Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service
Welcome to the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, where we provide wellness care, specialized diagnostic testing, medical treatments, surgical options and emergency care* for exotic companion animals.
Animals seen by the service include:
- Rodents (guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice, hamsters)
- Reptiles (snakes, lizards, turtles/tortoises)
- Amphibians (frogs/toads, salamanders)
- Some wildlife
Our clinicians have extensive expertise and experience in companion exotic animal medicine. Our team leaders are board certified in Zoological Medicine, Avian Practice, and Animal Welfare.
A mobile service is available for flock or herd examinations in breeding facilities or other large collections.
During daytime hours, the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service also provides care for injured and sick wildlife and works in conjunction with the California Raptor Center to rehabilitate injured birds of prey for release back to the wild. PLEASE NOTE: We do not accept injured bats, deer, raccoons, opossums or healthy baby birds that have fallen out of a nest, as we do not have capacity to support these animals.
To better serve our clients and the greater community, the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine & Surgery Service has established a dedicated emergency team that is available for emergency cases during normal business hours.
Monday - Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Weekends/Holidays: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Prior to coming, please call 530-752-1393 to discuss your animal's condition with the clinician on emergency duty.
Clinical Activities and Procedures
Specialized Medical and Surgical Services
Our clinicians work in conjunction with other specialty services within the VMTH (i.e. behavior, cardiology, dentistry, dermatology, neurology, oncology, and ophthalmology). This cooperative approach allows us to provide specialized medical and surgical options for your companion exotic pet, including oncology services for cancer.
Specialized Imaging Services
We provide specialized imaging services for small companion exotic patients including digital radiography, ultrasound, fluoroscopy (including gastrointestinal motility studies of avian patients), computed tomography (CT), MRI, and endoscopy. We perform all standard endoscopic procedures including tracheoscopy, bronchoscopy, gastrointestinal endoscopy, and laparoscopy, even for extremely small patients.
Dental Care for Small Mammals
Dental disease is very common in pet rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and rats, and can have a profound effect on your pet's overall health. Working together with our Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service in a joint effort, we routinely perform comprehensive oral examinations and advanced dental imaging and dental procedures, such as occlusal adjustments and extractions.
Flock/Herd Mobile Service
A mobile service is available for flock or herd examinations in breeding facilities or other large collections. We provide consultation for specialized aviculture or breeding needs such as housing, nutrition, and overall medical management.
The Wellness Service encourages at least annual physical examinations for all companion exotic pets, and “new pet” examinations as soon as you acquire your new pet.
In addition to annual routine health care, proper husbandry is another keystone for our healthy exotic companions. As is true with other species, preventative medicine for companion exotics starts at home with healthy lifestyles. Many exotic species have very specific dietary and housing requirements, and poor health and significant diseases can result when they aren’t met.
A major part of our mission is to provide the best information possible to help you learn how to provide the healthiest lifestyle possible for your companion exotic pet. Our goals are to enhance preventive health care by helping improve your understanding of animal husbandry, nutritional needs and preventative medicine such as vaccines.
Pet owners easily recognize signs of illness for cats and dogs, but these clues can be elusive in companion exotic animals. Because many companion exotic pets mask signs of illness completely or show only subtle signs until very late in the disease, prompt attention to even seemingly minor changes or concerns is essential. Additionally, due to the rapid metabolism of many exotic species, diseases often progress faster and so problems must be addressed far more quickly than they would be for a dog or cat. Routine wellness exams and basic diagnostic testing are the foundations to identifying health concerns before illness occurs.
Aquatic Animal Health
The primary objectives of the Aquatic Animal Health Service are to raise fish health awareness and provide medical services to private owners, hobbyists, breeders, wholesalers, retailers, commercial aquaculture, aquariums, referring veterinarians, as well as government fish and wildlife conservation agencies.
A wide range of services are available when clients bring their fish to the VMTH or the service makes a field call to a local wholesaler or aquarium. Such services include:
- Water testing
- Physical examination
- Gill biopsies
- Skin and scale scrapings
- Imaging services (i.e. radiography, ultrasound, CT, and MRI)
- Koi Herpes Virus testing
- Fish virology and microbiology, histopathology, and necropsy
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I make an appointment with the Wellness Service or the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service?
- To make an appointment, please call 530-752-1393. It is most often possible to make an appointment within the same week of your call. If you need to cancel or reschedule an appointment, we request that a 24-hour notice be provided. This will allow us to offer the appointment time to another patient.
- What can I expect at an appointment with the Wellness Service?
- In addition to a thorough physical examination of your pet, our service can also provide basic diagnostic and treatment options, if needed. We are able to run basic blood tests, obtain radiographs and ultrasound studies, and perform minor surgical procedures on an outpatient basis.
We ask that you try to arrive 10 -15 minutes before your scheduled appointment to allow yourself time to complete our husbandry & history forms. This information is very important, and allows us to provide individualized health recommendations for you and your pet.
Our examination room is located in a quiet area of the hospital to provide a secure and comfortable atmosphere for your pet. We understand that many of our companion exotic pet patients are uncomfortable with our common domestic pets so our examination rooms are not used for dog or cat patients.
It takes time to discuss important husbandry and health issues and you can expect one hour for your appointments. We will discuss your pet’s health needs in detail and provide you with written information, if requested.
- 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.
- What is the difference between an appointment with the Wellness Service and an appointment with the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service?
- The Wellness Service focuses on preventative health care and client education, and can also provide minor diagnostic and treatment procedures. The Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service provides advanced diagnostic and treatment options, for both outpatient and hospitalized companion exotic animal patients. The two services are closely associated and our faculty and resident veterinarians work in both services.
- What if during my pet’s examination at the Wellness Service a serious problem is discovered?
- Due to the strong interrelationship between the Wellness Service and the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service, patients requiring advanced diagnostic or treatment procedures, or urgent care, can be easily transferred from one service to the other. We provide this option to ensure efficient and timely care of our seriously ill patients. Depending upon the circumstances of the patient’s needs, additional fees may apply to ensure expedient care.
- Is there an emergency, after-hours service available for my companion exotic pet?
Emergency hours for companion exotic pets are as follows:
Monday - Friday 8:00 am - 5:00 pm* Please call the service telephone number, which is listed above, to discuss your animal's condition with the clinician on emergency duty as soon as possible. Please note that the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service reaches capacity on a fairly regular basis and calling ahead will enable the service to determine if they are able to provide care for your animal that day.
Saturday - Sunday 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
- What if my companion exotic pet is prescribed medication? Where do I get the prescription filled?
- If your pet requires medications after your visit, we have an in-house pharmacy for your convenience.
- Do I have to have a referral from a private practice veterinarian in order to be able to make an appointment with the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service?
- No, the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service provide primary care as well as care on a referral basis.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 companion 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.
- 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 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.
- Does your service make house calls?
- The Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery 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 companion 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.
- Can the veterinarians on the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service provide the primary care for the animals of my nonprofit organization?
- Yes, we 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 us to discuss the potential veterinary needs of the animals under your nonprofit organization’s care.
- I found an injured wild animal, who can I call to provide medical assistance?
- The Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service provides medical care for some sick and injured wildlife during daytime hours. Skunks, deer, bats, raccoons, opossums, and venomous snakes will not be accepted. Healthy baby birds that have fallen out of a nest are also not accepted by the service. Please note that we are only able to provide veterinary evaluation of injured wildlife between the hours of 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
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 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 Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service.
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.
- 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 companion 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. We 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. 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.
- 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:
This includes such considerations as:
Inappropriate light cycles and sleep deprivation
Changes in environment
Change in caretaker
Inappropriate pair bonding with owners
A recent long or short distance move
Poor humidity/lack of bathing
Lack of environmental enrichment
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
Vitamin A deficiency
Other essential vitamins/minerals, such as calcium
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
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.
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.
Environmental: These may go hand-in-hand with behavioral causes, but are more specific:
- 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 three to five business days.
- 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 schedule an appointment.
- 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 fecal production
Accumulation of saliva around the mouth and chin ('slobbers')
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 Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service to schedule your appointment.
Lack of appetite (no interest in food or trying to eat but dropping food)
- What types of foods are available through the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service? Can you special order a particular type of food?
- The Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service currently stocks a wide variety of foods. 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 one to two business days. Food orders can be picked up at reception 3, Monday through Friday between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Listed below are the common diets normally stocked through the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service:
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
- Can I schedule an appointment for a behavioral problem for my companion exotic pet?
- Companion Exotic pets, just like dogs and cats, sometimes demonstrate undesirable behaviors. Some of the common undesirable behaviors seen in companion 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 Animal Medicine and Surgery Service and the Behavior 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 Behavior Service will be performed. The Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service will then assist you with the implementation of the Behavior Service's treatment recommendations.
- Can I make an appointment with one of the specialty groups (eg: ophthalmology, cardiology, dentistry) for my companion exotic pet?
- The Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery 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 Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery 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.
- When and why should I take my companion 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.
- What are some of the signs of illness that I should look for in my companion 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.
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.
- How can I learn more about companion exotic animal pets?
- During your wellness visit, we can provide you with information resources (handouts, text and website recommendations). Our service will also host regular educational workshops geared specifically for the companion exotic pet owner. See our reception desk for schedule information.
David Sanchez-Migallon Guzman, LV, MS, DECZM (Avian, Small Mammal), DACZM
Professor - Chief of Service
Hugues Beaufrere, DVM, PhD, DECZM (Avian), DABVP (Avian), DACZM (Zoological Companion Animals)
Michelle Hawkins, VMD, DABVP (Avian Practice)
Krista Keller, DVM, DACZM
Associate Clinical Professor
Esteban Soto, DVM, MSc, PhD, DACVM, CertAqV
Minh Huynh, DVM, MRCVS, DECZM (Avian), DACZM
Nicole Mikoni, DVM
Lucyanne Megan, DVM
Ariella Darvish, DVM
Marina Liles, DVM
Darbi Jones, DVM
Aquatic Animal Health Fellow
Kristina Palmer, RVT, VTS (Clinical Practice-Exotics)
Andrea Lynch, RVT
Jody Oatis, RVT
Sarah Coburn, RVT
Amber Bishop, RVT