By Doug Schmitz
LEXINGTON, Ky. – With the growth of small and backyard flocks, there is also a growing need for veterinarians in private practice who are willing to care for these birds, said Jacqueline Jacob, University of Kentucky poultry extension project manager.
“It is my understanding that very little avian medicine is covered in vet school,” she said. “It can also be optional, with many not taking the option. It appears that it is not enough for most practicing veterinarians to be willing to deal with poultry in their practice.
“With the growing number of backyard flocks, as well as small, commercial – but independent – poultry production, there is a need for veterinarians willing to see poultry as clients,” she added. “We are hoping this (course) will help them do so.”
On the one hand, she said, “Most city veterinarians are only interested in cats and dogs, so it is hard to find a local veterinarian that is willing to deal with poultry. Some will deal with exotic birds, but poultry are food animals and they don’t want to get involved with the related medication withdrawal issues.”
On the other hand, she said, “Many rural veterinarians only deal with large animals (i.e., cows, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, etc.). Most veterinarians interested in poultry work for large poultry companies and do not see backyard flocks.”
When the FDA began to impose restrictions on the availability of common antibiotics in 2017, the lack of backyard poultry veterinarians became a significant problem.
Now, certain medications previously available without a prescription are only available with a prescription from a licensed veterinarian.
“With the changes in antibiotic use, poultry owners now require a prescription to get the antibiotics that they used to be able to purchase over the counter,” she said. “This requires an existing veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
“A poultry owner cannot get a prescription without the veterinarian seeing them and the birds,” she added. “It also means that no one is making sure that food safety issues are being taken care of by people keeping backyard flocks.”
Jacob and University of Kentucky Department of Animal and Food Sciences Chair Tony Pescatore worked with pathologists at Utah State University and Michigan State University to develop the course.
“The course is designed for any veterinarian to take the course,” Jacob said.
University of Kentucky offers the course in collaboration with the Association of American Avian Pathologists through a grant, which funded the course development.
“The idea for the online course came from in-person training the University of Kentucky held for veterinarians in Kentucky,” Jacob said. “It became obvious that veterinarians with small practices had trouble attending in-person meetings because it may mean closing their practice for the day of training.”
She said having online training made it easier for them to attend at their convenience: “They can also work at their own pace.”
She added, “I started developing the modules, but needed veterinarians to check the accuracy of what I was producing. I happen to be friends with David Frame at Utah State and Richard (Mick) Fulton at Michigan State, and they agreed to participate.”
The module-style course allows each participant to progress at their own pace, with the cost at $300 per person; each module concludes with a brief exam. To receive continuing education credits for taking the course, participants must have 70 percent or more correct responses on module quizzes.
Participants who successfully complete the course will receive eight Registry of Approved Continuing Education-approved credits.
“We believe this course will help those with existing practices feel comfortable seeing poultry flocks, and we are proud to offer it,” she said.
She said University of Kentucky Veterinarian Roberta Dwyer provided the perspective of a non-poultry veterinarian, and Anthony (Tony) Pescatore helped get funding and coordinated the project, “and made sure the backyard perspective had a second point of view.”
“Once the course was finished,” she said, “it was reviewed by three practicing veterinarians with poultry experience in order to get Registry of Approved Continuing Education approval so that the veterinarians taking the course could get the continuing education credits they are required to get each year.”
When asked how crucial it is that veterinarians, as well as backyard poultry farmers, know the latest about avian flu, and other bird diseases, she said they need to have “an understanding of avian flu, especially being able to identify the highly-pathogenic avian influenza virus that is currently hitting North America (Canada, USA, and Mexico).
“I believe it has also spread to some countries in South America,” she said. “It is also affecting Europe and Asia.”
She added backyard poultry farmers responsible for the daily care of the flocks such as feeding, watering, cleaning, housing “should also have a biosecurity plan to protect their birds from coming into contact with wild birds or people that may have been in contact with other flocks.”
To learn more about the course and registration, visit https://www.aaap.info/poultry-medicine-for-veterinarians-course