Exotics time and tide wait for no vet

Over the course of the last two years I’ve been back to school, or so it has felt.

I’ve been studying for qualifications in exotic animal medicine culminating in an exam last month.

As with medicine, veterinary science is an ever advancing field and, to my mind, one of the areas of most dramatic development is exotic animal care.

I will concede that this reflects largely on the fact that historically these species have often been ignored and only more recently have moves been made to educate the profession about anything but the most basic aspects of their care.

At vet school in 1995 I skived off early one Friday afternoon to catch the train home from Cambridge to play rugby for Morpeth. I missed the entire exotics animal syllabus at that time. That’s right – an entire four hours of teaching was set aside to educate us in all we would need to know about the physiology, husbandry, medicine and surgery of any animal bar cat, dog, horse, cow, sheep, pig and chicken.

To put that into context the syllabus also dedicated a full day’s lecture to coon-hound paralysis – an obscene neurological disease that has been reported three times in the history of vet medicine and only ever in a breed of dog we never see in this country.

Such a deficit in a vet student’s education has been addressed to a degree in more recent years and new graduates will have had a week’s lectures dedicated to the small furry, feathered and scaled. You will appreciate that any vet with an interest in exotic species must invest significant time in furthering their knowledge before they can profess even a reasonable level of expertise.

My father has been largely self-taught, attending courses around the country, forever reading scientific texts, natural history books, husbandry journals and owning exotic animals of his own.

I have had the distinct advantage of being able to learn from Dad over the 14 years we’ve worked together but in addition have traipsed off down to Swindon each six weeks for the last two years for seminars on various exotic pets and zoo animals.

It was with considerable relief that I submitted my case book and sat the exam last month. It was with even greater relief to hear last week that I had passed and I am now a proud holder of certification in exotic animal practice.

I was feeling smugly confident that my exotic animal knowledge was better than it had ever been. Then in conversation with a pathologist at a specialist lab we use he made reference to a snake virus I had not heard of. Two weeks after my exam and already my knowledge is outdated!


Director and Senior Vet