New Age of ‘Pocket Pet’ Medicine Begins

The American Veterinary Medical Association ( AVMA ) has granted provisional recognition to the first completely new veterinary specialty since 1993. The new specialty will focus on small mammals including rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, mice and other small mammals, commonly known as “pocket pets.”

The new Exotic Companion Mammal ( ECM ) specialty was granted provisional recognition by the AVMA Executive Board on April 12, 2008, following recommendation from the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties ( ABVS ) and Council on Education.

“The public and the profession will see these specialists as providing that next level of care of small exotic pets,” explains Dr. Beth Sabin, assistant director of the AVMA’s Education and Research Division. “This new specialty is really the outgrowth of the growing and ever increasing knowledge base of the particular needs of these animals in order to keep them healthy.”

Americans own 6.2 million pet rabbits, 1.2 million hamsters, 1.1 million ferrets, and a million guinea pigs, according to the 2007 AVMA U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. The new ECM practice area includes these and other more unusual small pets, including hedgehogs and sugar gliders, but doesn’t include illegal pet species—sometimes referred to as “fad pets”—which have been linked to the spread of zoonotic diseases. In 2003, prairie dogs and Gambian giant pouched rats kept as pets were linked to a serious monkeypox outbreak.

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