More tools needed for disasters, depopulation

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Short supplies and limited tools may slow depopulation efforts or leave animals without pain relief during emergencies.

Opioid drugs remain in short supply in veterinary medicine, disease can spread through feral swine, and veterinarians need better methods to depopulate tens of thousands of cattle on feedlots, according to lecturers during the AVMA Humane Endings Symposium, Nov. 2-4, 2018, in Rosemont, Illinois.

Dr. Dorothy Black, an emergency and critical care specialist for Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services in San Francisco, said her emergency response team always gives pain relief to animals in need, including those that may receive euthanasia. But a lack of opioids is a huge problem in disaster medicine.

Break Glass In Case of Emergency

As previously reported (see JAVMA, July 1, 2018), manufacturing problems and slowdowns have reduced opioid supplies overall, forcing clinicians in veterinary and human medicine to scramble for supplies.

Dr. Black described her own desires to save every pet and tendency to treat it as though she would her own pet.

"How can I make sure someone's pet makes it home to them in the end when they've lost everything?" she said.

Dr. Joanna Davis, an emergency coordinator in Florida and Georgia for the Veterinary Services branch of the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said that if a disease sickening and killing pigs in China reaches the U.S., she fears it will spread through feral swine. She also said horrific results of a screwworm outbreak in Florida wildlife showed that more people need to become trained to depopulate wildlife.

On Aug. 3, 2018, authorities in China confirmed African swine fever virus had spread among pigs on a farm in the country. In early November, an APHIS map showed the disease had spread to about 60 sites in China, and those sites were in most of the provinces with the highest densities of hog farming.

African swine fever spreads easily among domestic and wild pigs, and it had been in Eastern Europe years before the outbreak in China, APHIS information states.

Dr. Black
Dr. Dorothy Black warned that short supplies of opioids in veterinary medicine make it harder to relive animal suffering during disasters. (Photo by Greg Cima)

Veterinary Services workers already are investigating more disease outbreaks in swine amid a resurgence of Seneca Valley virus, Dr. Davis said. That workload more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, from 850 investigations into potential foreign animal disease outbreaks to almost 1,800, she said. About 1,400 of the 2017 investigations were for vesicular disease in swine.

An APHIS report from April 2018 indicates Senecavirus A causes vesicles and lesions similar to those seen with foot-and-mouth disease. Employees of APHIS, state agriculture agencies, and livestock industries investigate any vesicular lesions because an FMD outbreak could be devastating.

Dr. Davis also said the horrific effects of the 2016 screwworm outbreak demonstrate the need for people who are trained to depopulate wildlife. The animals endured horrific suffering before APHIS Wildlife Services experts arrived.

Dr. David Rethorst, a clinician in Kansas and former director of outreach and herd health at the Kansas State University Beef Cattle Institute, said veterinarians need better methods to depopulate large numbers of cattle. He depopulated cattle using pistol and rifle shots after fires raced across pastures in Clark County, Kansas, which killed thousands of cattle and left others with debilitating injuries to their eyes, hooves, and udders.

This disaster changed his life, he said. Dr. Rethorst described how he administered euthanasia in pastures, often at close range, and related the trauma of hearing 67 rifle shots while a friend helped him depopulate a pen of injured animals, many of which required a second shot from Dr. Rethorst's pistol.

Those methods will be insufficient if an FMD outbreak reaches a feedlot with 100,000 cattle, Dr. Rethorst said. He suggests that veterinarians find an oral intoxicant that people could feed to the cattle and then walk them into a pit.

"We need something other than gunshot to put these cattle down," he said.

Related JAVMA content:

Frustration mounts over opioid shortage (July 1, 2018)

Wildfires kill cattle, pigs (May 1, 2017)