What You Need to Know Before You Start Treating Rabbits, Chickens, Fish and Lizards
Dr. Keller, assistant professor at University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine, is a board certified specialist in zoological medicine (TM) and specializes in companion zoological animals. As a member of our partner Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine Alumni, she was happy to share some things'about her passion and specialty: zoological medicine.
1. What are the top 5 things a general practitioner should know about taking care of backyard chickens?
- Chickens are food animals, at least according to the FDA - so make sure that you are following FARAD guidelines for treating them! (Farad.org)'
- The most common reason I see chickens presenting is due to reproductive diseases - oviductal impactions, bacterial salpingitis and a variety of'neoplasia.'
- Sadly, many chickens will suffer from predation when hungry neighborhood predators figure out how to get into the coup. Educate your'clients about how to design coups that protect chickens (Locked nighttime coup,'chickenwire embedded into ground 2ft!, etc!)
- There are organic/medication free options for treating ectoparasites and some endoparasites: a'bucket of diatomaceous earth. The birds treat themselves by dust bathing in it!
- Although bird medicine can be scary, chickens are pretty hardy birds and with the right client, you can take a case pretty far!
2. What's the best reference book to have in your library on backyard chicken medicine?
Backyard poultry medicine and surgery: A guide for veterinary practitioners is a relatively recent (2014) single volume text that offers great baseline information for chicken, ducks and a smattering of other species that people will keep in their back yard.'
3. If a small animal GP were going to start seeing rabbits, what medications would you'recommend they stock?'
Rabbits often require many of the same antibiotics that more traditional species would use including enrofloxacin and trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole suspension. Other commonly used antibiotics include either penicillin procaine G or ceftiofur crystalline free and azithromycin. Chloramphenicol is another great choice, especially for odontogenic abscesses, however, because of the human health concerns, I prefer to have clients get this compounded at an external pharmacy. General practitioners should remember the antibiotics that should NEVER be given orally to rabbits by remembering the acronym "PLACE" - penicillins, lincosamides, amoxicillin, cephalosporins and erythromycin!''
In terms of analgesic medications, liquid meloxicam is definitely necessary for mild to moderate grades of discomfort and/or chronic pain. Buprenorphine is a great injectable analgesic for this species for more acute and moderate to severe grades of pain. General practitioners should be informed that the dose of meloxicam is very different in rabbits compared to dogs! Rabbits require 1mg/kg of meloxicam once a day. Although this may seem high in comparison to the canine dose, it is supported by pharmacokinetic and safety studies. Additionally, trans mucosal absorption in an herbivore species is considered quite low, contrary to the cat, so buprenorphine should be administered by injection (subcutaneous or intramuscular)
A down right necessity in your pharmacy if practicing rabbit medicine would be to have a liquid diet to feed sick rabbits (and other'hay eating herbivores like guinea pigs and chinchillas). Oxbow Critical Care and Lafeber Sustain Herbivore are both high quality products that will give a practitioner the tools to feed their sick rabbit with appropriate nutrition. The most common reason a rabbit, guinea pig or'chinchilla'will present is for'evaluation of GI stasis and feeding a high fiber diet is the tenant of therapy!
4. If a small animal GP were going to start seeing fish, what medications would you'recommend they stock?
Opening up your practice to fish a whole different ball game! The number one most important medication to have would be MS-222, as heavy sedation or anesthesia is required to safely examine most fish. Although not medications, several supplies need to be considered including nets, water stones/bubblers, aquatic thermometers, and different sized tanks/buckets.'
5. What are the top 5 differences between dental procedures in rabbits and dental procedures in'dogs and cats?
- Rabbits teeth are 100% different than'carnivore and'omnivore dentition. They have elodont incisors, premolars and molars, meaning that the teeth grow continuously during life rather than the brachydont (short crowned)'dentition seen in omnivores and carnivores.'
- While most canine/feline procedures are centered around cleaning and scaling the teeth and the treatment of periodontal disease, rabbit procedures do not include'cleaning and scaling of teeth (tartar and calculus do not routinely build up on rabbit teeth) but instead are centered around reducing crown heights of teeth to a more anatomically appropriate level.'
- Like canine and feline procedures, appropriate instrumentation matters! A rabbit/rodent mouth gag and cheek'dilator are necessary to keep the oral cavity open and ensure visualization.'
- Wanna perform an extraction? You will have a challenging if not impossible time doing it without the appropriate instruments. Specialized rabbit/rodent'molar'locators and delivery forceps are about the only way that I can image performing an'intraoral molar extraction.'
- Intraoral radiographs are an important part of the canine and feline examination and although we can perform intraoral radiographs in rabbit patients, we more commonly perform whole skull radiography or skull computed tomography. The more global evaluation of the skull allows for evaluation of apical elongation and evaluation of disease of neighboring structures like the eye, sinus cavities and bulla.'
6. What species of lizards do you treat most frequently?
The most common companion lizards are bearded dragons and leopard geckos. Some other species are seen less frequently including chameleons (typically veiled or panther), green iguanas (although used to be more popular are less popular now), Chinese water dragons, Uromastyx and crested geckos. Of course, I am always surprised by some interesting species that are brought to me. A few years ago someone brought me a species of monitor that had only been discovered in the wild a few years prior!'
7. Is there any special equipment required for a physical exam on a lizard?
Lizard medicine only requires a few additional pieces of equipment. You'should have a doppler to be able to asucult the heart for rate and rhythm and a few options of oral speculums are nice to evaluate the mouth and'dentition. Several species of lizards have acrodont'dentition (bearded dragons and chameleons for example), and if a oral speculum is used it should be soft and unlikely to damage the'dentition like a rubber spatula. Acrodont teeth fractured during an'examination will not grow back and will lead to boney'exposure.'
8. What do you enjoy most about zoological medicine?
I think most vets enjoy the variety of their job and that no 2 days are alike. As a zoological veterinarian, the variety of species is phenomenal and is both exciting and sometimes frustrating. Imagine seeing 2 rabbits for GI stasis, a great horned owl with a humeral fracture, an anorexic ball python, an itchy guinea pig,'a few chickens after being attacked by the neighborhood fox, and managing several orphaned cottontail rabbits'all in one morning! Additionally, as a veterinarian that is board certified in zoological medicine and practicing in academia, the academic requirements of my job add an additional component of variety. One day I may be grant writing in my office in the morning and teaching a cadaver lab to students on avian procedures while the next day I am traveling to a local zoo to perform preventative care on their collection with a team of residents and students. I love the variety, it keeps me on my toes!!
9. What is the most unique procedure you have performed?
Well, this afternoon we just got done performing anesthetized radiographs on a double crested cormorant, not an everyday occurrence and this species has some cool upper respiratory anatomy! In truth everyday is something fun and different whether it is an atypical species, a new procedure that is being modified from another species, or really working outside the box to create a procedure to save an animals life!
10. What is the main difference between anaesthesia in rabbits and anaesthesia in chickens?
Wow, Im not sure that there is a single difference between these two, but the tenants are the same as for more traditional species - closely monitor anesthesia, protect the airways, and consider fluid therapy to support the cardiovascular system. In terms of intubation, remember that all birds have closed tracheal ring so either used an uncuffed tube or do not blow up the cuff and although rabbits are challenging to intubate traditionally, there is a supraglottic device available on the market (V-gel) that makes establishing an airway more feasible!