Normally people would like to use a local veterinarian if their birds are sick. We do have a list on our website of Recommended Veterinarians that specialize in avian species and/or have been recommended by customers that have used them for their birds. However, most people do not have access to a private veterinarian with poultry experience, so I want to explain how to use a state lab the next time you have a health issue you cannot solve yourself. They are an excellent resource and I highly recommend them.
All states, except Massachusetts, have at least one approved laboratory - some states have several. We have the location and contact information for all these labs on our State Veterinary Laboratories web page. If you have a poultry health issue you cannot diagnose, the first step you must do is to phone them. Oftentimes the veterinarian can talk you through the problem. Normally they will need to see the bird(s) for a more complete diagnosis.
If you are close to the lab, the best thing is to take them some of the sick birds. They will put these birds down and immediately necropsy. The value of a sick bird is they can see the symptoms exhibited by the live bird and they can look at a very fresh carcass. Do not take them a sick bird that you are not willing to sacrifice as they will probably not be willing to allow you to take a sick bird home after a diagnosis as it may have been exposed to other diseases in the laboratory.
If you must send them dead birds, try to use as fresh of birds as you can find. If we send birds to our lab, our procedure is to collect the dead in the morning, put them in a plastic bag, place them in a freezer to chill and then ship them in the afternoon. You want to reduce the temperature of the carcass as rapidly as possible to prevent decomposition. The more decomposition, the more difficult it is for the vet to diagnose the problem. So you want them as cold as possible - as soon as possible – but do not freeze them.
Oftentimes the lab will have a form you can download or they will fax you to include with the birds. If not, make sure you include all your contact information and information on the birds: species, age, symptoms, percent of birds exhibiting the symptoms, percent mortality, length of time they have been ill, any medications given, etc.
We have found the best way to ship the birds is in a disposable, styrofoam cooler that you can buy at most grocery stores. You may want to buy some in the summer in case you need one in the winter! While you are there, buy some Ice Packs and drop them in your freezer. You normally can't buy these frozen the day you need them! Do not use ice as this will melt and make as mess! Place the bird(s) in the cooler with some frozen ice packs, tape it closed and then place the cooler inside a cardboard box.
You can send the birds by UPS, FedEx, Post Office or by bus. However you do it, you want the birds to arrive the next day. In addition, some labs have special contracts with one carrier. In this situation you can charge the freight to the lab and the lab will bill you for shipping later at a rate lower than what you would have paid at shipping.
There is a initial fee ($20-65) and this fee will cover from 3-10 birds depending on the policy of that lab. There may be additional charges for any extra tests you approve. Most labs will bill you after they have completed the case. Some labs require a deposit up front but most do not require this.
The results will come back to you over a period of time by phone, fax or email but all refer to a single case number. The results are typically broken into several areas.
Gross Observations: notes on all organs from the initial necropsy
Bacteriology: identification of bacterial growth from swabs taken at necropsy
Histology: microscopic examination of organs
Toxicology: results of any requested toxicology tests
Virology: results of tests for viruses
Some states do tests for Avian Influenza and/or Newcastle on all birds submitted. Others do not. Oftentimes they will do work from other states but usually charge more for these cases.
I phoned several labs throughout the US and found them all to be extremely helpful and willing to accept birds from hobbyists and small farmers. I highly encourage you to use these labs. If anyone can diagnose the health problems of your birds, it is these professional veterinarians.
Thank you to Dr. Mark Bland for the pigeon and mold pictures.