Ten-minute chat - Tariq Abou-Zahr on his exotics residency

Tariq Abou-Zahr exotics resident
What exotic species does the hospital see?

We recognise that not all vets deal with all species, so Vets Now’s hospital, Great Western Referrals (GWE) in Swindon, is well known. It’s a tier three RCVS-accredited veterinary hospital for exotic species. It also provides routine first-opinion consultations for owners of exotic pets, seven days a week.

We treat a huge variety of animals, such as:

  • Birds (birds of prey, psittacines, passerines and others)

  • Reptiles (tortoises, terrapins, snakes, lizards and others)

  • Mammals (rabbits, ferrets and other mustelids, rodents, marsupials and others)

  • Amphibians (frogs, newts and others)

  • Arthropods (spiders, snails, insects and others)

  • Fish

Tell us about GWE’s new reptile ward

We are seeing more and more reptiles, which is why we decided to create a special ward for them.

There are very few veterinary services like GWE in the UK that are staffed full time by vets and veterinary nurses who are qualified in caring for exotics.

We’re one of the only exotic animal specialist services in the UK, and we have a vast catchment area. As long as pets are not too sick to travel, people travel many miles to see us – we’ve treated patients from as far as Cumbria and west Wales.

Key features include our heavy duty vivariums and tortoise ‘tables’. These are large, custom-made enclosures with built-in heaters that range in size from 60 cm to 1.5 m that allow us to hospitalise a wide variety of animals – both species and size – increasing our capacity to care for in-patients.

"As long as pets are not too sick to travel, people travel many miles to see us – we’ve treated patients from as far as Cumbria and west Wales"

While cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians like it hot, small mammals are warm-blooded and can quickly suffer from heat stress, so it’s not possible to have a universal exotics ward.

How did you decide what you wanted to include?

We wanted durable moulded enclosures without edges, due to biosecurity concerns. It’s really important that all areas can be cleaned and disinfected easily.

Each vivarium is individually heated and lit using smart technology, meaning that we can control conditions remotely. The enclosures are also escape-proof and UV-resistant, as reptiles need UV lighting.

Are you open 24/7?

Yes. The new ward has been designed to ensure reptilian and amphibian patients receive the specialist treatment they need, when they need it.

Do you see many out-of-hours cases?

Yes, we treat many patients through the night, and our out-of-hours service tends to be busier at weekends.

What might a typical emergency be?

No two shifts are ever the same – a parrot with breathing difficulties, a rabbit with a blocked gut, an iguana having seizures, or a monkey with a broken leg are the types of case that we’ve treated more than once.

What’s the most unusual case you’ve had?

That’s a difficult question to answer because there have been so many. I was once presented with a stray crocodile that had been found by member of the public. We treated him successfully and I’m glad to say that he ended up being rehomed by a zoo. 

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