According to the 2013 Veterinary Economics Business Issues Survey, 23 percent of respondents stated that exotic animals they don’t currently treat could be a growth opportunity. So is this an overlooked, income-generating service that the average veterinary practitioner should look into?
“It could be, but you have to make a commitment to it,” says Dr. Laurie Hess, DABVP, owner of Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y.
Dr. Hess explains that there’s a big difference between just seeing exotic animals and treating them or specializing in their care. That’s why it’s important to tell clients ahead of time what species you’ll treat and how far you’ll go before referring their care to a specialist.
Dr. Hess offers these recommendations to veterinarians:
1. Identify your species. It’s hard to specialize in multiple species, so you have to know your limits, says Dr. Hess. She suggests starting with small mammals rather than birds or reptiles.
2. Get the proper training. Species-specific organizations, such as the Association of Avian Veterinarians or the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, are open to all veterinarians and offer continuing education.
3. Find support staff. Not all veterinary technicians or assistants are comfortable with or want to work with exotic animals. Make sure you seek out staff who are not only interested in working with these animals, but who are knowledgeable and comfortable handling them.
4. Market your services. Word-of-mouth is an incredibly effective tool, says Dr. Hess, so be sure to reach out to your local veterinary medical association and tell your colleagues about your new service. Also, don’t forget about the power of social media and direct mail or email campaigns.
5. Make a connection. With a local exotic animal specialist, that is. Get to know someone in your area you can refer patients to if a situation is out of your comfort zone—your clients and their pets will appreciate it.