Husbandry is relatively simple for dogs and cats since they are accustomed to living side by side with people, have convenient, packaged food that is nutritionally complete and are easily potty trained. Most exotic pets are not adapted for this lifestyle and need their owners to create an environment that is similar to what they would experience in the wild. The amount and type of UV light, temperature, humidity, hiding spots, size of enclosure, type of substrate, cagemates, and amount of handling required or tolerated are just some of the elements that need to be correct. Some packaged diets are available but, even if they are, most exotic pets require some of of additional supplementation. If these things aren’t just right, health problems can arise. Here are just some examples:
- Guinea pigs require a high level of vitamin C and can get scurvy if it is lacking in their diet.
- Rodents have teeth that continuously grow and if not fed enough roughage, these teeth will not wear down properly and can cause mouth sores and even an inability to close their mouth.
- Pets housed on cedar or pine shavings can develop pneumonia due to the volatile oils in the wood.
- Reptiles need varying degrees of humidity. Those that naturally live in very humid places will not shed properly if their enclosures are too dry. Toes can even be lost due to improper shedding!
- UV light is important for metabolism and reptiles often develop a syndrome called Metabolic Bone Disease without proper UV exposure.
- Some birds (mainly the parrot type birds) need lots of companionship and mental stimulation or may resort to self-mutilation out of boredom or frustration. Other birds get extremely stressed and can even pass away from handling.
- It can be difficult to determine how plump a chicken is due to their pronounced pectoral muscles and fluffy feathers, but pet chickens are commonly obese and can be predisposed to developing bumblefoot because of this.
- Poor nutrition or even a slight calcium imbalance can case egg binding in pet birds.
For reasons like these, it is even more important to have annual evaluation for these small pets as it is for dogs and cats. A husbandry consultation is part of the annual evaluation for every exotic pet because, as stated above, the conditions should be near what they pet would encounter in the wild and this can be very difficult to achieve. Sometimes husbandry is not enough and additional measures should be taken, for example, even if rodents have adequate roughage, dental maintenance and treatment are often still needed.