Behavioral Enrichment: Keeping Wild Companions Healthy on Dr. K

Running a veterinary hospital is no easy task. Veterinarians and their staff are required to understand and meet the medical needs of a variety of species. This is hard enough with domestic animals, but what if your practice that treats nothing but exotic animals? That’s when things get a little wild! On Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER, viewers get to meet Dr. Susan Kelleher who owns and operates one of the busiest exotic animal care practices located in South Florida, Broward Avian and Exotics Animal Hospital.

On this week’s episode, Leave it Lemur, the veterinarians assist an Amazon parrot with a case of bumble foot, an iguana, a potty trained tortoise, Dr. K’s own blue and gold macaw, and a feisty lemur with a broken toe. Keeping exotic animals healthy however, doesn’t just happen at the clinic. It starts at home.

The Value of Enrichment

This episode, at the Broward Avian and Exotics Animal Hospital, Dr. Santiago Diaz helps Sinbad, a 40-year-old Amazon parrot with a case of bumblefoot, a common condition in captive birds. When parrots become sedentary, they sometimes spend too much time in one position and irritate their feet, causing sores. Dr. Diaz gets Sinbad back on the track to good health and suggests the Nature Center where he lives spend more time on environmental enrichment and making him forage for his food. In fact, environmental enrichment is important for all exotic animals and is great for dogs and cats as well.

Enrichment is so important to the well-being of exotic animals that in order for a zoo or aquarium to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the animals living at the facility must have an enrichment plan. Environmental enrichment means giving animal activities in their environment that simulate things they would naturally do in the wild.

Enrichment at the Zoo

For a parrot, enrichment could be hiding food in boxes so that the bird must “forage” for food, much like it would in the jungle. Safe toys that a parrot can shred or chew also make great enrichment. Animals like wolves, which rely heavily on their sense of smell, may be given interesting scents to explore. Some animals are even given large balls to push, tires to move, and even puzzles and toys. Many zoos give their animals pumpkins after Halloween to give them something different to explore and destroy.

If safe, new, and interesting things appear in an animal’s living space, it is more likely to stay busy. The more an animal has to investigate, manipulate, and explore in its environment, the healthier and better adjusted it will be. An active mind equals a better life and this is true for all our companion animals.

Tune in to watch this weeks new episode of Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER: Leave it to Lemur this Saturday on NatGeo Wild at 10PM et/pt!


  1. wendy
    October 26, 2014, 12:45 am

    What a great show wonderful vets. Taking care of most unusual pets thanks for the show

    dr. k's
    October 26, 2014, 1:42 am

    dr. theilsen,

    i hope spelled your name right…i’m sorry if i didn’t. i just got through watching the episode with the sick pot belly pig….lets say dr….you were outstanding while dr. k was gone….your to hard on your self though…..i would let you work on my animals anytime and anywhere…….great job.!!!!!!!!!!!!!