Thursday, July 19, 2018

A call for vigilance: keep deadly poultry disease out of our backyard

Dr. Brian Joseph
Washington State Veterinarian

An outbreak of a deadly poultry disease in southern California is cause for local poultry growers and those with backyard flocks to keep their guard up.

If you have poultry, we ask that you be on the lookout for signs of Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) and report any cases to the WSDA Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056. 

The warning comes on the heels of an outbreak that began this May in Southern California, where the virus appeared and spread through backyard poultry flocks in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The disease has not been detected in any domestic poultry in Washington – we would like to keep it that way.

Watch for unusually large numbers of poultry deaths or symptoms such as swelling around the eyes and neck, dripping of fluid from the beak and nasal area, coughing, sneezing, twisting of the head and neck, greenish diarrhea, decreased appetite, or decreased egg production.

Commonly known as exotic Newcastle disease, vND spreads quickly with high rates of illness and mortality for domestic poultry. 

The vND virus can infect many bird species including chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and game birds. Infected birds shed large amounts of virus in respiratory fluids and feces.

Backyard chickens are at greater risk and are highly susceptible because they can be “silently” infected by other birds, such as parrots, that show few or no signs of illness.

No commercial poultry operations have been affected so far and properly cooked poultry poses no risk to humans when consumed. For poultry, the virus can be transferred between facilities on clothing, feed, equipment or by moving birds, which may appear unaffected. 

Prevention through biosecurity 

The key to preventing vND infection is to practice consistent biosecurity. Recommendations from CDFA include:

  • Use dedicated clothing and footwear or wear disposable coveralls and booties when visiting birds
  • If exposed to poultry waste, change clothes and footwear, disinfect any items used and wash your car
  • Use footbaths for the bottoms of shoes or plastic botties at entry/exit of poultry enclosures
  • Practice good hygiene for your hands and disinfect equipment
  • Prevent wild birds from entering poultry enclosures
  • Carcasses of dead birds should be double bagged in plastic garbage bags
  • DO NOT dump bird carcasses on the roadside or other exposed locations
  • Avoid gatherings where poultry are present
  • Avoid sharing or borrowing equipment from other poultry owners
  • Avoid moving your birds or purchasing new additions unless they are from an NPIP certified seller.

Visit our avian health webpage if you have questions about exotic Newcastle disease, or how to keep your birds safe and healthy. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Six questions to ask before getting an exotic pet

Dr. Brian Joseph
Washington State Veterinarian 

You have seen the pictures – the cute little button face with big eyes that makes you say to yourself, “I want one, where can I get one?” Next thing you know, you are the proud owner of a Capuchin monkey, a chimpanzee, or some other exotic animal.

The bad news is that once someone turns you in-- and that is very likely-- authorities can confiscate the animal you paid hard cash for. Don’t expect to get your animal back. Furthermore, it could even be euthanized, because many wild and exotic animals are illegal to own in Washington State.

So before you purchase or otherwise acquire a wild or exotic animal as a pet, ask yourself these six questions:

1. How will I keep my friends, family and neighbors safe from this animal?
2. How will I meet all of its health requirements?
3. Am I prepared to care for this animal as a pet for 30 years or even longer?
4. Am I prepared for the liability that accompanies keeping a wild animal?
5. Where will I obtain veterinary care?
6. Most importantly, is it legal?

From wild to domestic

Dogs are thought to be the first animal domesticated as a companion, rather than as a source of food for humans, over a process that took thousands of years. Most modern breeds developed only over the last 200 years.

Domestication requires controlled breeding, many generations of investment, and starting with an appropriate species. Most wild or exotic animals, such as foxes, wolves, non-human primates, venomous snakes, crocodiles and alligators, have not been subject to long-term domestication.

Wild and many exotic animals can pose risks to public safety, carry diseases that can infect humans, and require specialized diets and care.

Check the law

Most exotic animals are illegal to own under state law. In addition, many local ordinances governing owning exotic or potentially dangerous wild animals have rules even stricter than state regulations. Among the many reasons these regulations exist are to protect against the public safety and health risks, as well as concerns about the animals’ welfare.

So, before you take on the responsibility of owning an exotic pet, research the state law (RCW 16-30) and your own city or county ordinances.

Every year throughout the world, wild animals kept as exotic pets injure people. Animal companionship is wonderful, and many of us crave it, but domestic animals are a safer bet as pets.

Email us at if you have questions about acquiring an exotic animal.