(SAN ANTONIO) August 8, 2016—Whether it’s eating locally, getting back to a simpler time of life or just wanting to know where the food on the dinner plate is coming from, backyard poultry is becoming more and more commonplace. And so are the chickens coming into the neighborhood animal clinic for a checkup.
“These backyard chickens are not just providing fresh eggs,” said Dr. Cheryl Greenacre. “They are pets, and when ‘Henny Penny’ is sick, she needs to see the doctor.” Dr. Greenacre, a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine specializing in avian medicine, will be presenting at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Convention held August 5-9 in San Antonio.
While backyard poultry is a growing phenomenon, the numbers are more than a bit elusive. In a 2010 study, the National Animal Health Monitoring System, an arm of the USDA, surveyed metro areas of Miami, Denver, Los Angeles and New York City to gather urban coop statistics. Approximately 0.8 percent owned chickens, but nearly 4 percent more planned to have them within five years.
Information gathering remains an ongoing priority for some university extensions, but it is clear those numbers are impacting the local veterinarian’s practice. Small animal practitioners may not be trained in avian medicine, while others often do see pet birds in their practice.
“One of the most common reasons why veterinarians see chickens is an attack by a predator,” she said. “However, when it comes to treatment, the biggest and most important difference is that backyard poultry are food animals. They provide eggs, and sometimes meat, for human consumption, so the medicines these birds can receive are under a different set of rules. We need to provide education for our veterinarians to meet the demand of this up-and-coming market segment.”
In addition to gaining the knowledge needed through conferences and other continuing-education opportunities, there are websites that veterinarians can tap into for vital information, like the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, the go-to source for drug use in chickens, and the AVMA’s Backyard Chickens 101 resource. It is imperative that veterinarians treating poultry become educated on proper medication use in a food animal, according to Dr. Greenacre, because certain drugs are prohibited by the FDA, others are considered off label, and still others are approved for use only in specific instances and under certain conditions such as age, concentration, duration or frequency.
Backyard poultry enthusiasts themselves have to sift through the mountains of material available to obtain correct information about their flocks. Some information flies in the face of animal welfare, she says, and condones harmful at-home treatments for certain conditions, such as bumblefoot, an infection on the bottom of a chicken’s foot. “From books, to the Internet, to radio shows and magazines, there is a variety of advice out there regarding backyard poultry,” said Dr. Greenacre. “The best sources are university extension services and your veterinarian.”
But with these pets come cautions unfamiliar to owners of dogs and cats. “Veterinarians should educate owners on the risk of salmonellosis in humans from handling poultry,” said Dr. Greenacre. “Elderly people, children less than 5 years old and any immunosuppressed individual are most at risk for a fatal infection. Careful hand washing is a must after any contact with the poultry.”
Owners of backyard poultry also have to be aware of biosecurity measures and be able to recognize and prevent spread of disease, especially avian influenza and Exotic Newcastle’s Disease. Anyone experiencing sudden deaths or high mortality should contact their veterinarian immediately. Other actionable measures are to quarantine new birds, to not share tools or egg cartons, and to always clean and disinfect the coop.
Diligent ownership is mandatory, and hard work is a given, but America is enjoying a growing love affair with its pet chickens. “People are often surprised that their birds have personalities and become quite attached to their poultry. In fact, we had a woman who asked us to do a full workup on a turkey that was suffering from seizures. Money was not a consideration because this was a beloved pet,” Dr. Greenacre said.
The stories are many, and the evidence is clear: The human-animal bond exists in the backyard flock scenario; poultry are not second-rate pets. “Veterinarians need to hone their expertise in this area and team up with backyard poultry owners,” said Dr. Greenacre. “Together, we can provide the best care possible and keep these flocks healthy.”
To learn more about the AVMA Annual Convention, visit www.avmaconvention.org. For more information on medial opportunities at the AVMA Convention, and to register as a press attendee, contact Michael San Filippo, AVMA senior media relations specialist, at 847-732-6194 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the media must register with the AVMA prior to the convention to validate their press credentials and ensure that their press badges and materials are ready for them when they arrive. Registration for the press is free.