How to Get Your Pet to the Vet – Part 2 Exotics!

People bring a whole lot more than dogs and cats to the vet. Exotic pets also require wellness exams every 6 to 12 months. How do you get your snake, bunny, iguana, bird or rat to the veterinary practice as safely as possible? There are lots of tricks to keep each species safe during transport. Make sure to bring pictures of the cage set up to your appointment. Also, bring a video of any abnormal behavior you want your veterinarian to see. Remember to bring a sample of droppings so your vet can check for parasites.


Snakes are escape artists; Snakes are best transported in a pillowcase tied at the top and placed in the carrier. They are reptiles as are iguana’s tortoises and turtles. Reptiles are dependent on the environmental temperature to maintain their metabolic rate and body temperature. If the transport environment is cold the reptile will get chilled and will become lethargic and less apt to eat. You may want to put a fleece in the clothes drier to warm it up and wrap the carrier in it. Hand warmers wrapped inside the fleece so as to not come into contact with the pet may keep the carrier warmer as you transport. Make sure the carrier has a secure latch. When transporting Aida, my daughter Rebecca’s Ball Python to California for her big reunion to live with Rebecca again after college graduation, the airline zip tied the carrier door to the crate before placing her in the animal cargo section. This was to make sure that if she escaped the pillowcase she would not get past the metal door. Airlines require metal cage doors on sturdy carriers for transport so it is a good idea for your car transport as well. Plastic zip ties are not necessary for car transport.

Tortoises are land-based so they do fine in a box filled with their preferred substrate such as hay or coconut shell bedding with a little log or plastic cave (hide) to crawl under. I rarely see a huge tortoise but they can dig under fencing and escape and occasionally we read about the small tortoise that makes an escape. Placing the box in a carrier is wise so no escapes happen during transport.

Turtles are aquatic. It’s difficult to bring an aquarium to the vet. You may transport turtles in a carrier without a water bowl for short trips under an hour. You can bring a shallow bowl so your turtle can have a short soak in some lukewarm water if the trip is longer.

Green iguanas and bearded dragons are much more mobile than tortoises. A sturdy carrier wrapped in a warm fleece will help them maintain their temperature. Place a rock under their basking light for an hour and place it in the carrier with them to maintain heat. Cover it with a cloth if it is too hot.


Birds are best transported in a small cage with perches. Special Plexiglas cages with perches are available but a large cat carrier will also do if you don’t have one. If it is cold outside warm your car up and turn the heat on for 5 minutes and cover your pet’s cage with a warm blanket or fleece to protect from wind and cold.

Be very careful getting your bird out of her home cage and into the transport cage. They will cling to the bars. Try to peel each toe off the bars so they do not sprain a toe or damage a toenail. Be careful of your birds’ wings. If they crash around in their cage avoiding your hand or towel while you are attempting to move them they can disrupt a blood feather and start to bleed. Ideally, you have them trained to “step up” onto your hand and you can place them into the cage easily. This is the ideal scenario.

Desensitize your bird to handling in towels. Hide a treat under wrinkles in the towel and let him search for it. Make it easy at first and gradually increase the difficulty. Play peek –a –boo with the towel. Birds love this game. Use the towel and play with the bird in the towel post birdie shower.
Touch your bird in all the places the vet will touch. That way your pet will be used to being handled.

Birds tend to fly outdoors and windows if their wings are not trimmed. A wise client of mine who owns two gregarious Amazon parrots trained both birds to listen to a bell. When Amy flew out the door he spent all weekend working to get her back. Ringing the bell got her back into a pine tree in the neighborhood. With a ladder and the long-handled skimmer for the pool, he scooped her out of the tree. She is one of the lucky birds that got back home. Train your bird to come to the sound of a bell. Educate yourself about bird training at

Rabbits, Guinea pigs, Ferrets, Rats, and Hedgehogs

A carrier with their favorite bedding and a place to hide is nice for these pets. The mammals are quite good at maintaining their temperature but will appreciate protection from the cold and wind as well. Cover them up with a warm blanket in the winter. Put the air conditioner on in the summer.
Bunnies can have damaged toenails if they are transferred from home into the cage too roughly. The rabbits and guinea pigs have very sensitive intestines that need to be constantly mobile. They are grazers and eat lots of fiber throughout the day to keep their GI tracts mobile and the healthy gut bacteria abundant. IF they stop eating for just a few hours it is an emergency. Transport these little guys with their food and hay so they can nibble when they please.


A big carrier is best for your chicken. As with every species, make sure the carrier is stabilized in the car so it does not tip over or move during the drive.

If you have questions about transport make sure to ask your veterinarian while you are scheduling your appointment. If you get your exotic pet to the vet on a regular basis for pet wellness exams every 6 months you with both be much more comfortable with these visits. For a veterinarian in Salem, MA, contact All Creatures Veterinary Hospital today!