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Can veterinarians help exotic breeding failures?
An outline on evaluating breeding facilities and assessing breeding complications in birds, reptiles, rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas.
Animal breeders often call upon veterinarians to manage their collections medically. Veterinarians may find evaluating nondomestic pets challenging due to the immense amount of knowledge required to properly help these animals. The September 2021 issue of the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice gives small animal veterinarians examples and suggestions on how to evaluate breeding facilities and assess breeding failures in birds, reptiles, rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas.1
Although these animals have physiological and biological differences, veterinarians should approach breeding failures with some overlap in the process. Researchers highlighted the importance of a sufficient breeding facility, nutrition, and hygiene to promote successful reproduction.1
Veterinarians must evaluate the breeding facility and determine that it is appropriately designed and sized for breeding animals. Nutrition is a crucial point because it provides the energy necessary for reproduction and can be used as enrichment for birds which encourages breeding.1
Keeping the breeding center hygienic is a multifaceted task. Staff must clear debris and fecal matter, take measures to control vermin and pests, incorporate a disinfection plan, and ensure sufficient air quality.1
Veterinarians should be familiar with the various animals’ reproductive cycles. Animals such as guinea pigs can grow and reproduce under a wide range of climates, but some reptiles have succeeded in breeding in the colder months. With information on reproductive cycles, the veterinarian may be able to mimic the animals' peak breeding conditions and ensure preferred humidity, temperature, and even light cycles.1
This review is full of interesting points about the various species. For example:1
- When breeding birds, multi specie environments often don't work because the birds' tend to fight. In addition, the author notes, “If one bird dies, it is an accident; when 2 birds die, it is not."
- At least 30 species of lizard reptile species are capable of asexual reproduction or parthenogenesis, but romance is still important to females! They engage in courtship behavior and pseudocopulation before becoming pregnant.
- Rabbit breeders use "foster mother" programs if they need to when large or multiple litters are born. The females are called does, and the males, bucks, and the offspring, kits.
- Chinchillas are related to guinea pigs and degus (rodents endemic to Chile). They need high fiber vegetarian diets, and breeders must avoid mating chinchillas with “White” and "touch of velvet” genes—it results in a higher rate of embryo resorption.
- In guinea pigs, mastitis is common because these chubby little rodents allow their mammary glands to drag on the ground!
Breeders often use veterinarians to assess the cause of poor breeding performance. Deficient breeding conditions and/or poor health of the breeding animals can cause low breeding. Veterinarians’ expertise on disease and treatment is especially crucial here since there are numerous specific disease issues that plague animals.1
Veterinarians must be adequately trained in animal breeding and production medicine since breeders will call upon them to help understand why there is little or no breeding. Becoming familiar with reproduction management will also help foster a good relationship with breeders. Research should continue to evaluate how to manage breeding facilities and failures so that veterinarians can be part of the solution.1
Isabella L. Bean is a 2022 PharmD Candidate at the University of Connecticut.
Crosta L, Petrini D, Sawmy S. Reproduction Management of Herds/Flocks of Exotic Animals: Investigating Breeding Failures in Birds, Reptiles, and Small Mammals. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract. 2021;24(3):661-695. doi:10.1016/j.cvex.2021.06.001