Veterinary Basics: Choosing A Veterinarian

Not all veterinarians are willing to work with reptiles, and of those who are, not all are well qualified. Because there are significant changes and advances in the field of reptile medicine and surgery every year, it is vitally important that your veterinarian is actively keeping up with currently published research. Many of the old, formerly accepted protocols for treating reptile patients are now known to be ineffective or even damaging to the patient. but they are still in use by many veterinarians who have not kept up with current research. You can assess the level of your veterinarian's knowledge by asking some of the following questions:

Are you a member of ARAV?
Which veterinary journals with regular articles on reptile medicine do you subscribe to?
Do you keep up with the most important recent papers published in this field?
How many CE hours per year do you take in reptile medicine?
How much time was spent on reptile medicine in your vet school's curriculum?
How many other reptile patients do you see per month?
How long have you been treating reptile patients?

On the reference shelves, I would like to see at a minimum a copy of Doug Mader's Reptile Medicine and Surgery and Carpenter's Exotic Animal Formulary. Frye is excellent but outdated in some respects. Klingenberg's charts to help identify the most common reptile parasites are definitely helpful; vets with a primarily mammalian and avian clientele will not easily recognize the reptile-specific variants of many of the common endoparasites. A big plus for ARAV conference proceedings and JHMS, issues of Exotic DVM and copies of any current papers published in the field.

After you've educated yourself by reading some of the same materials, here are a few better questions you can ask a prospective veterinarian. There are not necessarily any absolutely right or wrong answers, but the resulting discussion will tell you a lot about this person's real degree of knowledge in the field. Some of them are trick questions.

When is it appropriate to inject enrofloxacin (Baytril)? When is it not appropriate?
When should a C&S (culture and sensitivity) test be performed? When is it better to just try an antibiotic?
How does reptile anesthesia differ from small-mammal anesthesia in your practice?
What drugs do you use for pain management in reptiles?
Why were most reptile illnesses historically diagnosed as bacterial?
What do you think when a C&S comes back with a report of "Pseudomonas and Aeromonas, heavy growth"?
What clinical signs would lead you to a diagnosis of IBD or ophidian paramyxovirus?

The vet you've picked should have answers to these questions that satisfy you. You will also need to convince the veterinarian that you can provide safe handling conditions if they will agree to see your venomous snake patient. It may help if you promise to bring the animal in an isoflurane box so that the vet only needs to inject a small amount of drug into the box to render the animal safely unconscious before handling.

Melissa Kaplan has some similar advice on finding a reptile veterinarian, including extensive lists of veterinarians.
Visit the Herp Vet Connection to find a veterinarian near you.

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