Meet the pioneering exotic pet vet from Lisle

In the past, owning a nontraditional or exotic pet often meant letting nature take its course when it came to the need for medical care. Lisle veterinarian Robert Ness of Ness Exotic Wellness Center has made it his life's mission to change that.

Exotic pet veterinarians, who specialize in pets such as rabbits, ferrets, chinchilla, lizards, turtles and birds, are far less common than traditional dog and cat veterinarians. Knowing this, Ness decided to dedicate his professional life to helping exotic pets live full, healthy lives through practicing traditional and alternative veterinary medicine.

“I do everything from ancient Chinese medicine to new-age technology and everything in between,” Ness said.

Ness is one of the pioneers of this specialty. During his time at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in the late 1980s, he had to search out the few textbooks that did exist to learn about the physiology, ailments and treatments of nontraditional pets. Specializing in exotic pets was so unusual, one of his professors told him he would not be able to find a job after graduating. But the opposite turned out to be true — Ness was one of the first in his graduating class of 1990 to get a full-time job.

Ness has always had a love of animals; while growing up in rural Illinois he had a variety of pets including dogs, cats, birds and other pocket pets such as hamsters, gerbils, parakeet, turtles, salamanders, frogs and toads. While working in a pet store during college, Ness found “there was a big need for veterinarians for birds and exotic pets.”

The medical options for many exotic pets are limited and those limitations helped lead Ness to learn more about nontraditional medicine to help serve his patients better. Ness started by getting certified in animal chiropractic and at the time he was one of fewer than 400 to be certified nationwide. He has continued his study of other alternative medicines such as Western herbal therapy, nutraceutical therapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, laser therapy, electromagnetic field therapy, Tui Na and most recently, essential oils.

Ness said his more unusual patients would have to have been a millipede infested with little mites.

“It was interesting treating a bug with bugs,” he said. He also had the opportunity to treat a tiger cub for a traveling wild cat conservation group at the DuPage County Fairgrounds.

Although his practice specializes in exotic pets, Ness does see dogs and cats, but only for alternative medical procedures such as chiropractic, acupuncture or other therapies.

“I find it very rewarding to do more for the patient and their people than traditional veterinarian might be able to offer,” Ness said.

  Exotic pet veterinarian Robert Ness examines a chinchilla named Chi-Chi at his Ness Exotic Wellness Center in Lisle. Mark Black/

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