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Choosing a Veterinary Hospital For Your Pet: 5 Basic Questions

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Every few weeks, my exotic pet hospital in New York receives a call from a desperate exotic pet owner somewhere far away seeking advice about their sick pet. Sometimes it’s about a reptile, sometimes about a bird or bunny. The caller might be from the Midwest, Canada, or even from another continent. Unfortunately, in most cases, there is little we can recommend over the phone, and we generally advise pet-owner to take their animals to an exotic pet-savvy veterinarian to be examined. While there are several great resources online directing people to terrific local vets who are comfortable treating exotic species, for some people in certain remote locations, exotic pet veterinarians can be hard to find. What are the most important things to look for when you are seeking out care for an exotic pet vet? Here are 5 essential considerations:

1. How many (snakes, birds, ferrets, rabbits, whatever species) has this vet ever treated?

While the practice may not always make perfect, it certainly makes better. The more of any given species a veterinarian sees, the more likely that he or she is to recognize the disease and be able to recommend the appropriate treatment. Most vets receive little to no training in school on exotic animal species, so if they really want to learn about how to care for these animals, they have to seek out information on their own. These vets who take the initiative to go the extra mile to learn about exotic pets are the vets you’d want to see.

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2. Is the veterinary hospital set up to accommodate exotic pets?

While many cat and dog hospitals will see exotic pets, they often do so because they are the only game in town. Many cat and dog hospitals will only treat an exotic pet when no one else will, and the pet is really sick. You can really tell whether a veterinary hospital is set up to treat exotic pets if they have some of the basic equipment and supplies needed to do so, such as a small scale that weighs in grams for weighing little exotic pets or a tank for safely enclosing a reptile. If they have no equipment specifically designed for treating and examining typically smaller exotic patients, it is likely they don’t treat many of them.

3. Are the veterinary technicians comfortable handling exotic patients?

Knowing how to safely handle exotic pets is truly an art that takes years to master. Most exotic animals are prey species that become stressed when restrained. No matter how good a veterinarian may be at the medical care of exotic species, without great technical staff to comfortably hold these animals, that vet cannot perform great medical care. By just watching how veterinary technicians restrain and manipulate your exotic pet, you can get an idea about how often they actually handle exotic pets. Technicians and veterinarians trained in exotic pet restraint should be relaxed and have a plan on how to pick up and hold your pet. If they are floundering around trying to figure out how to catch your pet, their experience is very likely limited.

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4. Are the veterinarians and/or the veterinary staff members of any exotic pet professional organizations?

There are several professional exotic animal groups, such as the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, and the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians, to which many veterinarians who are interested in exotic pet care belong. These organizations provide continuing education to veterinary professionals, and typically, individuals who want to remain knowledgeable in exotic pet care will join one or more of these groups to stay current. Veterinarians who belong to these groups typically display the organization’s logo on a decal in their hospitals’ window or printed on their hospitals’ client literature. Each of these organizations have websites, too, that list current members geographically. If a vet has taken the time and money to join any of these organizations, then he or she at least has a strong interest in exotic pets.

5. Does the veterinary hospital provide care for exotic pet emergencies?

This is something most exotic pet owners don’t think about until they are faced with their own pets’ emergency. While a few animal hospitals have veterinarians on call and technicians who remain in the hospital overnight to care for critical cases, the most veterinary hospitals are not open 24/7 but have arrangements with local 24-hour emergency clinics to care for their patients overnight and on emergency basis. However, while local emergency clinics are generally happy to take in dog and cat emergencies, they are not always equipped to handle exotic pet emergencies. When choosing an animal hospital to care for your unique exotic pet, be sure to ask the veterinary staff exactly how they handle exotic pet patients with emergencies after hours. If they have no contingency plan, they likely treat very few exotics. Just as your dog and cat vet should have a plan for after-hours emergencies, so should your exotic pet vet. This is perhaps the most important question to consider when choosing a doctor for your beloved pet. Don’t be afraid to ask it. The answer could be the difference between life and death.

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3 “Silent” Killers of Cats

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When it comes to caring for your cat, I have a few simple recommendations:

  • Maintain a safe environment (keep him indoors)
  • Feed a high-quality food (e.g., a meat-based protein)
  • Think about preventive care (e.g., an annual physical examination, laboratory tests, and the appropriate vaccines)
  • Provide lots of affection and exercise

By following these basic tips, you can help keep your four-legged, feline friends healthy–potentially for decades! But as cat guardians, you should also be aware of five “silent” killers in cats. By knowing what the most common silent killers are, you can know what clinical signs to look for. With most of these diseases, the sooner the clinical signs are recognized, the sooner we veterinarians can treat them.

1. Chronic kidney disease

One of the top silent killers of cats is chronic kidney disease (CKD) (This is sometimes called a chronic renal failure or chronic kidney injury). These terms are all semantically the same, and basically mean that 75% of both the kidneys are ineffective and not working. Clinical signs of CRD include:

  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urinating
  • Larger clumps in the litter box
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath (due to toxins building up in the blood and causing ulcers in the mouth, oesophagus, and stomach)
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding

Thankfully, with appropriate management, cats can live with CKD for years (unlike dogs where CKD usually progresses more rapidly). Chronic management may include a low-protein diet, frequent blood work, increasing water intake (e.g., with a water fountain or by feeding a gruelling canned food), medications and even fluids under the skin (which many pet guardians do at home, once properly trained).

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2. Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is an endocrine disease where the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. This is seen in middle-aged to geriatric cats and can result in very similar clinical signs to chronic kidney disease including:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased water consumption/urination
  • Vomiting/diarrhoea
  • Weight loss

However, as hyperthyroidism increases the metabolism of cats, it causes one defining sign: a ravenous appetite despite weight loss. It can also result in:

  • A racing heart rate
  • Severe hypertension (resulting in acute blood loss, neurologic signs, or even a clot or stroke)
  • Secondary organ injury (e.g., a heart murmur or changes to the kidney)

Thankfully, treatment for hyperthyroidism is very effective and includes either a medication (called methimazole, surgical removal of the thyroid glands (less commonly done), a special prescription diet called y/d® Feline Thyroid Health) or I131 radioiodine therapy. With hyperthyroidism, the sooner you treat it, the fewer potential side effects or organ damage will occur in your cat.

3. Diabetes mellitus

Another costly, silent killer that affects cats is diabetes mellitus (DM). As many of our cats are often overweight to obese, they are at a greater risk for DM. With diabetes, the pancreas fails to secrete adequate amounts of insulin (Type I DM) or there is resistance to insulin (Type II DM). Insulin is a natural hormone that drives sugar (i.e., blood glucose) into the cells. As a result of the cells starving for glucose, the body makes more and more glucose, causing hyperglycemia (i.e., high blood sugar) and many of the clinical signs seen with DM. Common clinical signs for DM are similar to those of Chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism and include:

  • Excessive urination and thirst
  • Larger clumps in the litter box
  • An overweight or obese body condition with muscle wasting (especially over the spine or back) or weight loss
  • A decreased or ravenous appetite
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal breath (e.g., acetone breath)
  • Walking abnormally (e.g., lower to the ground)
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Treatment for DM can be costly, as it requires twice-a-day insulin injections that you have to give under the skin. It also requires changes in diet (to a high protein, low carbohydrate diet), frequent blood glucose monitoring, and frequent veterinary visits. With supportive care and chronic management, cats can do reasonably well; however, once diabetic complications develop (e.g., diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar, hyperglycemic syndrome), DM can be life-threatening.

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Should my pet be tested for COVID-19?

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If your cat or dog is coughing, the good news is that it’s probably not due to COVID-19. Experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) agree that COVID-19 is predominantly a human illness, and it’s unlikely for pets to be infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. There are many types of viruses that can make cats or dogs sick. So, your veterinarian will check your pet to make sure that the symptoms aren’t being caused by a more common virus or other health problem.

Opinions about testing pets for COVID-19 are changing as we learn more about the virus and cases around the world. Public health authorities and veterinarians are working together to determine if an animal should be tested. Right now, there’s no evidence that dogs or cats can spread the virus to people. But there is growing evidence that in rare cases people may be able to infect animals. In the past month, two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong, a cat in Belgium, and a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City were found to have been infected. In each situation, there was exposure to a COVID-19 positive person.

If your cat or dog is sick, the best thing to do is speak with your veterinarian. Be sure to let them know if your pet has been exposed to anyone who has COVID-19. Your veterinarian will let you know what to do and will work with public health authorities to determine if a test is recommended.

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Pets

Do Macaws Make Great Pets?

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Macaws are undeniably gorgeous birds and have been popular pet parrots for decades. They are intelligent and affectionate and have exceedingly long lifespans, making them ideal for bird lovers around the world.

Many of the reasons that they are such unique and sought-after pets are also what make them a challenge for many owners; their large size, long lifespan, and noise levels are certainly not for beginners. There are 17 different species of Macaws, some of which make better pets than others and others that are endangered and should not be kept as pets.

Parrot rescue organizations are often filled with Macaws because people want to own one of these gorgeous birds but do not realize the full weight of the responsibility and eventually cannot manage it. Macaws most definitely make great pets, but whether they are the right pet for you is another consideration altogether.

In this article, we look at the aspects that make Macaws such great pets and the more difficult traits to be aware of. Let’s dive in.

Why Macaws make great pets

Macaws are hugely popular pets among bird enthusiasts, and there are several reasons for this. There are quite a few species of Macaws that are commonly kept as pets, including:

  • Blue and Gold Macaws
  • Green-Wing Macaws
  • Hyacinth Macaws
  • Military Macaws
  • Hahn’s Macaws
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Various hybrid Macaws
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Let’s have a look at a few reasons that these birds make such great pets.

1.Appearance

There is no denying the exotic beauty of a Macaw, no matter the species that you choose to keep as a pet. Blue and Gold Macaws are among the most popular, known for their beautiful blue-and-yellow plumage and affectionate relationships with their owners. Macaws can reach up to 3 feet tall, and they have large beaks and long tails and various striking color combinations. This is one of the main reasons that they are such popular pets — their appearance is simply unrivaled by other parrot species.

2.Affectionate

In the wild, Macaws are social birds that gather in flocks of 10 or more birds. When you keep a Macaw as a pet, you are now a vital member of their flock, and as such, they will develop a powerful bond with you. While they are wary of strangers and it’s unlikely that a Macaw that you’ve just met will want to cuddle up to you, they are almost puppy-like in affection with the people whom they know well. This is especially true if you’ve raised your Macaw from a young age, but even adopted adult Macaws will eventually warm up to their trusted companions.

Macaws typically mate for life, share their food with their mates and young, and have been shown to recognize their young and siblings and have long-term relationships with them.

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3.Intelligent and trainable

Most experts agree that Macaws are among the most intelligent parrots in the world, second only to African Greys. Macaws are logical and discerning birds — hiding their food and picking out seeds that they don’t enjoy — and they have even been shown to be creative and solve complex puzzles with ease. Experiments in IQ and EQ have shown that Macaws are on par with a 2-3-year-old human child, and Macaws are known to display both love and jealousy in the same way too.

Macaws are highly trainable, can be taught a wide variety of tricks, and can mimic dozens of words and phrases and other sounds, like laughing, ringing phones, and singing.

4.Healthy and hardy

Macaws have long lifespans of 50-75 years, often even more than that, and many will outlive their owners. With the right diet, plenty of exercises, and a happy, peaceful environment, these birds are exceedingly healthy and rarely suffer from any major health issues.

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