woman cuddling rabbit while standing beside veterinarian
Having a good rapport with your veterinarian is one part of finding the right vet for your precious pal. iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

When you add a rabbit, guinea pig, rat, hamster, or other small mammal pet to your family, you need to find a veterinarian. Annual checkups help maintain your companion’s health and also give your veterinarian a chance to meet your pal, getting to know him or her before a health emergency occurs. What if your rabbit suddenly has discharge from the eyes or your guinea pig takes a tumble from a table? You need the help of a veterinarian to get your furry friend checked out. Most veterinarians are wonderful people who love animals as much as you do.

The American Veterinary Medical Association represents more than 88,000 veterinarians in the United States. Its website states that AVMA members care for the more than 70 million dogs, 80 million cats, 11 million birds, 7 million pet horses, and millions of other companion animals in the nation, in addition to helping with research and public safety.

Just like doctors for people, veterinarians can have specialties. The AVMA recognizes 22 veterinary specialty organizations that encompass 40 specialties. The focus can be on the type of animal, specific body systems, behavior, and more. The question is: How do you find the right veterinarian for your rabbit, guinea pig, rat, hamster, chinchilla, or other small companion pet?

Exotic Companion Mammal

Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, and other small mammals are different species. Yes, this states the obvious, but have you thought about what that means? A veterinarian who regularly treats dogs and cats might not be as familiar with the ailments of the smaller mammals as a veterinarian who does. Rabbits have skin that can tear and fragile bones; guinea pigs don’t usually deal well with the stresses of surgery; it’s perfectly normal if rats shed red tears; and use of medications can differ, as what’s safe for dogs and cats is not necessarily safe for other pets. These are just some of the many differences these pets have from cats and dogs.

The AVMA actually classifies the smaller mammal pets as exotic companion mammals, and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners offers an ECM specialty that veterinarians can study. Currently, only 17 veterinarians are listed as ECM diplomates. The American Animal Hospital Association offers accreditation to veterinary hospitals that meet its standard of veterinary excellence. Its website includes a search feature for finding hospitals, and you can specify exotic companion mammal. Another professional organization that focuses on these wonderful animals is the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians. Every member has training beyond cats and dogs. Its website includes a search feature for finding a member veterinarian across the world.

vet face to face with guinea pig who is standing on table
Guinea pigs, rabbits, and other small exotic mammals require specialized treatment, which is why it’s good to find a veterinarian who regularly treats your species of pet. iStock.com/espiegle

Locating A Veterinarian

The ABPV, AAHA, and AEMV are wonderful resources, but member veterinarians who treat your little buddy’s species are limited. What do you do if you live in an area too far from any of these veterinarians? Who can you turn to for advice? A few options exist. The place where you got your furry friend is one. Another is a local rescue or club for your type of pet. Contact them to ask about a veterinarian. You can also check websites of national organizations for a species. For instance, the House Rabbit Society includes a veterinarian list on its website. Guinea Lynx, a website devoted to guinea pig health topics, also includes a vet list.

The ABVP and AAHA can still be useful. Search the entire list to find a veterinarian near you. The fact that the vet belongs to such organizations shows that he or she is interested in continuing their education, which means they might know about species beyond cats and dogs. You can also call random veterinarians nearby and ask who they refer people to for your type of pet.

Finally, check out the websites and online reviews of veterinarians near you. A veterinary hospital that mentions rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animal pets on its website is likely experienced in treating these pets. Make a list of several veterinarians to contact.

Ask Questions!

You’ve done your homework, now it’s time to take action. Call the veterinary offices on your list and ask some questions. The information you gather will help you decide on your next step. Ask the person who answers the phone if the doctors there treat your companion’s species. If yes, let them know that you are looking for a veterinarian for your pet and wish to ask some questions about the hospital. Can they help you? Do any of the doctors have specific training for the species? Can they give you an estimate of how many of that species are treated in a week? Once you have this information, ask about anything else that might be important to you that wasn’t available on the website. Perhaps the cost of a typical office visit and payment requirements. Do appointments generally run on time? What is parking like? Can you make appointments with a specific veterinarian?

With information from the website, reviews, and phone calls, narrow down your list to two or three vets. Now see about stopping in the office to get a feel for it. After this, you are hopefully ready to make an appointment and have your beloved pet meet the veterinarian for a checkup.

What If Veterinarians Are Scarce?

Vets aren’t everywhere. Although about 3,000 graduate from U.S. veterinary schools every year, it’s impossible for several veterinarians to be within a 10-minute drive of everyone. Finding a veterinarian who treats exotic companion mammals further reduces the chances, and some rural areas might have an outright veterinary shortage.

In such cases, one option is to find a nearby veterinarian who is willing to consult with a veterinarian who is farther away but has expertise in your pet’s species. Another option is to commit to traveling farther to obtain veterinary care for your furry pal.

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