I don’t know what you are taught at vet school, so this question may be redundant. However, it seems to me that most vets are either working with farmers (so are responsible for cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, maybe sheep dogs etc.) and the rest are working with pets in urban practices, where dogs, cats and rabbits will be the predominant patients.
It therefore seems reasonable to assume that a vet gets most of his or her training on these families of animals while at vet school. Is that correct?
If that’s the case, what happens if a vet lands a job attached to a zoo or safari park? How do they know about all the different types of animals and diseases specific to those animals? I can see how the biology of a domestic cat and a lion are similar, domestic dog and wolf and pig and wild boar, but what about things like alligators, snakes and other exotic animals? Must you train further so you have specific knowledge of these animals or do you just rely on books and your own general knowledge of animal biology or something completely different?
I have changed the title of this thread from “A question for vets” to " A question for veterinarians about working with exotic animals" to avoid luring in unsuspecting ex-military folk. “Vet” on this side of the pond often means veteran.
My sister was planning on attending vet school, specifically to study exotics. She basically did the standard life sciences curriculum with a concentration on zoology, biology and molecular biology and organic chemistry. She also did a lot of work with the School of Agriculture for farm animals, and several summer internships at zoos and research parks.
She actually never did attend vet school, though - she fell in love with the research side of things and is now preparing for her doctorate in exotic animal nutritional research.
From my conversations with her, I believe that a lot of the general studies and foundation are laid in the undergraduate level, and that specialization occurs later in the educational process. I think that a lot of exotic vets self-select by the nature of the extra-curricular internships/projects/research assignments.
There are residencies you can do in exotics medicine, or in zoo medicine. Exotics typically refers to avians, reptiles, and “pocket pets” like the various rodents, whereas zoo medicine typically refers to, well, the sorts of animals you typicallly find at zoos.
A certain amount of study on exotics is required at most vet schools, but they’re generally not covered as in-depth as dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, and rabbits. Some schools will even let you pick a “track” and concentrate almost exclusively on large or small animal mediciine.
There’s buttons everywhere, damn it. Here’s one that says “Ban everybody who noticed that bibliophage accidentally made this thread a sticky.” Should I press it? Maybe I’ll try the one that says “unstick thread” instead.
I’ve run into this with my veterinarians. We’ve had the same vet for 20 years now for our cats and dogs, but when we got a hamster, he referred us to a “pocket pet” specialist. When the hamster shuffled off this mortal coil after a long and happy rodenty life and we acquired a bearded dragon lizard instead (their life expectancy being far longer), that specialist referred us to one of the two herp vets in town.
As CrazyCatLady mentioned, there are some courses in many vet schools that deal with exotics as well as post-graduate training opportunities. How much exotic animal training a particular school offers may be a factor in deciding where to apply for those interested in the field. For example, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania take turns hosting the Special Species Symposium which focuses on zoo and exotic practice. It is also possible to get training and experience outside of the school’s curriculum–many vet schools factor in time for students to do outside rotations in their third and fourth years. Most AZA-accredited larger zoos and aquariums offer externships (like college internships except at the graduate/vet student level) for students interested in zoo or aquarium medicine. At the National Aquarium in Baltimore, we offer a 5-8 week externship for veterinary students interested in aquatic medicine. We also have a 1 year internship for post-graduate veterinarians. However, entry into either of those programs is dependent upon the student having shown an interest in the field already (beyond “I think dolphins are really cool!”) as demonstrated by them having perhaps volunteered at either a zoologic institute or a wildlife rescue/rehab facility or having taken one of the summer veterinary student courses that focus in aquatics such as Aquavet or Envirovet. There are also 2-3 year residencies offered at many institutions as well.
Keep in mind that there’s no way a veterinarian would be hired at a major zoo or aquarium these days unless they’ve had at least some experience with the types of animals involved already. Of course, zoologic veterinarians are often presented with species they are unfamiliar with due to their institution expanding or just acquiring unique species. Therefore communication between veterinarians at various institutions is extremely important and usually very open. There are also multiple conferences hosted by organizations that deal with veterinary medicine in these fields, such as the American Association for Zoo Veterinarians and the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine as well as topics in exotics at the major AVMA conference and regional vet organization conferences. There are also multiple reference texts that address medication doses and treatment procedures for various exotic species that our vets constantly consult. The primary “go to” books for our vets include Stoskopf’s Fish Medicine, Mader’s Reptile Medicine and Surgery, and the recently released Amphibian Medicine and Captive Husbandry by Wright and Whitaker.