College Station – Many people do not realize that exotic animals need to be vaccinated, but exotic animals are susceptible to the same infectious diseases that affect domestic animals.

Since it is  National Immunization Awareness Month, Dr. Ian Tizard, a professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offers owners some points to consider in keeping their exotic pets immunized.

Vaccinations are a critical component of preventative medicine for exotic pets, but because vaccines are typically only licensed for domestic animals, Tizard recommends that potential owners familiarize themselves with the vaccines available to exotic animals.

“There are vaccines for specific exotic species, like mink or ferrets, but, generally, almost every vaccine used for exotic animals is off-label, which means that veterinarians use their best judgement and discretion when administering the vaccine,” Tizard said.

According to Tizard, the market for exotic animal vaccines is not profitable in the United States, so producers have directed their efforts toward producing vaccines for dogs and cats.

“Animal vaccine production is driven by economics,” he said. “Because the demand for exotic vaccines is almost non-existent in this part of the world, it proves difficult for companies to profit from vaccine sales. That’s why many exotic animal owners are using off-label vaccines in exotic species.”

Tizard advises exotic animal owners to consult their veterinarian regarding the potential adverse effects associated with off-label vaccines.

“We all learn from experience,” he explained. “Some things that may be safe in dogs and cats are not necessarily safe in exotic species. The principle of informed consent is critical in this situation, so before committing to a vaccine make sure you know the risks and benefits.”

Another important factor to consider before vaccinating is the proximity to other animals and potential exposure to disease.

“A great example is ferrets, which make wonderful pets, but are very susceptible to the flu and distemper,” Tizard said. “Before owning an exotic pet like a ferret, owners must decide where they will be kept, if they will be confined, or if they will come into contact with other animals.”

There is  no doubt that vaccines are essential in controlling infectious disease in all animals. However, there are arguably more factors that must be taken into consideration before owning an exotic animal.

To ensure a pet lives a long and healthy life, owners should consult their veterinarian to discuss any and all risk factors associated with vaccinating exotic species.