How to hospitalize exotic patients

  • Know how to install the exotic patient during a short or longer stay in the vet clinic
  • Distinguish prey and predator
  • Know the diseases’ risks and zoonosis

Essential but often overlooked

  • Well-conducted hospitalisation = improvement of therapeutic results

Ex: better recovery, less complications, better management of chronic diseases

  • Poorly conducted hospitalisation = stress & mortality

  • Respect the needs of the species


–Secure needs



–Feeding and drink intake

  • First supportive measures

Rehydrate, heat the patient and use painkillers

–Replenishment should come only after rehydration and heating! Will only be effective if the body works!


  • Exotic patient are usually very debilitated when they come to the vet clinic, so they need hospitalisation.

–The owners don’t know what is physiologic and pathologic. They don’t recognize disease!

–Many reasons for exotic call and consultations are an emergency even if the owner are not aware about it

  • Exotic vet care require special technical skill: you can not wing it! Owners usually don’t have skills to handle and give medications to Birds and Reptiles. They can not rehydrate, inject treatment or administer perfusion.
  • Inadequate housing is common at home: hospitalisation give time to owner to correct it (buy UVB lamp, improve the hot spot…)
  • Hospitalisation can be used to facilitate food conversion in birds (conversion from seed mixture to extruded diet)

  • Perioperative hospitalisation

–Decrease stress

–Fasting if needed


–Transit recovery

  • Short duration stay

–It should be considered as hospitalisation

–Don’t neglect the patient!

  • Hospitalisation is also time to observe, think, stabilize the patient, perform additional tests…


  • You can not wing the hospitalisation!

–Must bring a benefit to the exotic patient

–Separation from the owner or cages companion can be difficult

–Handling is stressful

–Vet settings and environment are extremely stressful

  • If poorly conducted, risks are important

–Runaway (esp. Ferrets, small rodents, snakes and birds)

–Gastro-intestinal obstruction (ingestion of tissue, bandage, substrate because of stress or abdominal pain)

–Transit slowdown

–Vertebral fracture (rabbit)

–Heavy metal poisoning (birds in unadapted cage)

–Heat stroke (esp. Small mammals in incubator)

–Stress & vagal reaction

Distinguish predators and preys


  • Ferret is a PREDATOR
  • Rabbits and rodents are prey species

Needs secure, hidden and quiet area

  • Raptors = predators & preys

Very shy, Should be isolated

  • Other birds, Psittaciforms = preys

Needs secure area, importance of light

  • Reptiles = predators & preys

Reduce hospitalization's stress

  • Places and rooms dedicated to exotic patients, to predators or preys
  • Care and hygiene should respect a specific order

–Wash your hands and forearms

–Begin by preys. Finish with predators

–Change your gown after handling a ferret

–Clean carefully the table, environment, material

–Use towel dedicated to exotic handling

  • Know handling techniques
  • Hospitalise with/near a companion
  • Allow hospitalisation visits when possible
  • Respect behavioral needs of the species

–Ex: hidden place, perch, UVB light, bath, sandbath…

Reduce disease's transmission

  • Diseases risks for the same species or order
  • Viral diseases

Distemper, ADV & coronavirus in ferret

Myxomatosis, VHD, Rotavirus in rabbit

PBFD, polyomavirus, Newcastle, Marek in birds

Trichomoniasis in pigeon and dove

IBD in boïds

Herpesvirus in tortoises

  • Others: bacteria, parasites

Mites, Lice

Mycoplasma (rat+++)

  • Diseases risks for different species or order

Salmonellosis, Chlamydiosis, mycobacteriosis,


Lymphoplasmacytic choriomeningitis

Monitor hospitalisation

  • Attitude
  • Posture
  • Exploration
  • Facies
  • Appetite
  • Transit

Weigh every patient
every day
at the same time
before feeding

What materials?

  • Dogs or cats cages

–Yes, if no predators in the same room

–Yes, if rigorously cleaned (no odor)

–Yes, if appropriate space bars

–For short stay

  • In the patient’s usual cage


–Difficult to disinfect

–Hospital rooms can be contaminated by contagious diseases (esp. Birds cage and PBFD)

–Numerous hiding places: not easy to grab the pet

–Patient’s territory: more agressive to defend it

But the patient knows its environment, it will limit the stress!

Only basic equipement is needed to start exotic pet hospitalisation

  • Plexiglass cages 70 x 50cm
  • Rodents cage with small space bars
  • Terrarium 60 x 45 x 45cm
  • Heating mats or lamp and thermostat
  • UVB light
  • Thermometer-hygrometer probe
  • Thick towel for handling
  • Heavy bowl with flat bottom
  • Water bottles
  • Range of food for exotics

  • Do not improvize hospitalisation
  • Better to keep the pet at home if the team is not well-prepared or if you don’t have specific materials
  • Basic equipment is not so expensive
  • Train the team: do not neglect the patient, his environment, his diet, his hygiene

Do not hesitate to hospitalize if you are well-equipped

–Never urgent to feed a Reptiles (esp snakes)!

  • Hospitalisation should bot weaken the patient because of stress (handling, noises, predators), contagious diseases…