Area experts say medically treating exotic pets can be challenging

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WEST POINT, Miss. (WCBI)- Some people prefer dogs, others prefer cats, and some people have more of an exotic taste in pets.

So, how does a pet owner take care of their snake or parrot when it gets sick?

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Most corporate pharmacies won’t provide medicine for animals, so vets have to turn to locally owned pharmacies instead.

Dr. Karen Emerson specializes in treating exotic animals.

On a daily basis, she sees everything from snakes to hedgehogs, and even parrots.

At least once a week she has to call for special medication.

“Like this is an albino python that’s here, and he has a mouth infection. So, he’s going to have to go on an antibiotic, so we’ll probably start out with an injectable antibiotic and we actually have an oral antibiotic that I’m going to show the owner that is flavored how to give him by mouth,” said Emerson.

But Emerson said you can’t find a small enough dosage of antibiotic at a corporate pharmacy like Walmart or Walgreens.

She said she needs compounded medicine, which in West Point, can only be found in one place.

“It’s definitely special to your local pharmacy. I know that a lot of your big retail chains don’t do any kind of compounding at all, even for people,” said Point City Drugs pharmacist Erica Turnipseed.

“I see stuff that’s only like 60 grams. You know, that has to have a very low dose of a medication, so it has to be specially compounded in order for us to get the correct amount of antibiotic or painkiller in that animal,” said Emerson.

Emerson said sometimes she even gets the pharmacist to mix the medication with a custom flavor for your pet.

“Believe it or not, banana is a really big hit. We also use any other kind of fruit, strawberry, apple, grape. We do have flavors that are just animal specific, like gooey molasses, and of course, you have beef and tuna which never smell great to us, but the animals really like,” said Turnipseed.

“It’s a wonderful thing to have your local compounding pharmacist and be able to talk to that pharmacist and let them know what you’re trying to achieve. It’s hard to tell them, well I’ve got a snake, you know, what flavor do I need? and have that person on the other line that’s actually going to work with you and care enough to get that just like when you need it, so the pet owner can go home and give their snake that beef flavor or chicken flavor medication and the snake not try to bite them,” said Emerson.

Compounding medicine doesn’t require pharmacists to have a special license, however, not many pharmacies offer the service.

This is something both animal and medical experts said needs to change.

“It just takes time and patience and little understanding of what humans can have and what pets can not,” said Turnipseed.

“Without compounding pharmacies in exotic medicine, I would not be able to practice medicine like I want to, and exotic animals wouldn’t get well,” said Emerson.

Emerson also said sometimes exotic animals don’t show signs of needing professional medical attention until they are extremely sick.

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