Exotic Species: Sampling Tips



Sending the best possible sample to your diagnostic laboratory can reduce delays and improve the quality of the results that you receive, helping case management and the success of your practice.

In this blog, we provide some top tips and helpful information when taking samples from exotic species such as birds, reptiles, amphibians, zoo species and many others.

Cytology Sampling

  • Please submit unstained, air-dried smears. Do not use heat to dry. Store at room temperature.
  • If possible ensure the sample is in the centre of slides and don’t reuse slides.
  • Clearly label each slide with pencil or permanent marker. No stickers please.
  • Please do not apply a cover slip or any chemical fixative.
  • Ideally submit 2-6 slides. If collecting samples from multiple sites we recommend 2 slides per site.
  • Submit fluids for cytology in EDTA, filled to the line if possible.
  • Submit fluids for culture in plain tubes. EDTA is bactericidal. No gel tubes or syringes please.
  • Do not expose your cytology slides to formalin, or package them alongside histopathology specimens. 


  • Use 10% formal saline (formaldehyde) and allow the specimen to fix for at least 24 hours. A weaker solution may delay reporting.
  • Use a pot that is closest in size to your specimen. Only fill the pot until your specimen is adequately covered. Discard excess formaldehyde safely.
  • In the interest of health and safety, please do not submit non-histopathology containers (medicine pots or food jars.
  • Submit fresh tissue for culture in a plain pot. Formaldehyde is bactericidal.
  • For large specimens, soak overnight in formaldehyde, then wrap in formaldehyde-soaked tissue paper. Triple bag the specimen. Do not put extra fluid in the bag.


  • Submit 0.3ml of anticoagulated blood and two good-quality unstained blood smears. For avian and reptile species use heparin because EDTA can cause red cell lysis in some avian and reptile species. If the sample volume is very limited, submit smears only to allow a greater volume of heparinised blood to be able to be used for chemistry. A wealth of information is available from one blood smear.
  • Mix the sample well by rolling it between your hands or inverting gently. Do not shake.
  • Please label all samples with the animal’s name and the owner’s surname.
  • Refrigerate your blood samples before sending them to the laboratory. Do not refrigerate blood smears.


  • Always label and date your samples.
  • Refrigerate before shipping to the laboratory.
  • Submit blood in a centrifuged heparin gel tube (in addition to the haematology sample). Separating the plasma immediately, by centrifuging the tube after sample collection, optimises sample quality.
  • The heparin gel tubes we supply are appropriate for the measurement of ionised calcium.


  • Please label all samples with the animal’s name and the owner’s surname.
  • Please clearly identify the anatomical site where the sample for culture has been taken from.
  • For best results, take specimens before commencing antibiotic therapy. If this is not possible ideally sample 7-10 days after stopping treatment, if clinically appropriate.
  • If there has been any travel history, or if there is suspicion of any zoonotic diseases (Mycobacterium etc.), please make sure this is clearly indicated on the submission form to ensure the safety of our staff.

VPG provides extensive laboratory services for exotic species to first opinion practices; universities; research, wildlife and zoological institutions as well as Specialists in exotic referral practices.

We have a dedicated Exotics Pathline (07423 136718) where you can discuss clinical cases and therapeutic options with one of our clinical consultants, Dr Ian Sayers BVSc CertZooMed MRCVS. The Exotics Pathline is open Mon-Fri 15.30-16.30, a voicemail service is available outside these hours.

For more information on our exotic species services, contact us at [email protected] or via our website.