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Finding a vet for your small pets

For anyone with pets, vets are VIPs, who look after the health of our much-loved animal friends. But did you know that just like hospital specialists, vets have different areas of expertise? That’s why, if you have small pets, it can be a good idea to seek out a vet that specialises in small animal medicine. Plus, how often should you take your small pets to the vet? And how can make it a less stressful experience for them?

Becoming a vet takes years of study and dedication. Veterinary medicine courses usually take five or six years to complete, with students learning about anatomy, physiology, medicine and surgery and how to provide clinical care for a wide range of species. As their career progresses, vets can also choose from dozens of disciplines to specialise in – ranging from anaesthesia to zoo and wildlife medicine. Among the most common specialisms are cardiology, neurology and small animal surgery. Vets who seek to achieve specialist status are typically required to do at least one internship and a highly intensive, three-year residency programme, as well as passing a gruelling set of exams.


Specialist care for pets

Small animal surgeon Ana Marques completed a surgical internship at a private practice in Manchester in 2003, followed by a residency programme at The University of Edinburgh in 2005 before she began working for Vets Now in Glasgow. She told Vet Times: “The beauty of becoming a specialist is you can do procedures very few other people can do and, perhaps, offer clients and pets a different type of care that otherwise would be impossible to achieve.”

Veterinary charity Blue Cross advises: “Most vets carry out a variety of medical and surgical procedures but there may be times when it’s better for a specialised vet to take over – for example if your pet needs an MRI scan or has a complex fracture. If your practice doesn’t have a specialist, then they may refer your pet to another vet.”

Finding a specialist vet

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has a voluntary Practice Standards Scheme which accredits vet practices according to the services and specialties they offer. Practices are rigorously inspected every four years and may also have spot checks in between. You can tell whether a practice is accredited because it will display the RCVS Accredited Practice logo. According to RCVS, there are 245 veterinary practices with specialist small animal veterinary services located across the UK, which you can search through here >> .


How often should your small pets visit the vet?

While dogs and cats typically visit the vet at least yearly for health checks and vaccinations, the same is not true for small pets. It’s often the case that it’s only when something’s obviously wrong that they get expert veterinary attention.

The RSPCA recommends that small pets should also have at least an annual veterinary check-up, including treatment for external and internal parasites such as fleas and worms and, in the case of rabbits, to be vaccinated against myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD).


Taking your small pets to the vet

Small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, chinchillas, degus, rats, mice, gerbils and hamsters, rarely leave the comfort of home so it’s no surprise that a trip to the vets can be a pretty stressful event for them. But there are plenty of practical things you can do to dial down their stress levels.

  • Invest in a proper small animal carrier – rather than relying on a carboard box (which may be chewed resulting in your pet attempting to make their escape en route) it’s far better to buy an appropriately sized, hard plastic carrier to transport your pets safely. Get your small pets used to their carriers before it’s actually time to make the trip to the vet by putting some tasty treats in it and letting them explore it so it becomes a positive space where they feel comfortable.

  • Add some familiar objects – a favourite mat, toy, or a T-shirt that smells of you can help your small pets feel more at home when in their carrier. And, as many small animals are prey species who feel safer when they can’t be seen, providing somewhere they can hide inside the carrier – such as shoe box with some cosy bedding material and hay to snuggle into – will be welcomed by guinea pigs or hamsters. With larger small pets, such as rabbits or ferrets, try covering the carrier with a towel to help them feel protected and safe.

  • Don’t forget the snacks– Keeping small pets occupied with some healthy, tasty treats to nibble on can help distract them on the journey and in the waiting room.

What else can you do to keep your small pets happy and healthy?

  • Get your pets neutered – The RSPCA states that unneutered female rabbits are at high risk of developing womb cancer, and unneutered males are more likely to fight. Animal charity Wood Green advises that male guinea pigs, male and female ferrets, rats, mice, gerbils, degus and chinchillas can all be neutered by a specialist vet.

  • Give your pets the correct food – Always choose food that’s specifically developed for your pets' species and, in the case of fibrevores such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas, provide plenty of high-quality feeding hay to help prevent dental and gut disease.

  • Groom your pets regularly – all small pets deserve well-maintained coats and regular grooming sessions can help you spot any unusual lumps or bumps that require further investigation by your vet.

  • Check for signs of illness or injury every day – particularly teeth and nails as these grow quickly.

  • Monitor behaviour – Any changes in your small pets’ usual behaviour can indicate illness or pain.

  • Get your pets microchipped – this is especially important for rabbits and ferrets in case they escape, so it’s easier to be reunited with them and get them to your vets for a check-up.

  • Consider taking out pet insurance – The RSPCA advises that many vets provide health care packages, including Medivet, CVS UK Ltd veterinary group practices and Companion Care/Vets4Pets. These can help to manage costs and ensure pets receive regular vet check-ups and preventative treatments.

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CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for your small pets from Burgess, the pet experts.


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