May 15, 2006


 AVMA framing advice on keeping wild animals as pets

Posted May 1, 2006

Keeping wild animals as pets is generally opposed by subject experts within the veterinary profession, but spelling out that philosophy might be harder than it sounds.

The Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine proposed replacing current policy to simply say: "The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes keeping wild animals as pets."

But the Animal Welfare Committee suggested that, among other points, the policy should define wild indigenous and exotic animals and outline some of the acceptable situations for ownership—such as keeping of semidomesticated animals and use in conservation programs.

The Executive Board tabled the policy revisions and approved spending $5,700 for a meeting among members of the council, Animal Welfare Committee, and the Committee on Environmental Issues to work out a consensus.

The Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine believes the AVMA needs a broad, unambiguous policy against keeping any wild animal as a pet. Current policy focuses on wild carnivores along with dangerous reptiles and amphibians.

As an alternative, the Animal Welfare Committee had proposed a policy on Keeping and Management of Wild Indigenous and Exotic Animals. The document begins: "The AVMA recognizes that keeping and propagation of many species of wild indigenous and exotic animals has cultural precedence. It also acknowledges that those species have value for conservation through exhibition and education, sporting (hunting and racing animals), performing, scientific study, and as companion animals."

The document acknowledges a need to limit or prohibit keeping some species that may pose a significant risk to public health, domestic animal health, or the ecosystem. The document says that more caution in the importation of animals would be wise to prevent the transfer of pathogens. And the document says only facilities that can handle the high risk potential or unique husbandry requirements of some species should keep those animals—including large carnivores, very large mammals, venomous animals, marine mammals, and nonhuman primates.

The Animal Welfare Committee noted separately that some wild animals such as sugar gliders, hedgehogs, parrots, and macaws live successfully and safely in many homes as pets.

But the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine believes that the committee's policy on wild indigenous and exotic animals would not meet an immediate need for a clear policy on wild animals as pets.

The council believes action is necessary now because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is starting the process of revising regulations on the importation of animals and will be hosting a meeting on the issue of exotic animal trade. The council received board approval to spend $1,930 for two representatives to attend that meeting from May 17-18.