There are definitely signs to recognize a sick exotic animal, and analyzing their behavior (namely by teaching your clients to recognize changes in behavior) is perhaps one of the most valuable tools in being a good veterinarian to your exotic patients. Recognizing behavior allows you to tailor treatments to individual birds and allows you to help your clients make bringing their bird to the vet a low-stress routine. Imagination comes in here, too, in interpreting the behavioral changes your clients bring to you to ask about.
Lastly, nutrition and husbandry are perhaps the single most important concepts to help your clients understand. Many diseases and conditions can be prevented by proper husbandry and nutrition. Another opportunity to be creative lies here: birds, for example, were made to be wild; to fly miles and miles; to have natural enrichment in foraging behaviors and group settings. Many reptiles like to hunt their food, and snakes (our professor tells us “every snake’s middle name is Houdini”) love to explore their surroundings but will hide for long periods of time. By being creative veterinarians, we can help our clients find enrichment that works to keep their pets happily occupied and also helps them to exercise and work a little bit for their food. It is important to consider these pets’ home environments in order to give the best advice for helping these exotic animals get the activity and care that they need.
As a veterinarian learning about exotics, I can only hope to empower these owners to go above and beyond for their pets, just as we would for a cat or dog or horse owner, too.