The Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu, also known as HPAI and avian/bird flu, has unfortunately been a large-scale issue across the Pacific Northwest and North America over the last year and a half. This flu strain (H5N1) impacts wild birds like California Condors and Tundra Swans, domestic birds, and other animals, with hundreds of birds dying because of the virus. There are two types of avian influenza, the high pathogenicity with a high death rate in some species and the low pathogenicity that can cause outbreaks but is not generally associated with severe disease. The likelihood of you or your pet contracting the virus is extremely low but there are things you should do to mitigate exposure.
Keeping you and your pets safe
If you have pets or livestock and are worried about HPAI, there are some ways to keep you and your animals safe. There have been a couple of global cases of dogs and cats getting and passing away from HPAI (less than five pets have passed away in the last few months) but the good news is that the American Veterinary Medical Association states that the likelihood of your dog or cat getting HPAI is extremely low. There’s no 100% way to guarantee that your animals won’t get HPAI but some ways to decrease the already low likelihood.
- Keep an eye on your pets while they’re outside to prevent them from interacting with or possibly eating infected wildfowl. Ingesting infected waterfowl is one of the easiest ways pets are exposed to the virus.
- Keep your cats indoors if possible. For feral/community cats, keeping them inside really isn’t an option but you can keep a watch out for any dead birds around your property.
- Avoid visiting ponds and streams with pets. Avian influenza can be spread between birds with fecal matter, which can be found in and around bodies of water like ponds and wetlands.
Domestic Chickens, Ducks, and Geese
There are ways to at least try and keep your livestock birds safe but unfortunately, chickens, ducks, and geese are far more likely to contract and pass away from HPAI than dogs and cats. The following suggestions are still good ways to mitigate HPAI and defend your flock.
- Regularly clean and disinfect cages, equipment, and supplies. This includes new supplies you purchase, the equipment you share with others, water and food dishes, and the areas your birds spend the most time in.
- Have a designated pair of shoes and clothing you use when around your birds. Wash or disinfect these items regularly and do not wear the same things around different flocks without disinfecting first.
- Wash your hands before and after you handle birds. This is a great practice to do all the time but it’s imperative when HPAI is an issue.
- Keep feed, drinking water, and supplies out of reach from wild birds or rodents.
- Limit the contact and shared spaces of your birds and wild birds.
- Know the signs of HPAI in birds and report any suspected infections to your veterinarian and/or relevant state officials, particularly the USDA, Oregon Department of Agriculture, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
- Signs in birds include sudden death, low energy/appetite, purple discoloration or swelling, reduced egg production, soft or misshapen eggs, coughing or sneezing, and diarrhea.
Finding Dead Birds
If you do happen to find dead wild birds, under no circumstances should you touch the birds and you should not move any sick wild animal to a veterinarian. For wild birds, you should contact your local Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has an online form you can use to report sick or dead wild birds while the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has a phone number: 1.866.968.2600.
For domestic birds with symptoms or sudden death, you should contact your state Department of Agriculture and the USDA. The Washington State Department of Agriculture Avian Influenza Program information can be found online and you can call them at 360.902.1878. The Oregon State Department of Agriculture has a state veterinarian that can be contacted by email or by phone 503.986.4711.
If you are a fan of wildlife, particularly birds, and are worried about the state of HPAI, consider supporting local wildlife rehabilitation organizations. Nonprofits like the Whatcom Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Sarvey Wildlife Care Center are constantly working to care for wildlife all year round and issues like HPAI mean an increase in supplies and work. Supporting these organizations and the many other licensed and permitted wildlife rehabilitators is a great way to help wildlife without putting yourself or others at risk.