Because the majority of their training and practice revolves around dogs and cats, a general practice veterinarian may not always feel confident treating exotics. If you treat an occasional rabbit or bird or if you’d like your practice to extend to additional exotic species’ care, a consulting specialist can save the day. Meet VESPECON avian and exotics consultant Dr. Stacey Leonatti Wilkinson, herpetology specialist.
Veterinary avian and exotics: A day in the life
No two days are the same for an avian and exotics veterinary specialist, who might see 10 or more species on any given day. Like a primary veterinarian who usually sees dogs and cats, an exotics vet diagnoses and treats illnesses, conducts wellness appointments, and performs surgeries and procedures. Some exotics specialists travel to treat local zoo or wildlife sanctuary animals. Because so few veterinarians specialize in exotics, they often see daytime emergencies and remain on call overnight or during weekends. An exotics specialist stays on their toes!
Dr. Stacey Leonatti Wilkinson: Questions and answers
Get to know our VESPECON team herpetology specialist Dr. Wilkinson. Read her answers to our questions.
Question: Where did you complete your veterinary education?
Answer: I graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2006. I went straight into private practice at a 100% exotics practice and followed the ABVP practitioner route to board certification.
Q: Where are you from, and where do you currently live?
A: I am originally from Carlinville, Illinois, and currently live in Shellman Bluff, Georgia. My practice is in Pooler, Georgia, near Savannah.
Q: Why did you choose to pursue a veterinary specialty?
A: I have always had a special interest in reptiles and amphibians and became especially interested in exotic animal medicine during my undergraduate studies. Reptiles and amphibians are fascinating to me, and my favorite species with which to work. My goal is to provide the most advanced veterinary care possible to reptiles and amphibians, continuing to learn as much as I can.
Q: What do you enjoy most about avian and exotics?
A: I love the fact that each day is different. Sure, we start to see the same conditions over and over, but every day I’m going to be seeing a variety of species and problems, which keeps my outlook fresh because my work is so interesting.
Q: What has been your most fulfilling or interesting case as a veterinary specialist?
A: My absolute favorite case is actually not a reptile or amphibian. I saw a captive stingray that presented for a large swelling ventral to the mouth, which was preventing her from eating. With some research, we figured out this was a goiter—a common problem in captive sharks and rays. We made some husbandry changes, added iodine to the water, and started her on a new diet. We had to tube feed her at first, so we made a blenderized, supplemented diet and taught the owner how to tube feed, which they did until the goiter shrank. It took several months, but the growth fully resolved! You never know what you’re going to see in exotics.
Q: How did you come to work with VESPECON?
A: I met VESPECON Founder and CEO, Kenneth Pierce, DVM, MS, DACVO, back in 2006 when I was a fourth-year vet student, and he was a University of Tennessee veterinary intern. I stopped at the VESPECON booth at VMX in 2023 and inquired about the company, asking if he was looking for exotics consultants, and the rest is history!
Q: How does working in avian and exotics through VESPECON benefit or help general practitioners?
A: VESPECON’s video chat capability makes specialists more accessible to general veterinary practitioners! Getting a specialty hospital appointment can be challenging at times. In addition, if an owner has to travel hours to reach a specialty facility, an in-clinic appointment may not be feasible. VESPECON’s remote access capability helps break down barriers to specialty care. I also love helping general practitioners feel more confident treating exotics. I feel especially gratified when they realize they can actually help these animals and don’t have to be afraid of them.
Q: Tell us about your two- and four-legged family members.
A: I am married to a wonderful husband, and we have a 5-year-old son, with another son due at the end of August! We have a cat, dog, green cheek conure, and multiple reptiles and amphibians as pets.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I like fishing, boating, going to the beach—basically any outdoor activity with my family. I also enjoy reading, crocheting, and watching or playing most sports.
Q: Where is the most interesting place you have traveled? Any specific destinations on your bucket list?
A: Two destinations tie for being the most interesting places I’ve traveled. I took a trip to the Galapagos Islands with my dad. I especially enjoyed getting to see things that exist nowhere else in the world. My husband and I took our honeymoon in the Cayman Islands where we helped track and tag native iguanas. We also helped dig up sea turtle nests to release the hatchlings, which was amazing. I would love to go to Italy and Australia.
Q: Anything else you would like people to know about you or VESPECON?
A: I am excited to be on the VESPECON team. I get a great deal of satisfaction helping general veterinary practitioners expand their knowledge of exotics treatment options.
You can consult with Dr. Wilkinson through our VESPECON virtual platform, which allows you to connect quickly when the need arises. Check out our website to contact us and learn more about our services, or sign up to initiate your first specialist consultation.