As an unusual and exotic pet veterinarian I am lucky enough to see a huge number of different species and problems. I might start the morning off with treating a rabbit with a sore mouth. Then move on to a macaw with a broken wing followed by a snake with a respiratory infection. You just never know what will be next! However, having said that, the old saying of “common things are common” does hold true for exotic pets. In this article I thought I would look at the number one reason (other than vaccinations and health check-ups) that each of the species we commonly see presents to us. Hopefully by knowing what is really common in the pet that you keep you will be able to do everything you can to prevent that problem occurring.

Rabbits – I’m not eating!

Inappetence (not eating) takes the cake for the most common reason we see unwell rabbits present to our clinics. The important thing to realise is that not eating can be a symptom of almost any condition in rabbits. There is not one common reason why. Although dental diseases are a common cause of inappetence in rabbits but they are not the only cause.

Rats – I have the snuffles!

Snuffly rats (those suffering from respiratory disease) win the most common presentation by a mile for rats. We estimate that 99% of the rats we see have (or have had) some form of respiratory disease at some point during their life. The most common cause of rats sneezing, coughing and making loud breathing noises. Is a mixed infection with mycoplasma, bacteria and in some cases viruses.

Mice – I’m itchy!

Many mice present as they have started scratching excessively, in some cases to the point where they have torn holes in their skin. There are a large number of causes for why this might occur. But the most common is external parasites. Itchy mice can be very simple to treat in some cases or extremely difficult in others.

Guinea Pigs – My mouth hurts!

Guinea pigs are often very good at hiding their illnesses, meaning that they often don’t show any symptoms until they have been unwell for a long time. Unfortunately, dental disease is one of these conditions and it can often take several days or even weeks for your guinea pig to start showing signs that it is not feeling well. When they do start to show signs of dental disease, it is often in the form of weight loss or not eating as much. So it is good to get into the habit of weighing your guinea pig regularly, that way you can pick up any changes early. 

Ferrets – I’m sick!

Ferrets can be challenging to work with in some cases as often they present with non-specific clinical signs. This generally means that they are flat and lethargic, sometimes inappetant and often slightly dragging their hind legs. Unfortunately, this presentation is not specific to any one condition and further testing is generally needed to try to narrow down what might be making your ferret feel unwell.

Parrots – I’m fluffed up!

Parrots are even worse than ferrets at helping out us vets! The most common reason we see parrots present to our clinics is that they are fluffed up with their eyes partially closed and not doing much. They will often be off their food and drinking less as well. Unfortunately, these are also non-specific signs that simply tell us that your feathered friend isn’t feeling well.

Chickens – I’m ‘egg bound’!

Chicken owners love to book their chicken in for being ‘egg bound’ where as the reality is that egg binding is actually fairly uncommon in chickens. The most common reason we see chickens present is actually other reproductive problems such as inflammation and/or infection of their coelomic cavity (abdomen).

Snakes – I’m struggling to breathe!

Most snakes have one main lung that is very long and slender. They lack a diaphragm to help them cough and are not the best at clearing material that is accidently inhaled. Unfortunately, this makes them very predisposed to developing respiratory infections, commonly known as “RI” by many snake keepers.

Lizards – My bones hurt!

Incorrect lighting, poor diet and lack of appropriate temperatures within a lizard’s cage can lead to issues with their bones. Many of these conditions are preventable however once they occur they can be difficult to treat so please do your research and make sure you have their enclosure set up correctly.

Turtles – My shell is sore!

Shell and skin infections in turtles are very common. These are also often caused by problems with how they are kept or the quality of the water in their cage. It is important to ensure that regular water testing is undertaken as well as to make sure that the right type of lighting and heat is provided for your chelonian friend.

Amphibians – My water is burning me! Help my skin hurts!

Frogs and axolotls very commonly present for issues that have been caused by poor water quality within their cage. In many cases the level of harmful substances, such as ammonia, in their water is often high enough to actually burn their skin. As for turtles, regular water testing and maintenance is needed.

If you have any further questions or would like any further information on the above species or problems please don’t hesitate to contact us ( or see our website for more information (

Article written by Dr James Haberfield of The Unusual Pet Vets

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