William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

Frequently Asked Questions

Companion Exotic Animal Medicine & Surgery Service - Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get an appointment with the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine and Surgery Service?

Our service receives both primary care and referral patients by appointment Monday through Thursday and recheck appointments on Friday every week. It is most often possible to make an appointment within the same week of your call. If you feel that your pet requires attention prior to the first available appointment, we also provide a 24 hour emergency service for exotic pets.

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Do I have to have a referral from a private practice veterinarian in order to be able to make an appointment with the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine and Surgery Service?

No, the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine and Surgery Service provide primary care as well as care on a referral basis.

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How long will an appointment take?

The duration of our appointment with your pet will vary depending upon the diagnostic tests performed and the treatment that may be necessary. An uncomplicated appointment that includes a physical exam and/or bloodwork may take approximately one hour to 90 minutes. Some other diagnostic tests (for example radiographs) may take longer depending upon the type of diagnostic test required and upon the number of other patients in the hospital that require this test.

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Can I be present during the examination of my pet?

In many cases, a physical examination will be performed in the examination room. However, many of the diagnostic tests are performed in areas of the hospital that are limited to hospital staff only.

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How often will I speak to someone at the hospital if my pet is hospitalized?

Every day, the clinician or the student working closely with your pet will contact you to give you an update on your pet's progress.

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If my pet is hospitalized, will my pet be housed with other species of animals?

Our hospital wards are designed to accommodate the special needs of our exotic patients. For example, we have separate wards for our avian and reptile patients that provide appropriate temperature and humidity requirements. Rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, and other small exotic mammals also have their own ward. All exotic pets are housed separately from the domestic small animal patients (such as dogs and cats) in the hospital.

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Will I see the same veterinarian each time I bring my pet to the VMTH?

You can request a specific veterinarian when you make your appointment with the CAPE service and, when possible, we will accommodate your needs. Due to the dynamic nature of the service, and individual schedules, we cannot always fulfill these requests. We make every effort to ensure consistent patient care, even if the same clinician does not see you and your pet.

Our service is composed of 2 faculty veterinarians, 3 resident veterinarians, 2-4 senior students and 4 registered veterinary technicians. Though one resident veterinarian (and their student) will be listed as your primary clinician, all cases are overseen by the faculty veterinarian on duty. Cases are also discussed in detail, daily, among the group in formal Clinical Rounds. The medical records for each patient are meticulously maintained and regularly updated, to allow any clinician in the service to understand all aspects of a patient's case at all times.

Though you may only meet one resident and one student, your pet is under the care of the entire service, with overall supervision provided by faculty veterinarians.

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Does your service make housecalls?

The Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service can arrange a home/site visit on an as-needed basis. We do not maintain a regular field service, so scheduling this type of visit requires prior discussion and planning with our faculty. We generally provide this service to clients who maintain large collections of exotic animals and find it impractical to transport all their pets to the VMTH. This service is also beneficial to breeders and large collection clients who are interested in having their facility assessed with regards to husbandry issues.

Feel free to contact the CAPE service to discuss your potential needs for a house/site visit.

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Can the veterinarians on the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service provide the primary care for the animals of my nonprofit organization?

Yes. The Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service can provide all aspects of veterinary care for the animals cared for by your nonprofit organization. We can provide services for your organization's animals at the VMTH or we can visit your facility and provide (limited) onsite care. We can offer protocols for husbandry, nutrition and preventative care, as well as providing regular health checks of your animals. Individual animals requiring diagnostic work-ups or medical treatment will receive the same high level of care available to all patients presented to our service. Please contact the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service to discuss the potential veterinary needs of the animals under your nonprofit organization's care.

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Is there an after hours emergency clinical service for exotic pets?

The Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service sees sick pets from 7AM to 10 PM Monday through Friday by appointment. An after-hours emergency consultation service is available only for existing clients of the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service (defined as pets seen by the Service over the last 24 months). If deemed necessary after telephone consultation, one of our doctors is on call to examine sick pets of existing clients. Avian and exotic pets that are not existing patients of the service cannot be evaluated after 10 PM. If you are the owner of an existing patient, please call 530-752-1393 to obtain an emergency consultation with the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service.

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I found an injured wild animal, who can I call to provide medical assistance?

The Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service provides medical care for some sick and injured wildlife during daytime hours. Skunks, deer, bats, raccoons, possums, and venomous snakes will not be accepted. Healthy baby birds that have fallen out of a next are also not accepted by the service. Please note that we are unable to provide veterinary evaluation of injured wildlife between the hours of 6 PM and 7 AM. If you have found a wild animal in the evening, please keep the animal in the box overnight and bring them to us after 7 AM. We can be contacted at 530-752-1393.

To protect yourself against rabies, do not touch sick or injured wild mammals such as skunks, bats, foxes, coyotes or raccoons but instead contact your local animal control department or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to transport the mammal for medical care. The animal control officers and the wildlife rehabilitators are specially trained to deal with potentially dangerous animals and have specialized equipment to prevent injury or exposure to rabies. We work closely with animal control and wildlife rehabilitators to provide medical care to sick and injured animals that they rescue.

For other wildlife, place the injured animal in a carrier or box to ensure your safety and the safety of the animal during transport to the hospital. 

When you bring a sick or injured wild animal to us, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire about where the animal was found. This will help us to have the animal released when recovered back to the area where it was found.

The Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) provides medical care for these animals; you are not responsible for the medical bills. We encourage donations to the wildlife fund at the VMTH to help support the care and treatment of wildlife by the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service.

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What do I do if I find a wild animal such as a bat, skunk, fox, coyote, or raccoon? Can I get rabies from the animal?

Any mammal can potentially carry the rabies virus. If you find an injured mammal such as a bat, skunk, fox, coyote, or raccoon you should call your local animal control office or contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Do not touch the animal. The animal control officers and the wildlife rehabilitators are specially trained to deal with potentially dangerous animals and have specialized equipment to prevent injury. We work closely with animal control and wildlife rehabilitators to provide medical care to sick and injured animals they rescue.


People usually get infected with the rabies virus from the bite of a rabid animal. It is also possible, although extremely rare, for people to get rabies from infectious material from a rabid animal such as saliva and urine or feces.

If you are bitten by any of these animals or believe you have been exposed to rabies in any way, you should thoroughly wash the affected area with soap and water and seek immediate medical attention. You should contact your physician if you have any questions or concerns about rabies and exposure to the virus.

For additional information on rabies in wildlife, please go to www.cdc.gov

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My rabbit, rat, chinchilla, etc. has fleas, what should I do?

Many, but not all of the topical anti-flea medications are safe in pet small mammals. Because your exotic mammal requires a different dose of medication than that of a dog or a cat, we do not recommend that you purchase an over the counter flea medication and medicate your pet yourself. Most of the effective medications are prescription-only and requires that your pet be seen by a veterinarian in order to a purchase it. The CAPE service will see your exotic mammal, by appointment, to determine which topical anti-flea medication is right for your pet.

Birds and reptiles do not get fleas but they can sometimes get other external parasites, such as mites. Effective mite medications are also by prescription-only and can be prescribed by Personnel. Again, we do not recommend that you buy an over the counter medication because birds and reptiles require different doses of medications than other species and some of these medications may be toxic to some species.

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My bird is feather picking. What causes feather picking in birds? What can I expect if I come to the veterinarian for help?

Unfortunately for owners and avian veterinarians alike, feather-picking is a very frustrating disorder and can occur for many reasons. While some birds feather pick for behavioral reasons, some have medical problems that either trigger the episode or prevent the resolution. Reasons for feather picking can include:

Behavioral:
This includes such considerations as:

  • inappropriate socialization
  • inappropriate light cycles and sleep deprivation
  • changes in environment
  • change in caretaker
  • inappropriate pair bonding with owners
  • sexual frustration
  • a recent long or short distance move

Environmental:
These may go hand-in-hand with behavioral causes, but are more specific:

  • Poor humidity/lack of bathing
  • Inappropriate temperature
  • Lack of environmental enrichment
  • Unclean housing
  • Housing 'New World' and 'Old World' parrots together (some birds cannot handle excess powder down)
  • Owners who smoke or may have other substances on their hands when they pet their birds

Dietary:
Often overlooked, birds that are on inappropriate diets may have essential nutrient deficiencies that cause skin abnormalities or cause the bird to pick. This is by far more common in birds that are on all-seed diets.

  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Other essential vitamins/minerals, such as calcium.

Medical:
Every feather-picking bird should have a complete physical examination and bloodwork (including a complete blood count and chemistry panel) and other testing as recommended by your veterinarian. Specific causes may include (but are not limited to):

  • Primary bacterial or fungal skin infection
  • Chlamydophila psittaci infection
  • Viral diseases: Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is an important viral cause of abnormal feathering in many psittacine species. Viral tests are available to test for this important disease. Other viruses can cause feather changes, including polyomavirus (particularly in young parakeets)
  • Parasite infections may cause feather-picking, particularly under the wings. Fecal testing may help identify these problems
  • Metabolic disorders, including hepatic and renal disease can cause systemic illness that can make a bird uncomfortable and more likely to pick
  • Heart disease can cause picking due to pain or discomfort
  • Arthritis in joints
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Toxins: some heavy metals can be associated with feather-picking

These are only the more common causes of feather picking and can give you some idea of why the medical evaluation can be extensive. If the behavior has been going on for a long-time, the initial cause of the picking may no longer be evident, but there may now be secondary behavioral or medical causes for it to continue.

It is important to avoid over-the-counter feather-picking solutions as these do not treat the source of the problem but only the symptoms and can sometimes make the situation worse. Do not to verbally acknowledge birds or rush over to the cage if the bird is seen picking as this can be seen by the bird as reinforcement for the behavior. Over time, this can perpetuate the problem.

You should also be aware of the overall health of the bird as your veterinarian will want to know how the bird has been doing at home, its appetite, droppings and its overall activity level. The initial visit for a feather-picking bird can be extensive as the veterinarian needs to get information on all aspects of diet, husbandry, environment and past medical history. Be prepared to spend no less than 2-3 hours with us for your feather-picking visit.

During your visit, the veterinarian may recommend bloodwork and potentially other diagnostics based on a physical examination. These may include, but are not limited to, fecal testing (Gram stain, parasite check, acid-fast stain), heavy metal testing, viral testing, Chlamydophila testing, radiographs, abdominal ultrasound, feather cytology/culture and skin cytology/culture, and vitamin level testing.

As you can see, there is no simple answer to feather picking, but it is important to treat each bird as an individual and consider their history and current circumstances. There is also no such thing as a 'quick' fix so it is important to be prepared to spend time and energy to get to the bottom of the problem.

To schedule an appointment with us feather-picking, please call the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service at 530-752-1393.

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How do I know if my bird is a male or a female?

Unfortunately you cannot tell the difference between most male and female pet birds by just looking at their feathers. The simplest way to find out whether your bird is a male or a female, is to 'DNA sex' your pet.

DNA sexing is easy as it only requires a drop of blood and results are usually obtained within 3 to 5 business days.

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Why should you sex your bird?

Knowing the sex of your bird may help the veterinarian treat illnesses, especially those related to reproductive issues. Knowing the sex of your bird may also help treat behavior problems.

If you would like to have your bird DNA sexed, please call the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine and Surgery Service at 530-752-1393 to set up an appointment.

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How common is dental disease in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas? How can I find out if my rabbit, guinea pig or chinchilla has dental disease?

Dental disease is a very common problem in pet rabbits and rodents. The incisors and cheek teeth of rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas grow continuously throughout life. Most other rodents have continuously growing incisors but have permanent cheek teeth. As the teeth grow they sometimes fail to wear properly and may develop irregular surfaces or sharp points inside the mouth. In addition, as the dental problems progress the teeth can grow abnormally inside the bones of the jaw and may become infected or loose. These conditions cause pain and may cause an animal to stop eating. This is a potentially life-threatening condition because rabbits and rodents that do not eat can develop a condition called GI stasis, which may cause overgrowth of bacteria in the GI tract.

There are likely multiple causes of dental disease in rabbits and rodents. One major contributor is diet. Animals fed too little roughage (hay or greens) and excessive pellets, fruits, seeds, and other treats often develop dental disease. As a rabbit or rodent chews fibrous foods such as hay they grind their teeth in a side to side motion that helps wear the teeth down evenly. However, when they eat pellets or other foods they chew in an up and down motion and the teeth can wear unevenly. There also appears to be genetic predisposition in some animals. While dental disease is commonly seen in older animals, we have seen it in animals as young as 1 year old.

Common signs of dental disease in rabbits and rodents include:

  • Lack of appetite (no interest in food or trying to eat but dropping food)
  • Lack of fecal production
  • Accumulation of saliva around the mouth and chin ('slobbers')
  • Ocular discharge
  • Nasal discharge
  • Foul smell associated with the mouth
  • Lumps or abscesses associated with the jaw

Diagnosis of dental disease is by physical examination of the oral cavity. When your rabbit or rodent comes in for evaluation of dental disease we will start with a detailed history and a thorough physical examination of the mouth will be performed. Additional diagnostics such as blood work, x-rays of the body and skull, oral endoscopy, or a CT scan of the skull may be recommended. Some of these procedures require sedation or general anesthesia. Your doctor will discuss all of these procedures with you in detail.

Treatment of dental disease is generally a long term, ongoing process. It is important to understand that once dental disease is present, it is unlikely that a total cure can be obtained. Dental disease commonly requires frequent trimmings of the teeth under anesthesia using specialized equipment. These trimmings may need to be performed on a regular basis from once a month to once every three months. Sometimes more advanced procedures such as tooth extraction or surgery to remove abscesses are necessary.

If you suspect that your pet has dental disease we recommend scheduling an appointment with us for a consultation. Because we often have to coordinate diagnostic testing with other hospital departments and may have to anesthetize your pet for these tests, we may ask you to leave your pet with us for the day. Please call the hospital at 530-752-1393 and ask for the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service to schedule your appointment.

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What types of food are available through the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine Service for pet exotic animals? Can you special order a particular type of food?

The Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine Service currently stocks a variety of Harrison's Bird Food and Oxbow Pet Products. Smaller and/or larger sizes of the food may be available by placing a special order. If you are interested in purchasing any of these diets, please call (530)-754-7293. You will be prompted to leave a voicemail message regarding your food order. We will gladly return your call within 1 to 2 business days. Food orders can be picked up at reception 3, Monday through Friday between the hours of 7:30am and 5:30pm.

Listed below are the common diets normally stocked through the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine Service:

Harrison's Bird Food - Size
Adult Lifetime Formula Coarse Grind - 5 lb bag
Adult Lifetime Formula Fine Grind - 1 lb and 5 lb bag
Adult Lifetime Mash - 1 lb bag
High Potency Fine Grind - 1 lb bag
High Potency Coarse Grind - 5 lb bag
High Potency Mash - 1 lb bag
Power Treats - 1 lb bag
Pepper Lifetime Coarse Grind - 5 lb bag
Oxbow Pet Products - Size
Timothy Hay - 40 oz bag
Orchard Grass Hay - 40 oz bag
Bunny Basics T Pellets - 5 lb and 10 lb bag
Cavy Cuisine Pellets - 5 lb and 10 lb bag
Regal Rat - 3 lb bag
Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores - 5 oz packet and 1 lb tub
Oxbow Carnivore Care - 2.5 oz packet and 1.5 lb tub

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Can I schedule an appointment for a behavioral problem for my exotic pet?

Exotic pets, just like dogs and cats, sometimes demonstrate undesirable behaviors. Some of the common undesirable behaviors seen in exotic pets are aggression, anxiety/fear, house soiling and urine marking. The most common undesirable behaviors seen in birds are feather picking, biting, screaming and destructive behavior. The Companion Exotic Pet Service and the Behavioral Service faculty, residents and staff work as a team to insure that your pet receives the best behavioral evaluation and care.

Undesirable behaviors occur for many different reasons and sometimes are due to underlying medical problems that can cause the change in behavior. To rule out underlying medical problems, we will first perform a complete physical examination on your pet. Then, a complete behavioral examination with the Behavioral Service will be performed. The Companion Exotic Pet Service will then assist you with the implementation of the Behavior Service's treatment recommendations.

UCD Behavioral Service URL link

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Can I make an appointment with one of the specialty groups (eg: ophthalmology, cardiology, dentistry) for my exotic pet?

The Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service works closely with all the specialty groups at the VMTH. Our trained staff coordinates the appointment with the specialty group and provides the appropriate handling and care of your pet during the specialty examination. Please make the appointment for your pet with the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service and we will ensure that the appointment is then coordinated with the specialty service. Please notify us when making the appointment of the specific needs of your pet.

Treatment techniques include: manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, balance and gait training, proprioceptive training, hydrotherapy with underwater treadmills, and modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation and laser.

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When and why should I take my exotic pet to a veterinarian?

Birds, reptiles, and small mammals such as rabbits and rodents mask signs of illness so sometimes the illness is quite advanced by the time the pet shows signs that it does not feel well. Illness can also progress rapidly in these pets so it very important to schedule an appointment with a veterinarian as early as possible if you have any concerns about the health of your pet.

Because these pets often mask signs of illness, we recommend that you schedule annual wellness examinations with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will examine the overall health of your pet and can make recommendations to you that can help prevent illness before it occurs. Ferrets require annual vaccinations which can be performed at the annual wellness examination.

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What are some of the signs of illness that I should look for in my exotic pet?

It is very important that you are familiar with the pet's normal behavior in order to pick up on subtle changes that might be an early sign of illness in your pet.

Here are some very basic behaviors that you can monitor to ensure the health of your pet:

  • Normal appetite- how much does your pet normally eat and drink per day?
  • What is the normal activity level for your pet? Where do they like to 'hang out'- on which perch, in which hiding box?
  • How does the pet tend to interact with specific people or other pets?
  • What is the usual daily routine for the pet?
  • What is the color and consistency of the feces?
  • What is the amount and frequency of urination?

Deviations from normal behaviors may indicate a concern that there is an underlying illness that may require a visit to the veterinarian. If you suspect that your pet has any signs of weakness, changes in appetite, behavior or droppings we recommend scheduling an appointment with us for a consultation. If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt that it is time for a visit to the veterinarian!

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