We have a special blog today! We had the great fortune of speaking with Molly Gleeson DVM, DACZM from the PETS Referral Center, a specialty and emergency veterinary facility located in Berkeley.
As an owner and lover of exotic pets, you know how challenging it can be to find a veterinarian with the specialty knowledge these pets require. The importance of regular veterinary care for reptiles, pocket pets, and other exotic pets can not be overstated. Even though they often get pushed as “starter” or “beginner” pets, these animals have unique needs and regular veterinary visits are important in helping them maintain optimal health.
We’re thankful for veterinarians like Dr. Gleeson and for the specialty veterinarians at the PETS Referral Center for the work they do in making specialized care and emergency treatment available for all species.
So let’s dive into an exclusive interview with Dr. Gleeson!
Fur and Feather Pet Care: We’re so excited to have another option for exotic care in the region! Can you tell us more about what you offer exotic pets and their parents?
Molly Gleeson, DVM, DACZM: Thank you! I am so excited to be back in the Bay Area and back at PETS Referral Center. We have created a really great team here.
Our hospital opened the Department of Exotic Pets in July 2023 to expand the available care for exotic pets in the area. Our goal is to work with local veterinarians to provide more comprehensive care by having a place where they can refer cases for more advanced treatment or diagnostics, surgical procedures, or overnight hospitalization and treatment.
I am also available to discuss cases or answer questions. Collaboration is such an important part of patient care and I feel lucky to be in a hospital with some amazing specialists (ophthalmology, surgery, oncology, radiology) and to be able to work with the general practitioners in the area that are already providing great care.
Currently, the department consists of myself and two skilled, dedicated technicians and is open Monday-Thursday 8 am-6 pm for appointments. We see sick pets, referral cases, emergencies, and some wellness/routine care. We are collaborating with Danielle Inman of The Other Pets Consulting Service for reptile and bird patients to provide in-depth husbandry consultations and optimize their home environments.
Our facility is still under construction but has the capability for full dental procedures, surgery, endoscopy/coelioscopy, ultrasound, and hospitalization of most species. There are a few species we will not currently see. Mostly due to safety concerns or lack of proper equipment. We will even have a CT machine in the near future.
Through collaboration with our emergency service, we offer 24-hour hospitalization and care when needed. Our emergency doctors are trained to see most small mammal patients and can reach me if needed to discuss a case. Currently, our emergency capabilities for birds, reptiles, and amphibians are still limited to department hours, but the goal is to expand those in the future.
F & F: Can you tell us more about yourself and your experience in the field?
Dr. Gleeson: Absolutely! I originally grew up in southern California and had many exotic pets growing up, including rats, snakes, and birds. During my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley, my first job as a veterinary technician was actually here at PETS Referral Center, which had a huge impact on me.
I then attended 4 years of veterinary school at UC Davis where I worked in the Companion Avian and Pet Exotics (CAPE) department and took medicine courses across all species. After earning my veterinary degree (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) and passing my general board examination to practice medicine, I went on to complete two one-year internships. The first was a general small animal internship to hone my skills as a doctor and the second was an exotics specialty internship at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston, Texas. I then returned to UC Davis to complete a 3-year residency program in Zoological Companion Animal Medicine and Surgery.
In 2019, I passed my specialty boards examination earning me status as a board-certified specialist with the American College of Zoological Medicine. All of this has led to my current role seeing exotic pet patients in private practice. While I have training across a large variety of species, my passion is working with those that are kept commonly as pets, helping to keep these furry, scaled, and feathered family members as healthy and happy as possible.
F & F: What are some of the most common ailments you see with exotic patients?
Dr. Gleeson: Oh man, this is a big question. Among our rabbit patients, some of the most common ailments are gastrointestinal stasis, liver lobe torsions, dental disease, and neurologic signs resulting from middle ear infections (otitis) or infection with Encephalitozoon cuniculi. Respiratory infections are common in small mammal species, especially guinea pigs and rats, as well as in birds due to their unique and efficient respiratory system.
We see a fair amount of trauma across all species, whether it is from sparring with a housemate, causing mischief, mishandling from a human, or being attacked by a predator outside. In reptile species, it is very common for us to see diseases related to suboptimal husbandry (caging, heat, UVB light, diet). Things like metabolic bone disease leading to poorly calcified bones and poor growth as well as reproductive issues can all be related to inappropriate temperature, lighting, diet, and housing.
We are also seeing a lot more cancer in our exotic pets, which I think is due to the fact that our pets are being cared for better and thus live longer.
F & F: What are some of your top safety tips for exotic pet parents?
If your pet has free roam of the house, especially unsupervised, ensure that no cords are exposed, the floors are kept clean, any carpet is vacuumed frequently to avoid ingestion of foreign objects, and that predator/prey are separated when unsupervised.
Avoid keeping pet birds near the kitchen or using aerosolized products near them. Birds have a very efficient and unique respiratory tract that is more sensitive to particles in the air, similar to an asthmatic human. Smoke from cooking with Teflon or nonstick pans, candles, scent diffusers, Febreze, and scented plug-ins can all be a source of irritation for many birds.
Try to avoid extreme fluctuations in temperature.
Do not leave pets outside at night. We see a lot of predator attacks from raccoons, opossums, and coyotes. Bringing them in or securing their cage before dusk will provide the most safety. For those that are only housed outdoors, ensure your caging is secure and protected from predators as much as possible.
Ensure your pet rabbits are up to date on their vaccination for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. While rabbits that go outdoors are at higher risk, even indoor-only pets can become infected. Most veterinarians in the area who see rabbits routinely will carry the vaccine.
F & F: What is the most common exotic pet that you see in practice?
Dr. Gleeson: Rabbits and guinea pigs are by far the most common pets that we see. This makes sense, as small mammals (rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters, chinchillas) are currently the 4th most commonly owned group of pets in the US.
The next most common is probably bearded dragons and parrots.
Needless to say, Dr. Gleeson is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to exotic pet care. We want to thank Dr. Gleeson again for taking the time to talk to us, and we look forward to seeing the continued improvements being made to the PETS Referral Center. It sounds like a lot of great things are happening… making the Oakland area a great place for exotic pets and their owners!