You are the most important factor in keeping your pet healthy. You spend time with your pet and can tell when they are not acting normally. Sometimes we get so busy that we may miss the early signs of illness. Following is a list of what you can do to help your pet:
Make Sure You are Feeding Your Pet the Proper Diet
Herbivorous mammals like rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas need to eat alot of hay, with limited pellets and greens, and minimal treats. Herbivorous turtles and tortoises need to eat fresh grass (pesticide free) and calcium rich leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion, etc.
Carnivores like snakes and some lizards need to eat whole prey. Feeding fresh killed or frozen and thawed is best because feeding live prey often leads to the prey attacking the snake and can cause serious wounds! Ferrets are carnivores also and need to eat a diet very high in protein.
Omnivores eat a combination of protein and vegetation, and in some cases you can purchase prepared diets that are healthy. For example, rodents should have Lab blocks as their staple diet but can be supplemented with healthy human foods.
Birds should be eating a healthy pelleted diet from Harrison's, Roudy Bush or Lafeber's for the most nutritional value, and seeds should be used only as treats. Birds also benefit from small amounts of healthy human food such as vegetables, fruit, cooked eggs and chicken.
For some omnivores, the pelleted diet should be fed sparingly, if at all.
If Pot-bellied pigs are fed the pelleted feed, they will become overweight and may develop dental disease. Feeding a vegetarian diet of vegetables and leafy greens, tofu, and beans, helps pigs remain a healthy weight and live many more years. Hedgehogs should be fed a variety of fresh insects and vegetables, with small amounts of cat or dog food. Red eared sliders are omnivorous and should eat fresh live insects and some greens.
Many lizards are insectivores and have difficulty obtaining enough calcium from a bug diet. The most frequently fed insects are crickets and mealworms, but they are low in protein and high in fat. Supplementing your lizard with different types of insects is helpful (silkworms, earthworms), as is feeding the insects a healthy diet before the lizard eats them. Some species like sugar gliders and lorikeets have specialized diets.
The most important thing is to learn about your pet and what its proper diet includes. Many exotic pets have special needs and if we do not feed them correctly, they will get sick. Learn what your pet's normal eating pattern is, and monitor for any decrease in appetite or any changes.
Snakes eat infrequently, about once every 2 weeks. Most lizards eat daily or every other day. Birds and mammals usually eat several times throughout the day and need to be fed at least twice a day. For rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas, they should get a very large handful of fresh good quality hay twice a day, which they usually munch on throughout the day. Pellets and greens are fed as a small amount once or twice a day. When you feed your pet, usually they run right up and start eating. This is ideal. Some pets are more casual and less excited about mealtime. Sometimes a lackadaisical appetite means that the pet is being fed too rich of a diet. Talk to your exotics experienced veterinarian to make sure you are feeding the correct diet in the recommended amounts.
If your pet eats less, or stops eating altogether, that is definitely a reason to take your pet to an exotics vet. Snakes can go weeks without eating but lizards and tortoises should be seen within a few days or a week. Rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, small rodents, and all birds that stop eating need to be seen THAT DAY!!! They can become deathly ill very quickly, and hide their signs until they are very sick.
Does Your Pet Have the Proper Environment?
Different reptile species have different and specific temperature and humidity needs. Also, lizards, turtles and tortoises require a source of Vitamin D from the sun or special light bulbs, and supplemental calcium in their diet. If your reptile is not warm enough, eventually it will get sick. If it lacks sun or does not have access to a full-spectrum bulb it has a high risk of developing Metabolic Bone Disease. Carefully consider the items you place in your reptile's environment and consult with your exotic vet first. Lizards kept on sand may develop a sand impaction. Bark may get eaten and cause a blockage as well. A reptile carpet is extremely safe.
Birds need to have a large cage with appropriately sized bars, and several perches of varying thicknesses. Birds are intelligent and very active, and require a lot of mental stimulation and attention. If a bird is bored or stressed they will start plucking out their feathers, and may develop other unwanted behaviors such as biting and screaming.
Guinea pigs and chinchillas need large cages with soft bedding underfoot and a hidebox to help them feel secure. Chinchillas like to jump so they will enjoy several levels. These animals are happy when they are handled often and allowed time out of their cages to play. For chinchillas you can place them in a room and keep the door closed. Make sure there are no small areas or holes they can escape through or hide in. For guinea pigs that can be shy, a small area with tunnels and blankets is fun.
Rabbits should ideally be kept in a large doggie x-pen. Even the largest cage is too small for rabbits to be comfortable inside it 24/7. Whether in a cage or an x-pen, rabbits need to come out every day for at least a couple of hours to run around. Rabbits are easily litter box trained in most cases, and rabbits can live cage-free in your home, similar to a cat. Outdoor rabbits are at risk from heat stroke and predators like cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, and hawks. Indoor rabbits become part of the family and are more affectionate than outdoor rabbits. Also, it is very difficult to tell when your outdoor rabbit is getting sick, but you can see right away when indoor rabbits aren't feeling well.
Feel your pet regularly, weekly or monthly. Run your hands over your pet's body. Feel for any lumps or wounds, any missing fur, feathers or scales. Does your pet feel boney or very round and chubby? Are they grooming themselves or getting messy? Are they shedding normally? Perform a visual inspection: eyes clear and symmetrical? Ears normal? Walking normally? Any crooked toes? Learn what your pet looks like when it is breathing normally, so you can recognize if it is breathing harder.
The more attention you pay to your pet, the more likely you will be able to identify a problem early, before it becomes life-threatening. If you haven't taken your exotic pet to an experienced veterinarian, you should do so, to make sure it is healthy and that you are doing the best you can to keep it living a long, happy and healthy life.