‘Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER’: This Is The Hardest Part of the Exotic Animal Vet’s Job

Part of NatGeo WILD’s popular programming, Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER is headed by veterinarian Dr. Susan Kelleher, who has seen her fair share of unusual animals. From tropical-climate lizards to monkeys, the doctor is up for whichever clients crawl, slither, or fly into her practice.

Dr. Susan Kelleher
Dr. Susan Kelleher | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The animal doctor opened up about the toughest part of the job for her. Find out what that is, plus what she considers the best part of her vocation!

One of the most unusual cases the doctor has treated

One of the most extraordinary clients the doctor has seen in her practice didn’t walk in. Its owner carried it in. It was a two-headed boa constrictor, the first the doctor and her staff had seen.

Boa constrictors aren’t hatched. They are born in live births. At only two weeks old, this snake slid into the world with two separate, active heads.

Dr. Lauren Thielen with a friend

Another vet at the office, Dr. Lauren Thielen, examined and x-rayed the unusual client. The diagnostic exam revealed the snake not only had two heads – it had two hearts.

“I was shocked it has two hearts,” Dr. Thielen told NatGeo’s website. “But it was really cool to understand that the Siamese twin snake was really two snakes in one outer skin.”

Complicating things even further, the doctor speculated as to whether the two-headed snake also had two digestive systems.

“If there are two digestive systems, then we may need to provide nutrition to ‘both’ snakes. Most snakes born like this do die because… they cannot get proper nutrition, they share kidneys, or they cannot defecate normally.”

The best part of Dr. K’s job

Dr. Kelleher clearly takes a great deal of pride and passion in her job. Treating animals, especially not your run-of-the-mill creatures, has been her desire since her childhood. Kelleher’s motto is “Everything but dogs and cats. If it will fit through the door, I’ll treat it!” Kelleher has seen it all: primates, reptiles, marsupials, foxes, rabbits, ferrets, and even fish.

Kelleher considers the best part of her job not so much the cool and beautiful animals, although she delights in them. The best part, to her, is getting pet owners on board with caring properly for their animals.

“The fun part is the animals that come in with the really committed owners who are compliant. Nothing makes me happier than when we find out what’s wrong, we give them a treatment plan, do the treatment plan, and the animals get better. It just doesn’t get any better than that for me.”

And this is the hardest part of Dr. Kelleher’s job

The most difficult part of the 49-year-old’s job? Understandably, it’s breaking the news to a client that there is no hope for a sick pet. Especially with the group of animals she sees, as exotic animals tend to live longer lives than cats and dogs and owners get even more attached.

“Definitely the pet loss. That gets very hard. I had a very difficult one . . . It was a 30-year-old blue and gold macaw, and of course, that hits home because I have a blue and gold macaw. And this bird had cancer, and we knew he wasn’t going to make it. The owner did decide to go ahead and take him home . . .”

“So it’s hard because the animals I see have much longer lifespans than dogs or cats. I’ve had a tortoise patient that was 90 years old. I currently have a box turtle patient that’s in his mid-50s. It’s very different when you have these animals who have been in the family for decades.”

These animals are so lucky to have such committed advocates as Dr. Kelleher and her staff at Broward Avian and Exotics Animal Hospital. And viewers are lucky to get an ongoing peek into the care and feeding of these exceptional animals.