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Avian and Exotic Pets Benefit from Expertise and Collaborations

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Resident Dr. Miranda Sadar and faculty member Dr. Joanne Paul-Murphy, chief of CAPE, care for guinea pigs during a recent examination at the VMTH.

One of the best features of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), and a distinct advantage to our clients, is the collaborative nature of the hospital. Our Services continually work together to produce the best outcomes for our patients. In no Service is this truer than in the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet (CAPE) Service. CAPE treats the hospital’s most unique patients, and continually consults with other specialists throughout the hospital to benefit their patients.
Because of the diverse anatomy and physiology of the many species of patients presented to the VMTH, an exotic animal with a skin condition, for example, will first be seen by CAPE rather than being referred directly to the Dermatology Service. Clinicians from both Services will then work together to address that patient’s issues. In fact, CAPE and Dermatology Services recently collaborated to treat a guinea pig with cutaneous lymphoma. Other examples include: regular consultations with the Ophthalmology Service on cataracts and other eye diseases; collaborations with the Cardiology Service to treat a rabbit with congestive heart failure or a parrot with atherosclerosis, a heart disease with a high prevalence in birds but not in dogs and cats; and consultations with Orthopedic Surgery on broken limbs or wings. This team approach utilizes the expert knowledge of multiple Services to provide the best outcome for the patient.

Perhaps CAPE’s greatest collaboration is with the school’s California Raptor Center (CRC). CAPE faculty clinician Dr. Michelle Hawkins also serves at the director of CRC. Together, CAPE and CRC work as a cohesive unit to treat and rehabilitate injured wildlife. In the past year, they have worked successfully to release many rehabilitated eagles, hawks, owls, and other birds of prey back into the wild.

“Part of our expertise with raptors comes from having so much wildlife in this area to work with,” said Dr. Hawkins. “It also provides a tremendous teaching opportunity for us to train our students and residents.” 

Beyond its work on campus, CAPE also handles the veterinary care of animals at the Micke Grove Zoo in Lodi, and assists the Zoological Medicine Service in caring for animals at the Sacramento Zoo.

Since treating avian and exotic species requires a diverse knowledge of anatomy, often very different from dogs and cats, CAPE clinicians and technicians are constantly challenged with understanding the unique physiology of each of their patients, as well as their size.

“The level of medicine that we practice requires years of specialized training, and I don’t blame general practitioners for not wanting to treat exotics beyond providing basic care,” said Dr. David Guzman. “It requires a solid foundation of medicine and surgery to apply techniques to specialized procedures in birds, reptiles, small mammals and other exotic species.” 

Handling and treating exotic cases can be extremely time consuming, and beyond the realm of many general practitioners who cannot devote the time needed to achieve successful outcomes in complex cases. CAPE, however, with its exclusive dedication to avian and exotic pets, can utilize its extensive team (four faculty and four resident veterinarians, four technicians, and multiple students routinely rotating through the Service) to take the time necessary to concentrate on those challenging cases.

“At the VMTH, we have the special knowledge and equipment to handle these cases, and our Service has the luxury to specialize in exotics exclusively,” said Dr. Guzman.

Dr. Joanne Paul-Murphy, chief of CAPE, added, “We really enjoy working closely to assist referring veterinarians, and to be available to their patients and clients as a specialty resource.”

About the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
The William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis—a unit of the School of Veterinary Medicine—provides state-of-the-art clinical care while serving as the primary clinical teaching experience for DVM students and post graduate veterinarian residents. The VMTH treats more than 45,000 animals a year, ranging from cats and dogs to horses, cows and exotic species. To learn more about the VMTH, please go to Timely news updates can be received on its Facebook ( and Twitter ( pages.

Rob Warren
VMTH Communications & Marketing Officer