Cookie use on MRCVSonline
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies.
If you would like to forward this story on to a friend, simply fill in the form below and click send.

Your friend's email:
Your email:
Your name:
Send Cancel

Responsible exotic pet ownership
Molly Varga at BVNA Congress.
An ethical issue for veterinary professionals

"In many cases, I feel as if I should be working my way out of a job," said Molly Varga at the BVNA Congress. "A lot of these exotic species are not great pets and there are ethical questions as to whether they should be kept as pets at all?"

What motivates people to own exotic pets? Sadly, many people are not motivated by a desire to learn more about the species and do their best to look after it properly. Unfortunately, status is a significant reason for ownership and financial concerns can sometimes be an issue. Peer-group pressure, television and social media have much to answer for too.

When grappling with the ethical issues of keeping exotic species as pets, the basis for forming an opinion must be to revert to the Five Freedoms as championed by the RSPCA – and the extent to which they can be fulfilled by owners. There is a divide between welfare and ownership; and the regrettable fact is that the answer to this dilemma is a compromise.

Molly posed the questions: "What is the dichotomy between these animals in the wild and these animals as pets? How are we measuring their welfare? How much will the owner pay or do to promote the pet's welfare? How much do owners know about welfare?"

The speaker used the example of the use of rabbit hutches. In general, she said, hutches are too small – the minimum dimensions should be 6' x 2' x 2'. We need to remember that in the wild, rabbits will range over territories at least the area of a football pitch and they are, therefore, not simply furry pets that can be shoved away into a hutch and ignored. They are a complicated species and do not necessarily make good childrens' pets.

Molly questioned the ethics of clipping birds' wings simply for the convenience of owners. "BIrds fly," she said. "And in some cases, by doing this, we are affecting natural behaviour and are messing with their heads." She pointed out that there is a connection between bladder stones in guinea pigs and stress; and emphasised the fact that they are prey animals, such that owners and other pets are perceived as predators.

There are exotic pets that cost a relatively small amount, which makes them readily accessible to owners. There is a disconnect between the cost of subsequent veterinary consultations and this initial financial outlay, even though the costs of a professional examination and treatment for exotic animals are the same, indeed more complex, than for a cat or dog. This leads to the concept of 'disposable pets' and this has to be challenged by veterinary professionals through client education.

As veterinary professionals, nurses should be aware of reliable and objective sources of advice towards which they can direct pet owners. All the staff in a veterinary practice must be aware of all the different legislation that applies to exotic animal species that may be presented in practice.

Molly concluded that in order to educate clients, nurses need to:
• be able to define and provide a suitable diet
• be able to recognise normal from abnormal; and
• be prepared to do their best but know when to seek and refer for specialist advice.

Become a member or log in to add this story to your CPD history

Gucci pledges to go fur-free

News Story 1
 Italian fashion house Gucci has announced that it will no longer use animal fur in its designs. Gucci’s president & CEO Marco Bizzarri made the announcement on Wednesday (October 11) at The London College of Fashion.

The move follows a long-standing relationship with The Humane Society of the United States and LAV - members of the international Fur Free alliance. Gucci’s fur-free policy includes mink, coyote, raccoon dog, fox, rabbit, karakul and all other species bred or caught for fur.  

News Shorts
Avian flu text alert service launched in Northern Ireland

A new text system to alert bird keepers to the threat of avian flu has been launched in Northern Ireland. The service will enable bird keepers to take action to protect their flock at the earliest opportunity.

Keepers who have already provided NI's Department of Agriculture with a valid mobile number have automatically been subscribed to the service and notified by text. Bird keepers who have not yet received a text should text ‘BIRDS’ to 67300 to register.