Updated September 17, 2020
Before you consider starting an animal sanctuary, one of the most important things to secure is access to a veterinarian who is capable of providing adequate and compassionate care for each species of resident you plan on taking in, especially in emergency situations. Just because you have an excellent veterinarian for your cat or dog in town, in no way does that mean that they’d be ready to take on a turkey or pig! Every veterinarian has different species-specific specialties and less specific knowledge of other kinds of animals.
It’s critical to enlist a veterinarian (or multiple veterinarians if necessary) of record in order to perform health checkups, prescribe vaccinations and medicine, run lab tests, interpret diagnostic results, provide documentation to the government about your sanctuary’s residents, and conduct surgeries or provide end-of-life care if necessary.
In a rural area, it’s not too challenging to find a veterinary service for large species farmed animals such as pigs and cows, but difficulties arise in finding a veterinarian who is well-versed in compassionate long term care; many agricultural veterinarians are primarily focused on efficiently helping herds of animals reach slaughter age with less consideration for their individual long term health or personal comfort. Even if you find a veterinarian with decades of experience working with cows or pigs, most likely they have not had the opportunity to work with an 18 year old Holstein steer or a 10 year old Yorkshire pig, and you may find they are surprised (and some may even be a tiny bit intimidated) by how big these animals can get! Finding a veterinarian who is comfortable working with adult large breed pigs can be especially challenging.
Because farmed animals have been selectively bred for fast growth and with the goal of death a fraction into their lifespans, even veterinarians sympathetic to your sanctuary’s cause may have limited knowledge when it comes to long term care (and in fact, the very knowledge of how to do so is an extremely limited area of study). For instance, large breed pigs are sometimes afflicted by the catastrophic Porcine Stress Syndrome, but the literature on long term standards of care for this lethal condition is difficult to come by. Euthanasia is oftentimes recommended on the basis of cost efficiency for many chronic conditions where care alternatives exist.
Vets For Bird Care
Industrially farmed birds can also be quite tough to find appropriate care for. Hens, for instance, have a very high likelihood of suffering from an impacted oviduct and ovarian or oviductal cancer. Because few people endeavor to care for chickens for the duration of their long natural lifespans, many veterinarians do not have working knowledge about the symptoms and proper care for these debilitating conditions. Because of all the challenges that birds in your care may face, it’s important to find a veterinarian who, at minimum, specializes in avian medicine and regularly sees avian patients. If you are able to find a board-certified avian veterinarian in your area, this is ideal as this indicates an advanced level of education in avian medicine and surgery and requires regular re-certification. In The United States, there’s nothing preventing any veterinarian from advertising proficiency treating most animals, including chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, in addition to species like parrots and quails. A board certification demonstrates a much higher level of aptitude and experience than words alone. However, you still may find that the experienced avian veterinarian in your area has more experience with parrots and cockatoos than they do with chickens and turkeys. In these cases, just make sure that they’d treat your sanctuary’s residents with the same care and respect as a client’s beloved parrot.
Vetting A Vet
If possible, start your veterinary search before you formally start your own sanctuary with the help of other sanctuaries in your region. Who do they use? How far does their veterinarian travel? Does their veterinarian sympathize with a compassionate mission (and hopefully offer reduced cost care as a result)? If other sanctuaries in your area have a difficult time getting veterinary care, you may want to deeply consider whether your proposed location is right for you.
You can also contact the state veterinary board and ask them for recommendations in care for the types of species that you’re planning to rescue. Perhaps there’s a veterinary teaching school attached to a local university that might be able to accommodate your sanctuary’s residents and provide superior emergency care.
You should have a care plan established for all species of residents you’re planning on rescuing. This plan should be sent to prospective veterinarians (and signed off by the veterinarians who end up working with you). They should know what level of care you expect as well as the different challenges that they might face as the veterinarian of record for your organization. They should also know the purpose of your organization and any compassionate guidelines you have set for your premises, though you won’t necessarily find a veterinarian who personally shares your views when it comes to your sanctuary’s residents.
Some sanctuaries send representatives to the offices of prospective veterinarians and lay out their sanctuary’s mission, their standards, and the treatments that they expect to have access to prior to having the veterinarian treat a resident, but not all sanctuaries have the luxury of time when selecting a veterinarian.
If you’re seeking a veterinarian that can treat larger farmed animals, do they have relatively close access to the facilities that may be required for emergency treatment, including large scale MRI machines? Would they be able to help out in an emergency where a bigger resident needs to be moved? Would they be comfortable with providing compassionate end of life care? Would they be willing to treat your residents with the same standard of compassionate care they’d provide for a cat or dog?
Veterinarians versed in horse medicine can be capable of providing some care to larger species of mammalian farmed animals, but you’ll have to make sure that they can provide comprehensive care per species of resident you have if they’re your only option. It’s very possible that you’ll require multiple veterinarians depending on the range of species you’re caring for and the location of your sanctuary!
If you’re having a hard time finding a veterinarian for your avian residents, the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) has a tool that allows you to search for AAV member practitioners worldwide.
Once you’ve found appropriate veterinary care for your residents, how do you maintain a good relationship with your vets? Read on here!