Some of Dr. Christine Eckermann-Ross’ patients are tarantulas—one of many exotic pets that come through the door at her veterinary office.

Tarantulas are very sensitive to their environment, and some people may not be aware of this, so they must be treated, according to Eckermann-Ross—and they can get treatment at the Avian & Exotic Animal Care in Raleigh, N.C.

But dogs and cats are not the focus at this animal hospital. These vets care for exotic pets like pot belly pigs, ferrets, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and, yes, tarantulas and other eight-legged friends and invertebrates like millipedes, hermit crabs, snails and scorpions.

Often times, finding a vet that feels comfortable treating more sensitive or exotic pets can be a challenge for pet owners. Some doctors are more comfortable treating dogs and cats while others may have more experience with toucans, chinchillas and goldfish.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Eckermann-Ross. “The biggest part of the challenge is that we see so many different species and the physiology of mammals and birds and reptiles is so different. We chose not to see dogs and cats, so we can focus on exotic animal needs.”

Two things Eckermann-Ross said owners should first be aware of when searching for the right exotic pet vet are:

— Is the vet certified to treat their animal, whether it’s a reptile, amphibian, bird or other small animals

— Does the vet feel comfortable treating these animals? Some doctors do not have exotic animals as patients as often as more common domestic animals.

If the vet does not meet any of these criteria, owners should request a referral to a specialist if it is not suggested.

Pet-Certified

Eckermann-Ross, who is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist and herbalist, said that all vets get the same degree when they graduate and are trained to work on animals like horses, pigs, reptiles, fish and birds, but overall, some are just more comfortable with dogs and cats. If they want to focus on a specific animal, they must go through additional training.

Most vets can do basic grooming and check ups for these types of animals, but if a pet requires special care, they often refer you to a vet who can specialize in reptiles and amphibians or birds, which can often involve extra time and travel, according to Eckermann-Ross.

"For specialized care and diagnostics, it could involve long distance travel to find someone," she said. "A lot of vets feel comfortable with basic care, but are more comfortable referring owners to someone else.”

Like regular veterinarians, exotic pet vets, such as The Avian & Exotic Animal, provide an array of animal care including hospitalization and surgery, boarding, spaying and neutering, vaccinations, endoscopy and ultrasounds for mammals; sex determination, digital radiography for reptiles and amphibians; DNA testing, microchip identification and leg band removal for birds; skin, fin and gill biopsies and water quality analysis for fish; and wound care and parasite and disease treatment for invertebrates.

Exotic Pet owners should also be prepared to pay more when it comes to vet visits for their exotic pets.

“It may be a little bit more depending on the area where you live,” said Eckermann. “But this accounts for that special equipment to deal with those smaller patients.”