If regular veterinary medicine is behind human medicine in terms of technological advances, exotic animal medicine is medicine’s forgotten stepchild. There are very few research studies on exotic species, and those that are available are often limited to a single species.
But one recent innovation has been able to span many species. Deslorelin is a contraceptive hormone that has been formulated into a sustained-release implant and is widely used as birth control in zoos. Only within the last couple of years has it become commer- cially available in the exotic pet market. The size of a rice grain, the implant is inserted beneath the skin with a wide-gauge needle. Over time the implant releases deslorelin, which acts on the pituitary gland to shut down the cascade of circulating reproductive hormones. Dr. Amy Wells, an exotic vet at the Avian and Exotic Clinic of Monterey, uses it to treat adrenal gland disease in ferrets, as well as to relieve parrots suffering from sexual frustration — often self-mutilating and becoming aggressive to their owners — when they are kept in captivity without a mate. She also frequently implants deslorelin in backyard chickens to prevent oviduct impaction — a lifethreatening condition that occurs when eggs get backed up in the reproductive system and which costs about $1,000 to surgically repair.