I’ve gotta come clean with you guys: a good reptile vet is hard to find.
But that’s exactly why I’m here, to help you find the exotic veterinarian of your dreams. Disclaimer: This post should not be applied to your dating life.
A Reptile Vet Should Be…
Recommended by other reptile keepers
When it comes to finding a reliable reptile vet, your local reptile community or herpetological society is your best source of information. Take feedback with a grain of salt, as some people are just looking for an excuse to vent, and others may not be knowledgeable enough for a sound opinion. Bonus points if a vet is recommended by a high quality reptile rescuer.
If you don’t have a strong reptile community in your area, you may have to reach out to the state wildlife rescue organization. Calling your local zoo can be helpful as well. Either should be happy to point you in the right direction. But don’t be surprised if you have to drive an hour or few for an appointment. Just remember—it’s worth it!!
(By the way, ReptiFiles has a whole curated list of reptile vets with rave reviews in our Reptile Vet Directory!)
Because reptile medicine is not well covered at most veterinary schools, a good reptile vet has to get their education from outside sources—veterinary journals, reptile-specific studies, and conferences. And because the field of reptile medicine is new and advancing fast, your vet needs to be current. Bonus points if they’ve published their own articles or studies.
Not quite sure of their knowledge? Ask them questions you already know the answers to, and how many reptile patients they have.
HOWEVER — do not expect them to be an expert on reptile husbandry. That is not their job. They are medical professionals, not husbandry experts. And unlike dog/cat/large animal veterinarians, exotic animal veterinarians (even if they specialize in reptiles) need to be familiar with a much broader spectrum of animals. So while a good vet should have the basics down, if their husbandry knowledge is a little out-of-date, don’t hold it against them.
Member of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV)
The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians is a professional community for veterinarians, herpetologists, and reptile keepers in the United States. They host regular conferences and seminars to help exotic vets stay up-to-date on the latest developments in reptile medicine.
In addition to asking your local community, visiting ARAV’s website is a super-quick way to find a good vet. Use their handy “Find A Vet” tool to get an instant list of ARAV-associated reptile vets in your area. They also have a blog for reptile keepers, which you should definitely check out here.
First, the vet should handle your reptiles with confidence, not fazed by aggressive behavior or sudden movements. Basically, the way they hold and touch your pets should not make you cringe. Bonus points if they take time to properly adore them (baby talk is totally acceptable in this situation). More bonus points if they have pet reptiles of their own.
Do they take the time to thoroughly evaluate your husbandry and make suggestions for improvement on the first visit? You can learn a lot about a vet just by the questions they ask you.
A good communicator
A reliable reptile vet should talk to you frankly about your reptile’s health. And if you ask for the reasoning behind any recommended procedures or medications, they should be willing and able to thoroughly explain it for you.
Not afraid to admit that s/he doesn’t know everything
Don’t get me wrong—a vet needs to be confident in their knowledge, but they also should be humble enough to admit when they’re stumped.
I’ve had a great experience with my veterinarian, Dr. Henry-Guyot at Wasatch Exotic Pet Care. One of my bearded dragons, Deliora, has a condition where her body produces too much mucus. We ruled out respiratory infection, did blood work, took tracheal mucus samples—the whole enchilada—without making any conclusive findings. And instead of rushing to conclusions, she spoke with other trusted reptile veterinarians for their opinions.
Dr. Henry-Guyot (or her receptionist) always calls me 2-4 weeks after an appointment to see how the patient is doing. It gives me an opportunity to discuss concerns that may have come up since, and always gives me the fuzzies because these calls show that she cares.
Offers emergency services
You should not rule out an otherwise good reptile vet if they do not offer emergency services. That being said, emergency availability goes a long way when your reptile has prolapsed or lost a limb, and you want trusted hands caring for your pet.
Unwilling to explain a recommended treatment or procedure. Most likely this means the vet is not confident enough in their own knowledge to explain it to you.
Hesitance or clumsiness while handling reptile. Indicates unfamiliarity with or even fear of reptiles. Either way, they are not the vet for you!
Rushing attitude or overconfidence. Some vets hide behind their professional titles and/or egos, which can indicate either lack of concern for your pet or lack of expertise. Neither is a good thing.
Also treats non-exotic animals. This is not always a red flag, but be wary if the veterinarian offers services for everything from dogs and horses to reptiles. It’s very likely that they are spread too thin, and lack true expertise in reptile medicine.
PRO TIP: Become Best Friends With Your Exotic Vet
1. Don’t argue
Questions and discussion are good. Being aggressive only puts the vet on defensive, and does nothing to improve your pet’s treatment.
2. Be patient
A good vet takes their time with patients. Which means they will probably be running late when it’s time for your appointment. That being said, be on-time and call ahead if you’re going to be late or have to cancel.
3. Follow instructions
When a vet gives you treatment instructions, they need to be followed to the letter in order for your pet to get better. Set reminders for yourself if need be.
4. Take notes
Reptile vets can treat your pet much better if you have notes for them to look at. Since your reptile can’t speak, detailed, daily notes on temperature/humidity, behavior, appetite, poo, etc. are the next best thing in helping the vet figure out what’s going on.
What do you love about your reptile vet?
Tell us in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe and follow ReptiFiles on Instagram!