The variety and challenge of treating unusual pets

31 May 2021
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Working with unusual and exotic pets offers a diverse and challenging career option for veterinarians. One of Australia’s leading exotic pet vets, Dr Brendan Carmel, definitely enjoys working with these unusual pets more than usual!

After graduating from the University of Melbourne in 1987, Dr Carmel started work in a busy small animal practice in Melbourne.

“Whilst in this practice I started doing some volunteer work for a wildlife park one day a fortnight, as I always had an interest in wildlife and unusual pets. They had a large reptile collection, including venomous reptiles and crocodiles – and so I became particularly interested in reptiles and became known as a 'reptile vet' from fairly early on,” said Dr Carmel.

Part of a golden time in zoo medicine

After a stint working overseas in the United Kingdom, Dr Carmel completed a Master’s Degree in Medicine and Wildlife of Australasian Native Animals working full-time at Healesville Sanctuary.

“I think I was just lucky to be there at the right time as I believe it was a golden time in zoo medicine where this niche industry of our profession was starting to bloom. I was fortunate to meet and get to know many of the pioneers of exotic and unusual pet veterinary work as a result. I then moved back into private practice in Melbourne, focussing on exotic and unusual pets, where I have remained since,” explained Dr Carmel, who owns Warranwood Veterinary Centre on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Educating the upcoming generations of veterinarians is just one way in which Dr Carmel has given back to the profession during his career. He has taught at various institutions, including teaching about exotic pet medicine at James Cook University for almost seven years, and he has ongoing commitments at the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Polytechnic.

“I also founded the Unusual Pet and Avian Veterinarian’s special interest group of the Australian Veterinary Association [and] helped to establish the Unusual Pets chapter of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists,” said Dr Carmel.

Veterinary care of unusual and exotic pets

Some of the challenging aspects of unusual and exotic pet veterinary care include safely examining and treating patients which can often be dangerous or venomous.

“Overcoming these challenges starts with getting back to basics, not panicking, and often thinking laterally. So, having the ability to think outside the norm goes a long way, and a large percentage of exotic animal vets are excellent problem solvers. I also still love the thrill and privilege of seeing a species I have not seen before. There is an amazing variety of incredible animals out there and to be able to help them recover from illness and provide preventative care is still exciting to me,” said Dr Carmel.

Podcasting, photography and other passions

Outside of his veterinary work, Dr Carmel is proud of his family and has interests in photography, computer IT work and furniture woodworking. He also co-hosts a regular veterinary themed podcast, VetGurus – with his colleague Dr Mark Simpson, in which they both debrief their veterinary week at work.

“All those pursuits and interests play a big part in helping me switch off and keep me mentally stimulated and well,” said Dr Carmel.

Visit this link for more information about pursuing a career as a veterinarian.

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