Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Finding A Herp Veterinarian

©2002 Bonnie Keller, Veterinary Information Network


Ack! Your iguana is gray and cold, and isn't moving much, who do you call? If you haven't already found your closest best reptile veterinarian, you (and your pet) may have a problem. Depending on where you live, help may be as close as around the corner, or it may be several hours away. Find your herp vet now, and you'll perhaps be saving your scaly friend from needless suffering, as well as saving yourself a big headache when you need it the least.

Finding a good reptile vet is not as simple as taking Iggy to your regular cat or dog vet (usually). Most vets will not see exotics, or have very little experience with them. I have actually found vets who relied on ME to tell them what was wrong with an animal. Not good, and not terribly reassuring when your favorite snake is writhing in pain. Your search for a good herp vet should start by calling your regular veterinarian if you have one. Vets often keep in touch with each other, and often will know who in the area might be able to see your special friend. If you don't have a regular vet, or if they don't know, start with the local yellow pages. Look carefully at the ads for veterinarians, noting any that mention that they see exotics.

Once you have the names and numbers of vets who might see your pet, call their office during business hours and ask a few questions, such as:

"What experience do you have with kingsnakes (for example)?"

  • "Do you attend regular updates on reptile care via conferences, or special bulletins?"
  • "Are you a member of ARAV (Association of Reptile & Amphibian Veterinarians), or some other similar group?"
  • "How much experience with reptiles do you have?" and lastly,
  • "Do you have any experience in owning or caring for reptiles?"

Remember, if you MUST leave a message, be clear as to why you are calling, and when and where you can be reached. Their time is valuable, too, and courtesy can go a long way. A message like, "My name is Joe, and I'm wondering if you know anything about reptiles?" is not going to make your search, or their job, any easier.

If the answers to the above questions make you at all uneasy, try another vet. But, don't let the only reason that you look elsewhere be that they don't have many reptiles in their practice -- they could be just starting out with exotics, and actually be quite familiar with them, or it could be that there just aren't that many reptiles around. Also, don't let the distance to a really qualified veterinarian deter you. A longer drive is often preferable to a closer doctor who may not really be comfortable treating your reptile.

Once you have found a vet or two that might work, schedule an appointment with them for a checkup for your pet. This will give you a chance to see them in action, and get a feel for how comfortable they are handling your pet. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and thank them for their time. If you liked what you see, your search is over. If not, try another vet. Remember, though, that everyone has a difference personality, and even if you don't think you and your vet could become good buddies, if they are qualified to see your reptile, use them!

I mentioned ARAV above; you can access their website at , and search their member database to see if anyone is listed in your area. Don't despair if there are none listed -- sometimes the website isn't updated, and there really is a member near you. Call around. And if you find a reptile vet that you really like, and they aren't a member, suggest it to them.

With a little forethought, you can be prepared for when your reptile pet becomes ill. The best thing is to find a vet now and go in and talk to them. Develop at least a familiarity with them so that you will be ready for whatever might happen. It's the kindest thing you can do for your pet.

When not teaching or working with her own critters and rescues, Bonnie can be found basking in the Herp Forums.

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