Birds and exotic pets: not just for veterinarians.
Article Type: Discussion
Subject: Animal health technicians (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Veterinarians (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Exotic animals (Management)
Pub Date: 12/01/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery Publisher: Association of Avian Veterinarians Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Association of Avian Veterinarians ISSN: 1082-6742
Issue: Date: Dec, 2010 Source Volume: 24 Source Issue: 4
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product: Product Code: 8044000 Veterinarians NAICS Code: 54194 Veterinary Services SIC Code: 0741 Veterinary services for livestock; 0742 Veterinary services, specialties
Persons: Named Person: Johnson, Amy (American veterinary technicians); Bedford, Melody; Maddamma, Mandy; Kasterns, Sarah; Aquino, Francisco
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 252005079
Full Text: Veterinary technicians--the backbone of every animal hospital--without whom we veterinarians could not function. Often, we take them for granted, forgetting just how essential they are in the day-to-day workings of our practice. They hold animals, draw blood, monitor anesthesia, run tests, and serve as a liaison to clients. Technicians work long shifts, often get paid very little, and sometimes have no breaks. They frequently put up with our whining and catch our mistakes, and they are usually the glue that holds our hospitals together. Why do they do it? If you ask them, most technicians will tell you they do it because they truly care about the animals. But what makes a technician specifically seek out work with birds and exotic animals? Across the world, there are very few technicians who are actually truly trained in and comfortable with the care of exotic pets. Just as it takes years of training for a veterinarian to become proficient in bird and exotic animal care, it takes a technician just as long to develop expertise in the treatment of these unique pets. In this vein, and to highlight the special work that bird and exotic animal technicians perform, I have asked 5 technicians who work with birds and exotics every day to comment about their experience. They are Francisco Aquino, LVT, The Animal Medical Center, New York, NY, USA; Melody Bedford, AA, RVT, Medical Center for Birds, Oakley, CA, USA; Sarah Kasterns, CVT, Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals, Milwaukee, WI, USA; Amy Johnson, CVT, Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, Florida Veterinary Specialist, Tampa, FL, USA; Mandy Maddamma, RVT, Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN, USA; and Peggy Nardone, LVT, Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics, Bedford Hills, NY, USA. I hope that hearing their comments about what they do will remind all of us just how important they are to the success of exotic animal practice.

Laurie Hess, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice) Associate Editor

Question: Why did you choose to work with birds/ exotic animals?

Frank Aquino:

I chose this field because I think it takes a unique type of person to work with exotics pets. With so many different species to work with, it exciting and challenging, and I am always up for a challenge.

Melody Bedford:

My first bird was a pied cockatiel named "AI" that I purchased when I was 8 years old. Since then, birds have always had an important place in my heart. Professionally, combining the fine "art" of good medicine, observation, communication, technology, and continual education has proven to be an incredibly rewarding challenge that I enjoy immensely.

Amy Johnson:

I chose to work with birds and exotic animals because you never know what kind of animal you may be working with from day to day. They all have their different diseases and syndromes, some of which the veterinary community are still trying to figure out. These animals are different from cats and dogs and need people who are truly in love with them to help them lead better lives.

Sarah Kasterns:

I decided to learn more about exotics simply because there is a need. Exotic pet owners need access to knowledgeable and experienced veterinary care just as dog and cat owners do.

Mandy Maddamma:

I liked the wider variety of species, as opposed to working with just dogs and cats.

Peggy Nardone:

I chose to work with birds and other exotic animals because I found this field to be more challenging than other areas of veterinary medicine. The wide variety of species I encounter has me constantly learning new information. I never find myself bored by the same routine surgeries and treatments. Each species has its own individual biological needs and diseases.

Question: What do you find most challenging about working with birds/exotic pets?

Frank Aquino:

Anesthesia, definitely, is the most challenging aspect of our work. It's such an adrenaline rush. You have to be on top of your game to monitor anesthesia in exotic pets.

Melody Bedford:

Continually perfecting my technique and knowledge is a never-ending challenge. These challenges are what I thrive on.

Amy Johnson:

The thing that I find most challenging about working with birds and other exotic pets is their ability to mask their signs of illness. Often they present to us too late to help them, and the owners don't understand why they were fine yesterday and sick today.

Sarah Kasterns:

One of the greatest challenges is reducing patient stress during diagnostic testing and treatment. Another challenge is that many cases do not present until the pet's condition is quite advanced.

Mandy Maddamma:

The most challenging aspect of working with birds and exotic pets is some of the restrictions that come with certain species; for example, limits on blood collection and handling. It's also interesting to attempt to get monitoring equipment on some of the smaller patients.

Peggy Nardone:

The most challenging part of working with birds and other exotic pets is the delicate nature of most of these species. All too often, these pets are brought into the hospital in advanced stages of illness. It is up to the medical staff to decide how to treat the patient without causing too much stress. Sometimes, too aggressive treatment can mean the loss of a patient.

Question: What do you find most rewarding about working with birds/exotic pets?

Frank Aquino:

Knowing at the end of your work day that you have a made a pet owner happy by saving his 50-year-old bird's life!

Melody Bedford:

Their unique personalities, the amazing nature of the bird-human bond, and the immense pleasure we all share from a goal well-attained with our clients are vastly rewarding. Some of the very dear friends I have made are patients and the people that they are attached to.

Amy Johnson:

The most rewarding aspect of working with birds and other exotic pets is educating owners on how to provide a proper diet for their pets and to supply environmental enrichment for animals with behavioral problems.

Sarah Kasterns:

Exotic medicine is relatively young compared to the medicine of more common domestic species. Working in unchartered territory can be a little scary but is also exciting. The benefit of being a pioneer in 2010 is that the Internet allows veterinary teams to share and learn from each other's collective adventures.

Mandy Maddamma:

What I find most rewarding is educating owners on how to properly care for their exotic pets.

Peggy Nardone:

The most rewarding part about working with birds and other exotic pets is being able to educate their owners so that these pets can have a better quality of life.

Question: What is the most memorable bird/exotic pet case you have worked on?

Frank Aquino:

I have to say, without a doubt, Pepe, an 8-year-old albino skunk, that was brought to the hospital for not urinating. After endoscopic examination of his bladder showed a rupture, we tried to pass a cathether and couldn't. We ended up placing a permanent cystotomy tube because the owner could not decide whether to allow us to perform either a cystotomy or a perineal urethrostomy. He lived almost a year with the tube and then developed a raging infection at the tube site. He then then developed kidney failure and secondary ascites. His owner ended up spending over $20,000 until we finally had to euthanatize him after he gained almost 2 kg from the ascites. Quite a case!

Melody Bedford:

Of course, I remember those patients that were really ill and that we all worked so very hard on to help. The individual birds that we have helped to return to health and who we have truly enriched the quality of their lives at home are most memorable. In addition, the individual birds that we have been able to help an owner train to fit into their home better and to become real family members are very memorable. Interestingly, the uniqueness of the species, their monetary value, or the "exotic" nature of their problem are less important parts of what makes these cases memorable. Rather, the uniqueness of the patient's personality (regardless of species), the course of their illness and recovery, and the experiences that we have shared, makes these cases memorable.

Amy Johnson:

Areba was a 28-year-old cherry-headed conure that we treated for squamous cell carcinoma of her mouth and beak for over a year. She was one of the toughest birds I have ever met.

Sarah Kasterns:

The most memorable case I have worked on was an alligator with pneumonia.

Mandy Maddamma:

My most memorable case was 2 tiger cubs that needed extractions of all 4 of their canine teeth because the prior owner had had them cut off and they were infected.

Peggy Nardone:

The most memorable bird or exotic pet case I worked on involved an umbrella cockatoo that presented with loss of vocalization and wheezing. With the help of an endoscope, we removed a large granuloma from the bird's trachea. Biopsy and culture confirmed that the granuloma was from aspergillosis. After long term medical therapy involving nebulization and oral medications, the bird fully recovered.

Question: What have you found to be the most valuable means of obtaining education on bird/ exotic animal medicine?

Frank Aquino:

I think seminars, conferences, and literature offer a lot, but you have to keep an open mind to new ideas and to comments from fellow coworkers.

Melody Bedford:

Continual practice, self-critique, continuing education, and a hospital environment that embraces these philosophical approaches to practice all are very valuable. Daily in-patient rounds, journal club participation, and in-house continuing education all are important and valuable for my career development in avian medicine and surgery.

Amy Johnson:

I think the most important ways of becoming educated about birds and other exotic animals is to read the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and Exotic DVM magazine and to attend conferences such as the AAV Annual Conference & Expo, the Western Veterinary Conference, and the North American Veterinary Conference. These are all wonderful resources that I use on a regular basis.

Sarah Kasterns:

The Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and networking with colleagues have been the most valuable means of getting educated on birds and exotics.

Mandy Maddamma:

The most valuable means of getting education in bird/exotic animal medicine is going to conferences.

Peggy Nardone:

I think I have gotten most of my bird and exotic animal education from actual hands-on work in the hospital with the veterinarians and other technicians. It's always great to read, but there is nothing better than actually working through a case from start to finish. I learn most from the cases I am able to follow through to a resolution.

Question: What advice would you give a technician trying to break into bird/exotic pet medicine?

Frank Aquino:

If exotic medicine is what really drives you, then we want you. We need driven and motivated individuals in this field; it's very exciting and rewarding.

Melody Bedford:

Always ask questions, engage yourself and don't be a wall-flower. Seek a work environment that values your work ethic and encourages you to grow and develop your skills and expertise. Embrace continuing education in all forms, and seek employment and mentorship in the type of environment that actually lives in this mindset daily.

Amy Johnson:

Working with a doctor who is skilled and willing to teach technicians as much as possible is the way I learned what I know. Owning different species of birds or exotic animals throughout your life will also give you an enormous amount of knowledge that you can share when educating owners on behavior and husbandry.

Sarah Kasterns:

Become active in your state veterinary technician association! By joining in the planning of continuing education events, you can select speakers and customize your learning experience while interacting with others. Also, take some of the course offerings through VIN/Veterinary Support Professional Network (VSPN). These online courses often include discussions--another great opportunity for networking.

Mandy Maddamma:

Get as much experience with avian/exotic pets as you can beforehand.

Peggy Nardone:

Read as much information as you can about the various species. Hands-on experience is critical, so volunteer or work part-time in specialty hospitals so that you can gain as much experience as possible. Also, you really have to be dedicated to these pets, because your patients are not always the "cute and cuddly."
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