Caring for exotic pets a challenge

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 18/02/2013
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CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

EXPERT HELP: Tara Rana is one of the few vets in the Wellington region who has special knowledge of the care of reptiles.

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Her parents' allergies to traditional pets has led to a veterinary surgeon in the Wellington region becoming a pioneer in treating exotic creatures.

Tara Rana, one of three fulltime vets at the Rappaw Veterinary Care Clinic in Paremata, has become an authority for exotic pet owners and is one of the few vets in the region with a knowledge of the more unusual pets.

Ms Rana has worked with lions, spider monkeys and koalas, though her main focus now, aside from traditional pets, is reptiles and chinchillas.

As a child she owned a golden skink lizard and a water snake, but they died very young because there was no specialist care available.

"Since I was a kid I always wanted to be a vet ... but I wasn't allowed to have cats or dogs because my parents were allergic.

"Both my pets died young because I didn't know how to care for them appropriately."

Originally from Britain, Ms Rana, 27, moved to Wellington four years ago with her New Zealand partner. She studied at Edinburgh University and worked as a vet student at Edinburgh Zoo.

Ms Rana said exotic pets were less common in New Zealand than in Britain, though she estimated there could be 500 reptile owners in the Wellington region.

She said the lack of education and specialised vet care available to exotic pets often meant they suffered in silence.

"They quietly waste away in pain and suffering. Some of the animals I see, if it were a cat or a dog, the SPCA would have been involved a long time ago."

She loves "the cases where everyone says they are not going to make it, [but] you and the owner put in the extra work and the animal pulls through. That's really heart-warming."

Ms Rana said reptiles were often lumped together into one group. "A horse is so different from a dog, and a cat needs something completely different to a mouse.

"The care can vary that much between two lizards. A lot come to me in a state of extreme malnutrition and poor health and it's very hard to bring the animal back from that."

The most important message for exotic pet owners was to ensure they were taken to a specialised vet regularly – just as a cat or dog would be.

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