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Graduation 2018: veterinary professionals' exotic pet knowledge and confidence

Posted 23 October

"I’m an exotic pet owner and a vet nurse, so I know from both sides they can sometimes cause a bit of fear."

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Exotic pet owner and recent Harper Adams University BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing and Practice Management graduate Toni O’Donovan has completed an investigation into veterinary professionals’ knowledge and confidence when dealing with exotic pets.

The 22-year-old from Kilkeel, County Down, said: “I wanted to look into how the veterinary profession feels when an exotic patient comes in.

“I’m an exotic pet owner and a vet nurse, so I know from both sides they can sometimes cause a bit of fear.

“I started to think about doing this topic for my honours research project (HRP) when I was at my very first practice. They were a very rural practice and so didn’t have as much experience. As a student I could see how they weren’t as confident with exotic pets as they were with cats and dogs, so that’s what peaked my interest. My second practice was in a more urban location and so were more involved, but still they didn’t come in very often leading to the knowledge level being probably lower than it should have been.

“To gather the data for my HRP, I decided to do an online survey so I could get a wide reach across the UK and see if there were any differences in the confidence and knowledge level nationally.

“For my investigation I used a blanket term to define ‘exotic pets’ which is that they’re any animals that aren’t cats, dogs or farm animals, which includes horses. So, it goes from rabbits down to invertebrates. Although, I didn’t focus much on invertebrates as they’re not as popular; I looked at rabbits, guinea pigs, small mammals, reptiles, such as snakes, and birds.

“I received 186 responses in total; many from the south of the UK, but I did get responses from across the country including a couple from Guernsey.

“From 27 per cent of practices saw exotic patients daily and 40 per cent saw them weekly. So that surprised even me because in my practice we certainly didn’t see them that often.

“I saw that generally there is confidence out there but it’s more with the common species; rabbits and guinea pigs for example.

“This is understandable because of supply and demand. Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK.

“People were generally more confident surrounding husbandry, so handling, housing and feeding, and vert nurses were generally more confident than vets in those areas. While the area people were the least confident across the board was anaesthetics, but they are a lot more difficult. Interestingly, the vets were more confident with the niche species in that area.

“In regard to the protocols and training in place, I found the protocols are quite underutilised. Around half of the practices that I got responses from, didn’t have protocols in place; so, if you’re not sure, there’s not enough support to give you additional guidance. The protocols which were in place were mostly for rabbits and anaesthetics, which is a difficult area, so it was good they were being used in the right way, when they were being used.

“I’ve therefore seen that there’s a training gap in the syllabise; around 80 per cent of people said they didn’t feel like they got enough knowledge from their base qualification. And even when they were asked what they did get taught, some people said they’d only learnt a little bit of anatomy. For some people they learn a lot more, but for the majority they don’t have the opportunity to improve their knowledge.

“There’s around three or four million exotic pets in the UK in total, so there’s a lot out there and we should be able to provide for them along with cats and dogs.

“My interest for exotics comes from owning them. My uncle had a snake when I was younger and I told my mum that I wanted a snake. She said I couldn’t have one until I was 13, so that’s when I got one. I find all of them interesting. I do have dogs as well, I don’t just have exotic pets!”

Toni graduated from Harper Adams University last month with a first-class honours degree.

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