JAVMA News logo

May 15, 2021

Quality-of-life assessment for exotic pets

Published on April 28, 2021

Veterinarians who work with exotic animals may see a wide range of species from hamsters to parrots. When working with exotic pets, there are several considerations to take into account, including the animal’s environment, diet, behavior, company, health, and welfare.

Dr. Sara Gardhouse, assistant professor of exotic pet, wildlife, and zoological medicine at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke about these elements and how to perform an examination on various exotic species during the session “Quality of Life Assessment in Exotic Pets” at the virtual 2021 Student AVMA Symposium, held March 12-15.

Dr. Gardhouse said the first thing to do with exotic pets is to start with a thorough history by asking questions such as: What is their diet? Do they get supplements? How are they housed? What is their activity level? Are they spayed or neutered? What vaccines have they received?

Veterinarian holding a parrot

When it comes to the health and welfare of an animal, Dr. Gardhouse said she always asks what that animal does in the wild. But she also considers things such as whether an animal is an appropriate pet.

“This links to quality of life,” she said. “Is it fair to keep some of these animals? Consider how domesticated the species is. Consider the danger the species presents to yourself and others. Consider laws and regulations in your state and country.”

Dr. Gardhouse said another thing to think about is how to measure pain in exotics. She suggested that many pain scales can be adapted for various species, including the HHHHHMM scale—with the letters standing for hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more good days than bad—as well as the grimace scale.

Quality-of-life conversations also include euthanasia, which can be challenging. See AVMA's resources on euthanasia.