How Prepared Are You?
Everyone plans for the care of their pets when they are away. Almost all pet owners have their list of things to do, posted somewhere for the temporary caregiver to follow. Everyone knows to leave the vet’s contact information and important instructions in case of emergency. The question, now that you are home, is a simple one. How prepared are you to drop everything and run?
No one wants to think about the tragic events that can happen in everyday life. The list of them would probably be infinite even if you sat down and tried to come to the end of it. The truth of the situation of pet ownership is that, just like with children, you never know what is going to happen. You can go from a perfectly normal day to “What did you just eat?!” in the blink of an eye and the best way to save someone in the second situation is to have given it some thought while everything is still in perfectly normal mode.
How prepared are you?
When You Are Dealing With Small Exotic Pets
This is even more necessary when you are dealing with small exotic pets like lizards, birds, rats… even your fish can have an emergency. None of these guys can go to just any vet. So how do you prepare for everything to happen to your small pet while, at the same time, you are hoping for nothing at all to happen to them? Speaking from experience alone, I have a few tips that I can share.
Before I break anything down, I want to start with the most important information you could possibly have at your disposal: the veterinarian. You know your own vet and probably have the number memorized, saved in your phone, or posted somewhere with other important numbers. That’s awesome news. Now, do you know where the closest 24 hour vet is located? Do you know if they take small pets? Do you know about how long it is going to take you to get to this vet? When you have an exotic pet these are the kinds of things you need to be aware of because even if your regular vet keeps emergency hours something might keep them from being available to you, like being at the hospital because they’re having a baby! (Yes, that just happened to us recently.)
It all seems rather drastic, doesn’t it? Spending time and thought thinking about when tragedy might strike? Let me share some of the personal stories that help show why having a back up plan is a good idea at any time.
Situation 1 – Why Time Counts In Exotic Emergencies
This summer my wife and I went to England to visit her family. We got regular updates on the animals and all was okay while we were out of town, so we had no reason to worry. We got home and I went right to the rats, as I usually do, to let them know we were home again. One of our boys, North, was lying in the floor of the cage (not a place he would ever sleep before), fluffed up, barely breathing, and cold to the touch. Our bags barely made it in the house, we were in such a rush to get to our vet.
The diagnosis? Pneumonia, and it was severe. We weren’t certain if he would make it. The vet guessed that it had been slowly developing over a week’s time and that North, who is curious about everything and doesn’t let anything get him down, was so caught up in being with new people and having new routines that he didn’t display symptoms right away, as he normally would have. (The vet wasn’t far off on his thinking. While struggling to keep warm in the car, even knocking on death’s door as he was, North was intensely curious about how the heater worked and why it was on in the middle of summer!)
The story has a happy ending. North is alive and well, except for having very weak lungs as a result of his ordeal. The humans caring for him confirm that he showed no signs of illness until the last evening of their time with him, at which point we were already on a plane home anyway, so there honestly are no hard feelings there. The story also has a moral: know your travel time. Why is that so important? Going to our regular vet, we knew exactly how long it should take to get from our house to his office, where he could get emergency care. I knew a blanket and some of my own body heat would probably be enough to keep North warm all the way. What if I hadn’t known it would take longer? What if he’d needed a hot water bottle, rice sock, or a pile of blankets?
Another important thought comes up when considering the time it takes to get to your vet and that thought deals with bodily fluids. We once had a different situation, dealing with another of our rats, Keller, who got her tail caught in a piece of furniture one night. She got scared and before we could get to her, she yanked her tail free, degloving it in the process. (Trust me, you don’t want me to describe that here.) Needless to say the number of absorbent materials was important in that mad dash to the Rattie ER. We definitely needed to know how long it was going to take in order to properly estimate the number of blankies to bring with us. Because we were prepared, Keller was as comfortable as she could be in the journey to the ER. She soldiered through the situation and kept on dangerously adventuring for the rest of her life, much to the frustration of her human parents.
Situation 2 – The Backup Plan When You Are Dealing With Small Exotic Pets
This Thanksgiving, while we were having dinner at my mother’s house, two of our rats were having an argument at our house. This was something we were completely unaware of until we got home and noticed that Phobos was in need of some stitches. Luckily, because his brother Deimos had recently had a minor skin issue dealt with, we already had antibiotic and knew the proper dose to give him, since they weigh about the same. We also keep pain medicine on hand for the rats and know the proper dose to give each if something comes up. Phobos wasn’t bleeding and wasn’t in severe pain, so we eventually determined that because there were only a few more hours until the vet opened, we would simply wait it out for the rest of the night. We monitored him, gave him an initial dose of pain medicine and antibiotic, then called first thing in the morning.
Everything went smoothly until that phone call, when we were told that while the practice was open, our vet was busy at the human hospital… becoming a dad! Great news for him. Bad news for us. The emergency vet we had used in the past was no longer operational and I had no idea where to turn. I was very lucky that we were able to wait for regular operating hours and talk to a human being, who was able to direct me to another small animal vet in the next town. If it had been the kind of emergency where we needed a vet right away, a lot of time would have been lost calling all of the veterinary emergency numbers, trying to find someone who was open and able to see our boy. In this situation, while Phobos did well, I did miserably, letting too much time go between checks for substitute rat vets.
Situation 3 – Planning Ahead
Earlier, I had included the fish in my list of pets that could get into trouble. I did this because yes, they can. The most obvious problem anyone can think of has to do with various tank issues. The tank can start to leak, the water can go out of balance, the new water might not be the right temperature or be tainted with chemicals. Those kinds of things are easy to prepare for. Keep a spare tank somewhere for leaking emergencies. Keep spare water around for water emergencies. Don’t let the tank get dirty, don’t let the water stagnate, and you’ll be just fine when you need to quickly dump your little swimmers into some fresh water and make necessary purchases or repairs.
Now, what if you are transferring your fish for tank cleaning and a five year old comes up behind you, spooking the fish into jumping out of the net, at which point the fish starts flailing around on the bookshelf beside you, putting a gash in his head? Yes, that happened. It actually happened to one of my fish named Pluto. Thankfully Pluto was trained to come to my hand in case of emergency, so he made his way to me and I made my way to the fresh water, where I kept an eye on him and fretted over him for days. (He turned out just fine, though he wore the scar for the rest of his many years.)
Let us all hope that none of you who are reading this are unlucky enough to have such a thing become an experience you are ever dealing with, but in case an illness does befall your fish, know that there ARE vets out there who care for certain fish in certain situations. There have been several instances in the news where goldfish have even gone into surgery to remove tumors so that they can continue to have happy, healthy lives. (There was even a special on NOVA about it.) More and more fish owners are finding that there are vets out there willing to give quality treatment for your fish, and before you start asking, yes, I do know where to take my current fish (Nix and Hydra) in case they should need some specialized attention.
In the end, being prepared works out to be a nice little circle:
Plan Ahead – Know your vet, know an emergency vet, and have some idea of how long it is going to take you to get where you’re going. Have an emergency travel cage or tank that is just big enough to be useful.
Keep an Eye on the Time – Be prepared to journey with your pet for the entire distance in a way that is comfortable for both you and your animal. You are already going to be stressed about the pain your pet is in, don’t make yourself wonder if you have enough towels or temperature control for the journey ahead. Most importantly, don’t further distract yourself by desperately trying to follow directions to an unknown destination or have make up for getting lost on the way into unfamiliar territory.
Have a Backup Plan – You never know what is going to happen in the life of your vet. They are people too, after all. Be ready to get to an alternate location and be aware that that location might be farther from you than your first choice.
All of that cycles right back to planning ahead and I can’t stress enough how much of a help it is to be prepared for the things you don’t want to happen. Running your dog or cat to any old vet is usually something very simple to do and dog and cat owners don’t typically have to think about what to do if their personal vet isn’t available, but when your small animal or exotic pet is in trouble, it isn’t always that simple.
It sounds like I’m calling for exotic pet owners to prepare for the end of the world, but in all honesty, a little thought now saves a lot of stress later. Here’s hoping that you never have to use the emergency plan that you create for your little ones, but take it from one who knows; you’ll be glad you have that plan if you ever need it.
Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has purchased, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at email@example.com