The Exotic Vet


Rabbit Care

All 60+ breeds of domestic rabbit are descended from the European wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus. The rabbits found in North America are Cottontails from the genus Sylvilagus and are only distantly related. Cottontails have never been domesticated and do not make good pets.

The average lifespan for a well cared for rabbit varies but is between 7-9 years.

Spaying & Neutering
Female rabbits have a very high risk of developing uterine cancer if left intact. They should be spayed around 4-6 months of age which can greatly decrease this risk. Male rabbits can be neutered as young as 3.5 months of age. Spaying and neutering both sexes can make them calmer, reduce aggressive and dominance behavior, and prevents overpopulation. When done by an experienced veterinarian these procedures are safe and rabbits live longer healthier lives.

Rabbits should be kept indoors in cages as large as possible. Solid bottomed cages are best, avoid any that have wire or mesh bottoms. Minimally your rabbit should be able to stand on his hind legs without touching the top of the cage and be able to take 3 hops in any direction. Substrate in the bottom of the cage can be any number of things but avoid cedar or pine chips. These have aromatic oils that can cause respiratory issues and liver disease. Whatever you choose it should be changed at least once weekly but can also “spot clean” during the week. Some good choices for substrate are Carefresh™, aspen shavings,  and shredded paper.
Many people give rabbits their own room in a house or surround the cage with a play pen so they can come and go as they please but use the cage as a “home base”. If you do this make sure your home is bunny proof! Rabbits will chew on any wires, wooden objects, toys, etc. that you leave and they can get into even the tiniest spaces. They can also climb up onto furniture so take that into consideration.
Make sure the habitat has plenty of room for hay, food bowl, water, and a hide. You can purchase plastic hides or make one yourself. It is very important your rabbit have several hiding areas to choose from especially for house rabbits.

Litter Training
Rabbits can be litter box trained just like cats. Keeping them in a single room or small area with a litter box in one corner until they use it regularly is one way to train them. Sometimes putting a small amount of hay in the box will encourage them. You can also put some droppings into the box to show them where the proper area is. Every once in a while a rabbit will choose a different corner to go in, just move the litter box there as it is very hard to get them to change. Be patient and most rabbits will learn.

Rabbits produce a special kind of stool early in the morning called a cecotroph. These are soft, sticky, clusters of stool and look unlike the normal hard pellets they produce. Rabbits will pull these directly from their anus and consume them to help get vital nutrients and beneficial bacteria. You should not see these in the cage and if you do, you may mistake them for diarrhea. A rabbit that is not consuming its cecotrophs is ill and needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Overweight or arthritic bunnies that are unable to contort themselves and eat the cecotrophs will also be unable to consume them and this can cause health problems.

The main component of a healthy rabbit diet is hay and it should always be available. Timothy hay is great but there are several other varieties and these can be offered on different days or mixed. Avoid Alfalfa hay as it is too high in calories and calcium for adult rabbits. Greens are the other important aspect of diet and a rabbit should get about 2 cups of vegetables per 5 lbs (2.2 kg) of body weight every day. Pellets are not a necessary component and if offered at all should be no more than 1/4 c per 5 lbs (2.2 kg) of body weight a day.

It is important that your rabbit get several hours of exercise daily. Rabbits that stay in their cages all day can develop health and behavioral issues. If you have a play pen for them or a room make sure it has plenty of toys. On nice days you can put the play pen outside so your rabbit can graze on fresh grass and get some sun. Make sure that it is not any warmer than about 70 degrees F, any warmer and they can suffer from heat stroke. Also ensure your lawn has not been sprayed with any chemicals. Always supervise your rabbit’s play time and never leave them outside alone!

Water bottles should be emptied and cleaned every single day. Bacteria can grow in them and make your rabbit sick if they are not. Some rabbits prefer water bowls and will drink more water if offered this way.

Rabbit’s teeth are constantly growing and they need things to chew on to wear them down properly. You can purchase wooden toys for your local pet store but you can also make your own. Toilet paper tubes filled with hay make excellent chew toys but you can also offer empty cardboard boxes, oatmeal containers, cereal boxes, and the like. There are also woven grass huts and tubes you can purchase that can be hidden in as well as chewed on.

Aquatic Turtle Care

The most common turtles kept as pets are Red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans, map turtles, Graptemys spp, soft shell turtles, Apalone spp. & Trionyx spp, and others. This care guide applies to all of these but you should research your specific species to get detailed care instructions.

The average lifespan for a well cared for turtle varies but can be 30+ years.


It is a myth that turtles will only grow to the size of their enclosure, size is determined by genetics not by environment. Many aquatic turtle species can grow up to or exceed 12 inches and need very large aquariums. 1-2 hatchling sized turtles can be kept in a 30 gallon aquarium but they will soon outgrow it. A good rule of thumb is that for every inch of shell length you should provide 10 gallons of water. This means a single large female would need a 125 gallon aquarium. If you are unable to provide this you should look for a different reptile pet. Substrate can be bare bottom, sand, gravel, smooth river rocks. Be careful not to select rough substrates that could scrape turtle shells.

The best habitat for turtles is an appropriately sized outdoor pond with access to plenty of sun and areas of shade. If this cannot be provided an indoor aquarium is the next best.

Use a reptile safe water dechlorinator if you are using tap water. The tank should have enough water in it that the turtles can submerge completely and have plenty of swimming room.

It is vitally important to provide an area for turtles to climb out of the water and bask. This can be a large log, rock, floating platform, anything that offers enough room for all turtles to be out of the water.

A filter is also necessary because turtles produce lots of waste and will quickly dirty their water. A filter should have a filtration rate at least twice that of the size of your aquarium to ensure proper filtration. It is also important to perform 25% water changes weekly and change your filter media monthly.

Lighting & Heating

A submersible heater is required to keep the water between 75-80°F year round. Make sure to have an accurate thermometer so you can keep track of the water temperature. Fluorescent lights can be used above the aquarium but UV bulbs would be better as they provide both light and UV rays. A basking lamp should be hung over the basking area and it should provide UV as well as heat, the temperature should be about 90°F and all turtles should be able to bask at the same time if needed. This UV bulb should be replaced every 6 months to ensure adequate UV output.


The majority of aquatic turtles are omnivores and should be offered a varied diet. Quality turtle pellets can form the base of the diet but should not be overfed. Meaty foods that can be offered are earthworms, crickets, ;ish. Turtles should also be offered kale, escarole, greens, and other fresh vegetables. An adult turtle only needs to be fed 3-4 times a week. Any left over food should be removed from the water to prevent spoilage.

Signs Your Turtle is Sick

If you notice any of these signs bring your turtle to an experienced exotics veterinarian ASAP!

• Puffy eyes
• Nasal discharge
• Difficulty swimming
• Decreased appetite
• Lethargy
• Pink coloration of shell/skin

Bearded Dragon Care

There are nine different species of Bearded Dragon native to Australia but the most common is the Central Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps. Due to their docile nature and fairly easy care they make good beginner reptiles.

Bearded Dragons can live between 10-15 years.

Bearded Dragons should be housed alone as they will fight for dominance and injuries can occur. Hatchling dragons can be kept in aquariums as small as 10 gallons but they grow quickly and will soon need a larger enclosure. The minimum size enclosure for an adult is a 55 gallon aquarium.
The easiest and safest substrate to use is reptile carpet. It comes in many colors, is easy to clean, and can be changed out quickly. Dragons cannot ingest carpet and so it prevents impaction as well. Sand can be used but it is important to know that in the wild, dragons do not come from huge Sahara like deserts. They are from arid scrub land that is mostly rocky soil with dried brush and so a large enclosure full of sand is not natural for them and it can cause problems with sand impaction.
The enclosure should have lots of branches and rocks for climbing as well as a few areas to hide. You can make hides out of rock caves, flower pots, or purchase ready made ones. Also provide a large water dish that is replenished with fresh water daily.

Lighting & Heating
UV light is necessary for dragons to metabolize calcium and they should be provided with it for 8-10 hours a day. You can purchase special UV lights that fit in long hoods that will go over the enclosure and provide UV rays as well as visible light. It is also necessary to provide a basking lamp at one end of the enclosure that provides a basking spot of about  100℉. The rest of the tank should be heated with an under tank heater attached to a thermostat  and set to 80℉. A thermometer on each end of the enclosure is necessary to make sure temperatures are correct.

Dragons can be gently picked up and held in your hand and most of them will sit quietly. Do not keep them out of their enclosure for too long because they need to be able to thermoregulate and cannot do this if not in the proper environment.

Bearded dragons are omnivores but their diet changes slightly as they age. Young dragons are mostly insectivorous and should be fed mostly gut loaded insects, a diet of about 90% insects and 10% vegetables is a good range. As they age the diet should be slowly switched to about 30% insects and 70% vegetable matter by two years of age. Crickets, cockroaches, and silkworms are excellent feeder insects. Insects should be no bigger than the space between a dragon’s eyes. Avoid mealworms as they are not very nutritious and have lots of exoskeleton that can become impacted.
Vegetables and greens can be: Bell pepper, escarole, carrot tops, greens, romaine lettuce, parsley, mixed veggies, squash, hibiscus flowers,  cactus pads (de-spined). An adult dragon should be fed 3-4 times a week and a quality calcium powder dusted on foods every few feedings.

Foods to Avoid
Avoid fruits, bread, dairy products, meat.

Signs Your Bearded Dragon is Sick
If you notice any of the following you need to bring your dragon to an experienced exotics veterinarian ASAP:
Decreased Appetite


Shieldhead Gecko (Gonatodes caudiscutatus) (by Lucas M. Bustamante-Enríquez)


Shieldhead Gecko (Gonatodes caudiscutatus) (by Lucas M. Bustamante-Enríquez)

Hello! I was wondering if your service announcement for rabbits is applicable to guinea pigs too? I was wondering if I should phase the pellet aspect of their diet out and increase the hay and greenery. Thanks!

Yes it is applicable to guinea pigs. They do much better on hay and veggies than on pellets. Although you need to give guinea pigs foods with vitamin C or a supplement because they cannot produce it on their own.

Simple names for surgical operations


-tomy: The surgeon cut something.

-ectomy: The surgeon cut something out.

-ostomy: The surgeon cut something to make a mouth. If one organ is named, the mouth opened to the outside of the patient. If two organs are named, the mouth connected two organs.

-plasty: The surgeon changed the shape of an organ.

-pexy: The surgeon moved the organ to the right place.

-rraphy: The surgeon sewed something up.

-desis: The surgeon made two things stick to one another.


Feeding Your Rabbit

In the wild rabbits consume large amounts of nutritionally poor grasses, shoots, and ground covers. They have numerous adaptations that allow them to thrive eating foods that other herbivores cannot. One of these are open rooted teeth that grow for their entire lives. These teeth grow continually to ensure that they are not worn down to an unusable size from eating tough grasses. The digestive system of rabbits has also adapted to the fibrous foods and peristaltic action (movement of the intestines that pushes food through) only works properly if the intestines are stimulated by fiber found in nutrient poor foods.

The most important part of a rabbit diet is hay and they should ALWAYS have a fresh supply. You cannot overfeed your rabbit on hay so never let it run out. There are many types that you can offer but Timothy hay is the most common. Some other good selections are: orchard grass hay, prairie hay, oat hay.
Stay away from alfalfa hay as it is too high in calcium and calories and can cause bladder stones and other health issues in adult rabbits. Giving your rabbit a variety of hays is good for them. The fiber found in them helps wear down their teeth which prevents dental disease and also keeps the G.I tract functioning properly.

Vegetables & Greens
These make up the second most important part of a healthy rabbit diet.  A good rule of thumb is to offer about 2 cups of vegetables daily for every 5 pounds (2.2 kg) your rabbit weighs. Again, variety is key so don’t offer the same greens all the time. Rotate them out and mix them up. Good ones to choose from are: endive, parsley, carrot tops, romaine lettuce, radicchio, basil, dandelion, squash, baby greens, mustard greens.

Very small amounts of fruit can be given as treats but in general they are too high in sugar and can cause diarrhea so they should be avoided. They love the green tops of strawberries though and these make a great treat.

Pelleted diets were invented to quickly grow and fatten up rabbits kept for their meat. Pet rabbits do not need them at all and will live long healthy lives on nothing but hay and greens. If you still want to feed a pelleted ration get one that is made of Timothy hay and does not have corn, seeds, or other grains mixed in.  Provide a maximum of ¼ C of pellets per 5 pounds (2.2 kg) of body weight per day.

Foods to Avoid

Avoid anything with dairy (yogurt drops, milk, ice cream, cheese, etc.) Breads, pastas, grains, should all be avoided. Also do not give sugary treats.

Rabbits drink much more water for their size than dogs or cats and should always have access to fresh water. Change out their bottle every single day and wash it not only to cut down on bacteria that grow in the bottle but also to make sure that the sipper is still functioning and doesn’t have a clog.  Some rabbits prefer drinking out of a bowl and studies have shown they actually drink more if provided one instead of a sipper bottle.

In addition to food items rabbits should have access to things they can chew to help keep their teeth worn down and provide them with something to keep them occupied.  You can purchase wooden rabbit-safe toys or make your own for free. You can give them toilet paper tubes filled with hay, empty cereal boxes, paper towel tubes, etc.

My Rabbit Won’t Eat!

Rabbits are always hungry and if you notice yours isn’t eating as much or at all this is very serious. Bring your rabbit to the vet ASAP if it has a decreased appetite.

I’m working on writing up care sheets to give to owners. I find that I don’t really  care for already made ones for a few reasons. One is that most people simply will not read something over two pages. Yes you can only go over the very basics in two pages but anything over that and people will not look at it. The other reason is that many care sheets have factual errors in them or attempt to provide advice for at home veterinary care. Finally, if I write them myself they will coincide with what I discuss with owners during an exam.

So with the caveat that these are meant to be very basic guides and owners will need to do further research, what species are the most popular that I should cover?


Wisconsin Is Getting Smothered by Millions of Horny Maylies

Close your mouth while looking at these photos, or a bug might fly in.

by John Metcalfe

This storm-cloud-looking apparition is actually a massive swarm of mayflies, an “emergence" of them, to get all Lovecraftian. Mayfly nymphs spend a year or two in the water (in this case, the Mississippi River) munching on organic decay.

Then, when summer arrives, they take flight en masse and proceed to make sweet bug love before immediately going back to the water to lay eggs and die.

This year’s emergence was so large people were comparing it to the last Biblical-style, one in 2012. If you don’t recall that stunning example of life’s majesty…

(read more: CityLab)

photographs via: La Crosse NWS

Ornate Box Turtle