Article 

The Exotic Animal History

Although patient history is important in all species, improper diet and substandard housing are often major contributors to illness in non-traditional pets. This means that a detailed and accurate history is often one of the most critical diagnostic tools for the exotic animal patient. This review focuses on birds, reptiles, and small exotic companion mammals, beginning with the signalment and presenting complaint, before moving onto the environmental history, dietary history, and of course the medical history.

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Basic Information Sheet: European Hedgehog

The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is one of the most common species seen in wildlife rehabilitation in western Europe. Hedgehogs are potential carriers of zoonotic disease. Ringworm infection caused by Trichophyton mentagrophytes is the most commonly contracted zoonosis of wildlife rehabilitators in the United Kingdom. Other important medical conditions include ectoparasites infestations, gastrointestinal disease caused by Salmonella enteritidits or coccidiosis as well as bronchopneumonia associated with bacterial and/or lungworm infection.

Use our European hedgehog Information Sheet to review taxonomy, conservation status, physical description, diet and housing needs, anatomy and physiology, preventive care as well as important medical conditions. Login to view information sheet references.

Client Education Handout 

Mud Turtle Client Handout

The mud turtle (Pelusios castaneus) is native to West Africa and its natural habitat consists of aquatic habitat surrounded by dense forest floors or submerged savannah. Shared by Dr. La’Toya Latney of PennVet, this educational handout will help your client understand how to care for and maintain this aquatic turtle species in captivity. Recommendations for indoor and outdoor housing as well as nutrition are described as well as common problems seen pet turtles.

Client Education Handout 

Leopard Tortoise Client Handout

The leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) is found throughout the southern edge of the Sahara and in Southern Africa from the Sudan to Ethiopia. Leopard tortoises inhabit hot arid desert, scrublands, and savannah. Shared by Dr. La’Toya Latney of PennVet, this educational handout will help your client understand how to care for and maintain this tortoise in captivity. Recommendations for indoor and outdoor housing as well as nutrition and breeding are described as well as common clinical problems.

Client Education Handout 

Chinese Box Turtle Client Handout

The charming Chinese box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata) is native to the rice patty and pond environments of Taiwan and southern China. Shared by Dr. La’Toya Latney of PennVet, this educational handout will help your client understand how to care for and maintain this semi-aquatic turtle in captivity. Recommendations for indoor and outdoor housing as well as nutrition and breeding are described as well as common clinical problems.

Client Education Handout 

Sulcata or African Spurred Tortoise Client Handout

Sulcata or African spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) are “gentle giants” found throughout the southern edge of the Sahara in Africa. Sulcata tortoises inhabit hot arid desert, scrubland, and savannah. Shared by Dr. La’Toya Latney of PennVet, this educational handout will help your client understand how to care for and maintain this popular tortoise in captivity. Recommendations for housing as well as nutrition, breeding, and common clinical problems are described.

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Basic Information Sheet: Mediterranean Tortoises

Mediterranean tortoises belong to family Testudinidae and genus Testudo and include: Testudo marginata (marginated tortoise), T. weissingeri, T. horsfieldii (Russian tortoise), T. graeca ibera (Greek spur-thighed tortoise) not to be confused with the spurred tortoise, Geochelone sulcata, T. hermanni (Hermann’s tortoise), and T. kleinmanni (Egyptian tortoise).

Use our Mediterranean tortoise Basic Information Sheet to compare taxonomy, physical characteristics, differences in diet and housing needs, as well as preventive care and diseases of this group of chelonians. Login to view information sheet references.

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Basic Information Sheet: Egyptian Tortoise

The Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) is also know as Kleinmann’s tortoise or Leith’s tortoise. The native habitat of the Egyptian tortoise consists of desert and semi-desert scrub, although this species is also found in salt marsh margins, sandy gravel plains, as well as the rocky escarpments of the “wadis”, a stream bed that is usually dry except during the rainy season.

Use our Egyptian tortoise Information Sheet to review taxonomy, conservation status and physical description as well as diet and housing needs of this chelonian species. Login to view information sheet references.

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Basic Information Sheet: Greek or Spur-Thighed Tortoise

The Greek or spur-thighed tortoise (T. graeca complex) is a small to medium-sized tortoise. Subspecies are found from northern Africa through central Asia. Use our Greek tortoise Information Sheet to review taxonomy, conservation status, physical description, diet and housing needs, as well as important medical conditions of this chelonian species. Login to view information sheet references.

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Basic Information Sheet: Hermann’s Tortoise

The natural habitat of Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) includes evergreen and oak forests with arid, rocky hill slopes and scrubby vegetation, as well as herbaceous scrub and grassy hillsides.

Use our Hermann’s tortoise Information Sheet to review natural history, taxonomy, conservation status, physical description, diet and housing needs, as well as important medical conditions of this chelonian species. Login to view information sheet references.

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Basic Information Sheet: Marginated Tortoise

The marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) is found in Greece and Sardinia, as well as Italy, southern Albania and the Balkan Islands. This species was also introduced into Turkey. Its natural habitat consists of dry scrub, woodland, and hillside.

Use our marginated tortoise Information Sheet to review taxonomy, conservation status, physical description as well as diet and housing needs of this chelonian species. Login to view information sheet references.

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Basic Information Sheet: Russian Tortoise

The Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) is also know as Kleinmann’s tortoise or Leith’s tortoise. The native habitat of the Egyptian tortoise consists of desert and semi-desert scrub, although this species is also found in salt marsh margins, sandy gravel plains, as well as the rocky escarpments of the “wadis”, a stream bed that is usually dry except during the rainy season.

Use our Egyptian tortoise Information Sheet to review taxonomy, conservation status and physical description as well as diet and housing needs of this chelonian species. Login to view information sheet references.

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Basic Information Sheet: Fennec Fox

Fennec foxes (Vulpes zerda) are the smallest members of Order Carnivora. Females or “vixens” weigh approximately 0.8 kg. Adult males or “reynards” reach up to 1.5 kg and stand 18 -22 cm at the shoulder. Its most distinctive feature is characteristic large pinnae, which function to dissipate heat and enhance hearing. Fennec foxes are highly specialized to desert life and found almost exclusively in arid, sandy regions. Densest populations are found in the central Sahara desert region of North Africa.

Use our Fennec fox Information Sheet to review taxonomy, conservation status, physical description, diet and housing needs, anatomy and physiology, preventive care as well as important medical conditions. Login to view information sheet references.

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Basic Information Sheet: European Rabbit

The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been domesticated for hundreds of years. Companion animals may be housed indoors as house rabbits or outdoors in hutches. Rabbits are also used as show animals, producers of meat and wool, and in laboratory settings. Use our European rabbit Information Sheet to review taxonomy, husbandry needs, normal physiologic values, anatomy, preventive care as well as important medical conditions. Login to view information sheet references.

Hay is essential to a rabbit’s health. Rabbits should also be fed a small amount of high fiber pellets, and a variety of vegetables including leafy green like…

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Basic Information Sheet: White’s Tree Frog

The White’s tree frog is indigenous to Australia and Indonesia. Also known as the Dumpy tree frog or the Australian Giant Green tree frog. This species is captive bred in large numbers. Wild-caught frogs from Indonesia are also still in the pet trade…

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Basic Information Sheet: Veiled Chameleon

The veiled chameleon is indigenous to Yemen, in the southwestern region of the Saudi Arabian peninsula. This species is found in extreme environments ranging from arid desert to seasonal “wadis” or streams that form in the desert after rain. Pets may be captive bred or wild caught and imported.

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Basic Information Sheet: Uromastyx

Uromastyx spp. are also known as dabb lizards or spiny-tailed lizards. This latter name comes from its thick, short tail covered with large, spiny scales. The Moroccans spiny-tailed lizard or agama is native to the deserts of northern Africa. Colorful specimens of the pet trade are often captured from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania. The range of the ornate spiny-tailed agama is restricted to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Wild-caught animals are more common than captive bred in the pet trade, this is particularly true for the…

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Basic Information Sheet: Savannah Monitor

The Savannah monitor is native to the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. In the wild these monitors are scavengers covering large distances as they search for small prey items. Savannah monitors in the pet trade are…

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Basic Information Sheet: Red-Eared Slider

Red-eared sliders are native to the eastern and central United States river valleys. Most pet sliders are captive bred and hatched. Red-eared sliders are hardy and outgoing. Although pretty and personable as pets, red-eared sliders occupy a niche of dark history in herpetoculture, first as transmitters of Salmonella bacteria to small children, second as an invasive species that have disturbed ecosystems throughout the waterways of the world. The former problem is the result of husbandry and marketing practices of large-scale commercial producers; the latter due to illegal release of unwanted pets.

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Basic Information Sheet: Panther Chameleon

The panther chameleon is indigenous to Madagascar. Most specimens in the pet trade used to be wild caught, however with changes in Madagascar’s export regulations and better understanding of the care of these exquisite lizards, most are now captive-bred.

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Basic Information Sheet: Leopard Gecko

Leopard geckos are originally from the grassland and desert regions of India and Pakistan. The vast majority of pets are captive bred and hatched. Leopard geckos are nocturnal, terrestrial, long-lived lizards that make excellent pets.

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Basic Information Sheet: Kingsnakes

There are several species of kingsnake and their habitat and range vary. The Eastern kingsnake is found in humid forests of the eastern seaboard states and as far west as the Appalachians and Alabama. The California kingsnake is native to desert, arid grassland, and rocky hillsides of Baja Mexico and the western United States. Pets may be bred in captivity or wild-caught. Kingsnakes are fairly docile, medium-sized, hardy reptiles, that make…

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Basic Information Sheet: Jackson’s Chameleon

Jackson’s chameleons comprise three distinct subspecies native to the montane regions of Kenya. Large feral populations are found in Hawaii where specimens are often caught for the pet trade. Small numbers are also captive-bred.

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Basic Information Sheet: Green Iguana

The green iguana is native to the tropical rain forests of Latin America. Most pet iguanas are raised on farms in El Salvador and Costa Rica although wild-caught imports and domestically captive-bred lizards are also available.

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Basic Information for Ornate Horned Frog

The name “horned frog” comes from the folds of skin that are located over the eyes. The ornate horned frog is found in the tropical and montane rain forests of South America. This frog’s camouflaged coloration allows it to hide as it lies half buried in leaf litter on the forest floor. As soon as prey passes by, the horned frog grabs and swallows its prey whole in one or two gulps. This is why this species is also known as…

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Basic Information Sheet: Poison Dart Frog

Native to the tropical rain forests of Central and South America, tiny poison dart frogs secrete lipophilic alkaloid toxins through their skin. These toxins serve as a chemical defense against predation. Some native tribes are renowned for dipping arrow tips in the toxins from these frogs. These beautiful, active frogs are outgoing and diurnal, making excellent “look but don’t touch” pets. Many but not all specimens in the pet trade today are captive bred. Frogs bred for several generations in captivity fail to synthesize…

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Basic Information Sheet: Corn Snake

The corn snake is also known as the red rat snake. Corn snakes are found in woodland and forest regions of the southeastern and central United States as far west as Kentucky and Louisiana and as far south as Mexico. Pets may be wild-caught but most are captive bred and many color morphs are now available in the pet trade.

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Basic Information Sheet: Chinese or Green Water Dragons

Green water dragons are native to tropical forests or areas near the river’s edge in southeast Asia. Pets are primarily wild-caught and wild-caught adults can have a difficult time adjusting to captivity. Water dragons are beautiful lizards that make stunning display animals in naturalistic vivaria, however these lizards are inexpensive and imported in large numbers. These flighty lizards then end up in private homes where…

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Basic Information Sheet: Giant African Bullfrog

The African bullfrog lives in a variety of arid and semiarid habitats in central and southern Africa. This frog has long ridges on the skin of its back and a huge head.

The pet trade is supplied by captive-bred and wild-caught specimens. African bullfrogs are often called “Pixie” frogs (derived from their genus, not their size). It is theorized that a number of different subspecies or species are now sold in the trade as African bullfrogs.

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Basic Information Sheet: Box Turtle

Box turtles are indigenous to North America. Free-ranging box turtles spend much of their time in woodland and grassy habitats, near streams or other water sources. Most box turtles offered for sale in the pet trade are…

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Basic Information Sheet: Boas and Pythons

The group of snakes called “boas” consists of over 40 species. Most popular pet boas are New World species, however boas are also found in Africa and Asia. Most boas live in environments that range from tropical rain forest to dry woodland and scrub forest. Sand boas (Gongylophis spp.) may be found in desert and savannah land and Rosy boas (Lichanura spp.) live in dry, rocky habitats.

Pythons are found in Africa, Australia, and Asia under conditions that range from rain forest to desert. Some species are primarily ground dwellers, but most can be found in bushes and trees. The larger species are often found near water and are strong swimmers.

Pet boas and pythons may be…

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Basic Information Sheet: Northern Blue-Tongued Skink

The blue-tongued skinks are represented by a variety of species, subspecies and races native to Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. Two of the more common varieties in the pet trade are the northern, Tiliqua scincoides intermedia, and Irian Jaya, an undescribed T. scincoides. These ground-dwelling diurnal skinks have tiny legs and feet, heavy bodies, and a large, blue tongue that can be bared as a warning to potential enemies.

Some blue-tongued skinks are domestically bred, however many are imported from Indonesia and New Guinea.

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Basic Information Sheet: Inland Bearded Dragon

Native to the central deserts of Australia, the Bearded dragon’s name comes from its practice of extending the flap of skin under the jaw or “beard” in a defensive posture.

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Basic Information Sheet: Sugar Glider

The sugar glider is native to northern and eastern Australia, New Guinea, and surrounding islands. This arboreal, nocturnal creature spends its days in leaf-lined nests in tree hollows. Sugar gliders are extremely social and vocal.

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Basic Information Sheet: Rat

The Norwegian or brown rat is originally from Asia where it lived in burrows on the plains of northern China and Mongolia. The rat arrived in Europe in the early 18th century and had reached America by the late 18th century. The brown rat was the first species to be domesticated for scientific purposes.

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Basic Information Sheet: Mouse

The most common pet mouse is the standard white laboratory mouse, although pet mice are not as inbred as some strains of lab mice.

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Basic Information Sheet: Hamster

Hamsters are short, stocky rodents with an abundance of loose skin. Today’s pet or laboratory hamster, known as the Syrian hamster, was bred from a small group of hamsters removed from a burrow near Syria in 1930 as well as 11 more collected in 1971 and three in 1978.

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Basic Information Sheet: Guinea Pig

The guinea pig is a native of Peru, Brazil, and Argentina that was domesticated by the Inca Indians. Guinea pigs are also known as “cavies”, a term derived from the South American vernacular. Male guinea pigs are called “boars” and females are “sows”…

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Basic Information Sheet: Gerbil

Gerbils are omnivores. In the wild the diet consists of grasses and seeds with small amounts of insects. A captive diet consists of a high-quality pellet supplemented with…

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Basic Information Sheet: Ferret

The domestic ferret is probably derived from the European polecat (M. putorious putorious). Ferrets serve as working animals (in the age old tradition of “ferreting”), pets, and laboratory animals. In the United States, ferrets are raised on ferret farms where they are spayed or neutered at 6 weeks of age. After each procedure, a tattoo is placed on the ear pinna. Male ferrets are called…

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Basic Information Sheet: Degu

Degus, also known as brush-tailed or trumpet-tailed rats, are natives of central Chilean open scrubland where they are routinely exposed to droughts. Degus survive on very poor diets in the wild.

Wild degus feed on grasses, seeds, cactus fruits, tubers, and local crops. The captive diet should consist of…

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Basic Information Sheet: Chinchilla

The chinchilla is a small mammal native to South America. Originally found in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, chinchillas were hunted and trapped for their pelts to near extinction in the early 1900s. Chinchillas are now endangered in the wild and are only found in the mountains of northern Chile.

The natural diet of the chinchilla consists of grasses, cactus fruit, leaves, and the bark of small shrubs and bushes. The captive diet consists of…

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Basic Information Sheet: Lovebird

Lovebirds live in flocks among the woodlands, savannah and forest edges of sub-Saharan Africa and Indian Ocean islands.

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Basic Information Sheet: Lory and Lorikeet

Lories and lorikeets live in large flocks in the wild.  Depending on the species, lories and lorikeets originate from the southeast Asia archipelago or parts of Australia.  These birds will fly from island to island in search of food. Lories and lorikeets will eat coconuts and grapes and they are considered a pest to farmers.  The nomadic Rainbow lorikeet follows eucalyptus flowers blooming along the Australian coast. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the conservation status of most lories and lorikeets as “least concern”, although some species are considered vulnerable or “near threatened”. The Red-and-blue lory (Eos histrio), Rimitara lorikeet (Vini kuhlii), and Ultramarine lorikeet (Vini ultramarina) are endangered.

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Basic Information Sheet: Finch

Finches are found worldwide. The Zebra finch, Owl finch and Gouldian finch are originally from Australia where large flocks may be found, mainly in arid grassland areas. Owl finches are also found in woodlands and scrublands.  The Bengalese or Society finch is a cross between the sharp-tailed munia and striata munia and was never found in nature.  Of family Fringillidae, only the Red Siskin and the Yellow Siskin are listed in Appendix I and Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listings respectively. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction, and commercial trade is prohibited and importation/exportation for scientific research requires special permits. Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless their trade is strictly regulated.

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Basic Information Sheet: Eclectus Parrot

The Eclectus is a native of Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and/or the Solomon Islands. This species has also been introduced to Palau. Eclectus parrots have an extremely large range, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists their conservation status as “least concern”.

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Basic Information Sheet: Conure

Most conures are found in regions of the Amazon Basin but some species are from the Caribbean islands. Conures are on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list. These species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless their trade is strictly regulated.

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Basic Information Sheet: Cockatoo

Cockatoos are medium to large-sized parrots with thick, heavy bills that range from 30-70 cm in length. There are 18 species of cockatoos in 6 genera. The most common pet cockatoos are the umbrella, sulphur-crested, lesser sulphur-crested, and Moluccan cockatoo.

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Basic Information Sheet: Cockatiel

Cockatiels originate from the non-coastal regions of Australia. The free-ranging population is very large, and the IUCN lists this species’ conservation status of “least concern”. Cockatiels probably represent the smallest of the cockatoos, although there is some controversy surrounding this classification. Cockatiels are common as aviary birds and they make excellent pets.

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Basic Information Sheet: Canary

Originating from the Canary Islands, the canary’s song captured the attention of Europeans, who started importing these birds in the late 1500’s. Although breeding for desirable traits has produced many variations, the wild canary is a small, green bird. Free-ranging populations are strong and are found in a wide variety of habitats, which is why the canary was placed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List category of “Least Concern”.