Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Navigate Up
Sign In
Skip Navigation LinksCVMBS Home > Veterinary Teaching Hospital > Avian, Exotic, and Zoological Medicine
Avian, Exotic, and Zoological Medicine

The 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook: Reports that 20 percent of American households own non-dog, non-cat pets. By the numbers: birds, 3.1 percent; fish, 6.5 percent; and exotic or specialty pets, 10.6 percent.

Rifkin and Blaze of Glory are pure ferret energy in action. They squirm in and out of bags, poke their noses into jacket sleeves, and investigate every possible nook and cranny. The two ferrets are, as owner Rita Yaroush puts it, like “preverbal, hyperactive 2-year-olds in fur coats.”

Today, these bundles of seemingly boundless energy are visiting the medical team at the Avian, Exotic, and Zoological Medicine Service. They represent just one of the many species the newly renamed service sees daily. The service is one of only a few zoological medicine programs in operation at veterinary schools nationwide. It recently changed its name from Zoological Medicine to reflect the scope of animals treated within the specialty.

All Species Welcome Here

“We pretty much take care of everything here that is not a dog or a cat,” said Dr. Matthew Johnston who, along with Dr. Terry Campbell, form the backbone of the service’s veterinary team. “We cast a pretty broad net.”

Johnston and Campbell have more than 40 years combined experience caring for exotic animals. They work closely with other services in the hospital to provide comprehensive care for their patients. They also partner with several local and regional organizations that house avian and exotic animals, including the Denver Aquarium, Rocky Mountain Raptor Program, Colorado Reptile Humane Society, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

The Avian, Exotic, and Zoological Medicine Service offers everything from routine care to highly specialized treatment for pet birds, small exotic mammals such as ferrets, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, and rabbits; reptiles, and fish. The team often is called on when the hospital receives “special” cases – including lions, tigers, and bears. Providing veterinary care to a diversity of species is challenging because of each species’ unique biology, from an appropriate environment, to dietary needs, and vaccinations – all requiring the type of clinical experience and expertise found at the service.

Responding to Trends Keeps Doctors on Their Toes

“In this service, we definitely see trends in the types of pets people are keeping,” said Johnston. “In the ‘90s, we saw a lot more primates. Then it was hedgehogs, sugar gliders, and even anteaters. Most recently, we’re really seeing an uptick in chickens because of all the backyard coops in this area.”

It seems people aren’t just getting eggs from their chickens, they are finding them entertaining and endearing companion animals as well.

“I actually really enjoy the chickens – they’ve got tons of personality,” said Johnston.

Veterinary students complete clinical rotations through the Avian, Exotic, and Zoological Medicine Service during their professional training at Colorado State. While on the zoological rotation, students build skills in animal handling and care (including very wriggly ferrets), learn about each species’ veterinary needs, and come to appreciate the complexity of a specialty in zoological medicine – all under the watchful eye of some of the most experienced zoological veterinarians in the nation.

Renovation Will Enhance Infrastructure, Provide for Special Needs

Along with its name change, the Avian, Exotic, and Zoological Medicine Service will be changing its space as part of the renovation work at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Cramped quarters, hopes Johnston, will one day make way for more space and improved technology, including caging systems that are temperature and humidity controlled for each species. In addition, Johnston said that opening up the space in the service will help increase client engagement, so that clients can watch tests and procedures.