Women in Veterinary Medicine – Part 3 (Exotic Pets)

Generally, when people think about taking a pet to the vet, they don’t think about exotic pets, they think about dogs or cats. Sometimes the pet is something else… like a rabbit, a guinea pig, a bird, a snake, or even a gold fish! These pets need to be seen by a veterinarian trained in exotic medicine, and there aren’t as many of those as there are for dogs and cats. This week we continue our theme of Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science and Engineering month by talking to Dr. Gina Cheuk (“Dr. Gina” as we know her around here), MSAH’s resident exotic vet.

Dr. Gina was always very interested in science. As she says, “it’s a family thing,” but she took a slightly different route to veterinary medicine than some. At 16 she got her first job at the LSU Dental School and started doing research. Her first big research project that she worked on studied the effects of caffeine on post-menopausal rats that she helped raise from babies. As an undergraduate major in Wildlife and Fisheries Science at LSU, she assisted doctoral students in their aquaculture (fish) research. One project involved extracting sperm from tilapia and zebrafish for intracytoplasmic injection (basically, in vitro fertilization for fish). Other projects often involved studying fish parasites. Though she likes fish, by the time she finished her undergraduate work, Dr. Gina had decided to get some more variety in her life and pursue veterinary medicine.

Carlos the pot-bellied pig.

 

In her work at MSAH, Dr. Gina sees a wide variety of pets. While the majority of them are cats and dogs, she sees an increasing number of other kinds of pets – the exotics. Small mammals like rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs make up the majority of the exotic pets that come in, though there are also some birds and reptiles. There are even a few turtles, pigs, goats and gold fish! She was careful to point out, though, that “exotic” doesn’t mean “wild”. Wild animals are, by definition, not pets and – if they come through the hospital at all – get sent to a rehab specialist.

Chevy the baby goat.

 

This still leaves plenty of different kinds of animals to have as pets and come to see Dr. Gina! In fact, her most unusual patient was a kinkajou (also called the “honey bear”), a nocturnal rainforest animal related to raccoons. That particular pet came to the hospital with monkey chow biscuits and boxes of fresh fruit when it needed to stay overnight.

For Dr. Gina, the variety is the best part of exotic medicine. “The variety keeps your mind working,” she says. Since not as much is known medically about some of the “exotic” pets she sees as patients, she often has to apply what she knows about dogs and cats, in addition to the pet in question, to determine the best course of treatment. Exotic pets are growing in popularity, too, and she’s seeing more and more of them every year. One thing she has noticed in her practice is that many exotic pet owners aren’t fully aware of the level of care their pet will require – a level that is, very often, equal to or greater than that required by dogs and cats! This care, though, is something she is happy to help provide. Her very favorite part of her job, she says, is making pets feel better and having the knowledge to be able to do that.

While she loves treating all the exotic pets that come to see her at MSAH, she doesn’t have many exotics of her own. When she isn’t at work, Dr. Gina spends her time with her dog, 3 cats and (currently) 5 chickens! While she would have loved to have a wallaby (a relative of kangaroos), she says she probably won’t ever get one.