Arthritis in Exotic Pets


Do you have a backache midway through the second surgery of the day? Wonder how you are going to get through the next four? The bad news is, it’s only going to get worse with age. The good news is, that it does not have to go on this way. If you are thinking that this is going to be an article about proper posture and ergonomics while performing surgery, great news, it’s not!

All species experience the same ‘discomfort’ that comes with age. Many of us are all too familiar with the 10 year-old dog that has arthritis, and will readily recommend a treatment regime to help alleviate the discomfort. However, we sometimes forget that exotic pets can feel the same way too, especially now that they are living to an older age given the better diet and husbandry many pet owners are providing them with.

Using the classical arthritis example, almost all exotic pet species ranging from rabbits to birds and reptiles can develop arthritis with age. The joints that are involved may be different from the ones that dogs and cats classically develop them in, but the pain is very much the same, and treatment is very much indicated. The most difficult part about arthritis and other age-related changes in exotic pets is diagnosis. Most exotic pets are prey species and tend to hide their clinical signs. Taking arthritis as an example again, when exotic pets do show clinical signs, these tend to be different to what we would expect to see in an arthritic dog. For example, a rabbit might hop a little slower as they move around the house, or be less inclined to jump over obstacles. Birds may put more weight on one leg than the other when they perch, and lizards may be less inclined to climb.

The next question then is: how do I manage this pain and discomfort? In a lot of cases, the medications used are the same as for dogs and cats. If you are unfamiliar with the dosages and possible side effects for the particular species, consult a formulary (but ideally read the paper from which the dose was referenced to see if proper pharmaco-kinetics/-dynamics have been assessed), or the pharmaceutical company that manufactures them, as they can provide invaluable information. However, do not forget to determine the overall health status of your exotic patient via a good physical examination and appropriate diagnostic tests including a complete blood test before prescribing any long-term medications. When in any doubt. Refer!

It is also important to know what the appropriate lifespan of an exotic species is, eg. 8-12 years for rabbits and up to 30 years for some bird and reptile species, so that you can determine if the degree of arthritis and other age-related changes are appropriate for the pet’s age. If the pet appears to have developed these changes at an earlier age than appropriate, an investigation into diet, husbandry and/or genetic factors that may have predisposed the pet to the ailment may allow for changes to be made to prevent worsening of the problem.

Lastly, if you are still feeling that backache, or even developing a headache from all this information, do not forget to take a break and relax. After all, a little bit of rest and relaxation can be the best palliative care, whatever your age!

News Home