Just another day in the animal house
From snakes to cheetahs these patients are really wild
For staff at the British Veterinary Hospital, no two days are the same. One moment they’ll see a lion cub rushed in with snapped paws from running into garden furniture. The next, they’ll have to operate on a 12m snake with mouth ulcers that could claim its life.
With all manner of wild animals widely available at pet shops and markets, vets say the cases they treat are becoming ever more exotic.
Dr Sara Elliott, founder of the British Veterinary Hospital, has taken on two new vets that specialise in exotic animals like lizards and big cats.
Her centre will also host an open day this Thursday to educate exotic pet owners on nutrition and housing requirements and offer tests and vaccines.
She said: “We’re starting to see more ‘exotics’ – that’s parrots, reptiles, amphibians, marsupials and various sorts of mammals. Yesterday we had some ferrets in.”
NOT FEEDING THE RIGHT DIET
The first patient of the day is a non-poisonous snake with ‘mouth-rot’ – a potentially lethal mouth infection that would lead to pneumonia if left untreated.
Elliott said: “If you look at the snake with the mouth-rot, which is the equivalent of having a mouth full of ulcers, and you imagine they become infected, you’ve now got a bacterial infection that changes into fungus in your mouth.
“What then happens is that every time they breathe in, bacteria travels up and down the airways, so eventually they transfer to the chest and they end up with pneumonia.” The most common problem she and her team sees is malnutrition – almost always because owners to not feed their animals the right diet.
She described it as the leading cause of death.
Cheetahs cannot digest cat food but she and her staff continue to see such cases. Elliott said: “It is the wrong balance of nutrients. It gives them diarrhoea and does not have sufficient protein for their body mass.”
The hospital also sees tortoises – a favourite of many young children – that have developed soft shells.
She said: “Tortoises get a soft shell from being kept away from UV light because they’ve not been allowed outside.
“If they develop a soft shell, it starts to collapse, and then damages and crushes their lungs.”
The list goes on, Elliott said.
“We see a lot of sugar gliders,” she said, referring to a tiny, hamster-faced, flying marsupials with fluffy tails. “We saw one last week that had insecticide poisoning. The owner had the house sprayed and didn’t realise how susceptible these little beasties are to insecticides.”
INCREASE IN ‘WILD’ PATIENTS
“The biggest problem with owning exotic pets is the word exotic means wild – different and unknown,” said Elliott. “People just don’t understand them. And if it’s not understood fully then you’re not going to be giving it the best care.”
Dr Marie Monchaux Azmanis and Dr Lenka Prikrylova were recruited by the hospital to deal with the surge in wild animal patients.
“Most of the exotic patients we have are here because of health issues due to wrong husbandry, diet or origin, often bought in overcrowded places with low hygiene,” said Monchaux Azmanis.
“This is so sad and something that can be easily changed with a little knowledge.”
HANDLE WITH CARE: Dr Marie Monchaux Azmanis holds a boa constrictor