The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is reaching out to veterinarians and owners of pets and livestock to remind them of the importance of properly disposing of the remains of chemically euthanized animals. CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory has recently confirmed the fourth known incident of secondary pentobarbital poisoning in a turkey vulture from Marin County.
The other three Marin County incidents, dating back to 2014, also involved turkey vultures that were suffering from secondary poisoning after consuming the remains of animals that were euthanized with sodium pentobarbital. CDFW has confirmed similar cases of poisoning in Ventura County in 2017 and Shasta County in 2018, also involving turkey vultures. In 2017, a bald eagle was also poisoned by pentobarbital in Fresno County.
Sodium pentobarbital is commonly used to humanely euthanize domestic animals such as dogs and cats, horses, goats, cattle, poultry and other livestock. The drug is quickly distributed throughout the animals’ body. Secondary poisoning of wildlife occurs when the animal remains are disposed of improperly and scavengers feed on the animal exposing them to the euthanasia drug.
Pentobarbital poisoning of wildlife is entirely preventable. Law requires that animals chemically euthanized with pentobarbital be cremated or buried at least 3 to 4 feet deep to prevent exposing scavenging wildlife to the euthanasia drug. Leaving a euthanized animal unburied in a field or landfill will put wildlife scavengers at risk of poisoning. Proper disposal of animal remains is the responsibility of the animal owner and veterinarian administering the drug.
Wildlife that have ingested pentobarbital-contaminated animal remains may appear dead. They often have no reflex response and breathing may be barely detectible. If treated promptly, turkey vultures have a fair chance of survival. The most recent turkey vulture was successfully treated and released by wildlife rehabilitation staff at WildCare in San Rafael. Unfortunately, given that several turkey vultures may feed on the same animal remains, it is possible additional vultures and other scavengers may have been similarly affected but not recovered.
Incidents and information about possible sources of poisoning may be reported to the CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory by phone at (916) 358-2790, by email at WILab@wildlife.ca.gov or online via the CDFW website.
If grounded birds are observed, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
For more information, please see the USFWS Fact Sheet “Secondary Pentobarbital Poisoning of Wildlife.”