relatively near) you easy.
As odd as it may sound, your "regular" veterinarian is also a great way to find nearby specialists, as are local clubs and societies formed by owners of unusual pets. Most vets are more than happy to refer cases that fall outside of their comfort range, so feel free to ask, "Do you know of any good sugar glider vets in the area?" If the doctor replies, "I can take care of that for you," ask to see his or her credentials and/or references from clients. Anyone who’s put off by such a request doesn’t deserve your business.
Dr. Jennifer Coates