Being a Reptile Veterinarian in Vancouver

By VanEastVet, on Friday, August 4th, 2017

Being a reptile Veterinarian in Vancouver…   There are few things that can make your average veterinarian panic more than a lizard or snake in their appointment list.  Vet school has the impossible task of teaching you how to treat every animal under the sun in just 4 short years.  It does a pretty good job of this by training vets in comparative anatomy, physiology and medicine, teaching us a few basic body plans and how to extrapolate from there.  In veterinary school we learn how to treat carnivores (cats and dogs), ruminants (cattle), and hind gut ferementers (horses).  Believe it or not, this covers most mammals.

But what happens when you see this: 


Or this:


Walk through the door?

How about a python who hasn’t eaten in 6 moths? 

Well, depending on what school you went to, you may have had a few dozen lectures on pigs, poultry, and other farm stock. The rest of the species typically get lumped into an “avian and exotic medicine” course, if you’re lucky like I was at the University of Sydney, or just a few lectures if you are not.  So for most vets the answer is:  panic.  Panic, and then either feverishly research “reptile veterinarian in Vancouver” on google so you can refer them away as soon as possible, or if you’re feeling adventurous, feverishly looks through old school notes, online message boards and if you are in a particularly well equipped clinic, dust off the reptile medicine textbook (there are probably 3-4 copies in all of Vancouver).

Being a reptile veterinarian is all about research.  Most of us are self-taught, or have received mentorship after graduation.  There are conferences and courses in “exotic” medicine (basically anything other than a cat or dog), and there are textbooks.  Those vets that choose to sacrifice a year of their life to do a rotating internship, which is about 10% of the veterinarians in north america (and 100% of the staff doctors at Arbutus West Animal Clinic and Vancouver East Veterinary Clinic) may be lucky enough to do a reptile rotation.

One thing is for sure though, if you’re seeing a veterinarian who is experienced and comfortable working with reptiles, rabbits, ferrets, or other non-traditional pet species, you’re seeing someone who has a high degree of self-motivation, someone who has spent endless hours and thousands of dollars learning a whole new field of medicine on their own time, and is probably pretty switched-on.  Being a reptile veterinarian is all about self-directed learning, research skills, and being willing and able to push yourself to the limits of skills and knowledge available to our profession.  That’s probably why there are so few of us in Vancouver, or anywhere else.  But it is incredibly rewarding to be able to help people who are used to being frustrated with their vet care.  To see the look of relief on their face when they find a competent reptile veterinarian or exotic species veterinarian, and, of course, to be able to help their beautiful pets, regardless of their species.

Dr. Burstyn, our medical director sees reptiles at Arbutus West Animal Clinic routinely, but can see you at Vancouver East Vet by appointment only.