Show Health Committee Report

August 13, 2018
Committee: Cathy Bickel, KJ Johnson, Cynthia Kurtz, Beth Taylor, Lisa McCune-Noll

Section I. Quarantine and Other Pre-Show Prep

Health inspection is not a formality. Check all your gerbils for signs of illness all the way up to the show hall.

Quarantine incidents: If any of the following should occur in a kennel during the quarantine period, the owner must consult a Health Inspection team member for a decision. These guidelines below are for the health inspection team’s consideration, not the owner’s. Symptoms occurring closer to the time of the show are considered more serious. The Health Inspection team’s decision is final.

  • LEVEL 1: Broken legs, bite wounds, open scent gland tumors. Case-by-case.
  • LEVEL 2: Accidental or explained death, such as bodily trauma or being killed by a cage-mate; respiratory infection, fur loss or thinning fur. Case-by-case.
  • LEVEL 3: Death with a necropsy. Decision depends on veterinarian’s report. Any contagious illness means no gerbils should be brought to the show.
  • LEVEL 4: Unexplained death without a necropsy. Do not bring any animals to the show.

Section II. Show Planning

Pet Expo situations with multiple breeds of animals present are no longer considered safe for gerbil shows. There has now twice been a disease outbreak that devastated a kennel after a show: one confirmed to be Tyzzer’s and one considered to be either parvo or Tyzzer’s.

Shows should also not be held at locations with petting farms, farm animals, or animals that are processed for meat.

When selecting a show venue, choose one where health inspection can take place in an area separate from the show, for the protection of all the gerbils already in the show hall.

When designing the show schedule, allow sufficient time for health inspectors to check the animals and make decisions. Any kennel presenting for health inspection on Saturday morning should have no more than 15 animals who need to be inspected. Any kennel bringing more than that number of animals must check in on Friday evening.

The number of slots available for Saturday morning check-in may be limited by the number of available Health Inspectors.

Section III. Non-Gerbil Species at Gerbil Shows

We all enjoy seeing the sometimes-unusual species of animals that our members own. While to our knowledge no disease has previously been transmitted from one of these exotics at one of our shows, we need to consider which exotic rodents and other animals pose a health risk to gerbils: degus, jirds, rats, hamsters, mice, spiny mice, Duprasi, beach mice, deer mice, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and African Soft Furs. Gerbils are particularly vulnerable to Tyzzer’s, as they can acquire Tyzzer’s from many other species. We should also consider the risks from birds and reptiles, as they can carry salmonella.

Kennels bringing non-gerbil species are asked to check in on Friday night to ensure someone familiar with that species is available to perform their health inspection. If no one is able to perform a health inspection on that animal, they may be asked to leave them home or leave them in their hotel room. They may be subject to other restrictions as circumstances arise. Members who wish to bring exotics to a show should communicate with the Show Coordinator and Health Inspection team in advance.

Section IV. Health Inspection at the Show

Any veterinary technician on site should not be considered to be a decision-maker or to be at a level higher than a health inspector. A tech is not a vet, nor are they likely to have as much experience as we do with gerbils in particular, even though they may have useful ideas we haven’t considered. All decision-making will be done as it is now: when a health inspector has a question or concern, they approach another health inspector, with the Health Inspection team being the final decision-maker. It is not necessary to have a vet tech on site.

Judges should wear scrubs while doing any health inspections, and not their judging jacket.

Everyone at a show should use proper hand-sanitizer techniques, which require allowing sanitizer to dry fully before handling another animal. Health inspectors should wash their hands frequently. See the attached page about Hand Sanitizer Use.

Ideally, there should be one health inspector per carload, so that in case of contamination, only one inspector is affected.

Incidents at the show, from least to most serious:

  • LEVEL 1: The gerbil has scent gland tumors, seizures, overgrown teeth, or the bites the health inspector. Action: The owner will be notified immediately. A gerbil who bites the health inspector may not be shown, but may enter the hall.
  • LEVEL 2: The gerbil has bite marks, open wounds or scent gland tumors. The owner has overcrowded cages or dirty equipment. Action: Afflicted cages are to be stowed under the table or removed from the show hall to the owner’s hotel room. Owners are asked to clean or replace dirty equipment, and to ease the overcrowding with more or larger equipment.
  • LEVEL 3: The gerbil has barbered or missing fur, but no visible mites or yeast infection.  The gerbil is lethargic after being in the heat and possibly suffering heat-stroke. The gerbil is visibly pregnant or has un-weaned pups. Action: Afflicted cages are removed from the show hall to the owner’s hotel room.
  • LEVEL 4: The gerbil is audibly clicking, has labored breathing, or is otherwise sickly looking. This pertains especially to pups. Action: All gerbils and animals in the kennel are removed from the premises. There may be mitigating circumstances that would allow the kennel to be re-inspected the next day in the person’s hotel room.
  • LEVEL 5: The gerbil has diarrhea or mites / fleas, or comes to the show dead on arrival. Action: All gerbils and animals in the kennel are removed from the premises. Owners and health inspectors are asked to shower and change clothes before returning. There may be mitigating circumstances that would allow the kennel to be re-inspected the next day in the person’s hotel room.

If a kennel fails health inspection, the owner will be notified immediately with phrasing to the effect of:

“Sorry [Member], we are going to have to ask you to take your gerbils out of the hall to [your hotel room, home, other destination]. One of your gerbils has [mites, diarrhea, arrived dead] and this is our procedure.”

The owner will be then encouraged to seek out veterinary attention.

Gerbils who fail health inspection should not be kept in a car. A Health Inspector should inquire what the member plans to do with gerbils that failed inspection.

Section V. Gerbils at Shows

Petting tanks and other hands-on live gerbil exhibits are prohibited. They are a risk not just to the owner of those gerbils, but to everyone. The only people handling gerbils should be their own owner, sincerely interested potential adopters, judges and health inspectors.

Gerbils, and other animals, should not be carried around the show hall as the owners socialize.

Pups under five weeks of age should stay home.

Judges should use hand sanitizer according to recommended technique.

Judges should wash hands with soap and water between classes.

During the announcement of results, two “wranglers” should assist the announcing judge so that each wrangler can use proper sanitizing techniques. Wranglers should remember they are demonstrating hand sanitizing technique as they do this.

Section VI. Post-Show

A gross necropsy is recommended for any gerbil who dies unexpectedly within two weeks of the owner’s return from a show, whether or not that particular gerbil attended the show. This is important for adult gerbils, and even more important for pups. This is especially important if diarrhea is present.

Please report any post-show illness or unexpected death to the health inspection team. Report unexpected deaths, any pup deaths, diarrhea, upper respiratory infection, mites, or anything else you feel should be reported.

Post-show quarantine: it is recommended to keep all gerbils returning from a show separate from other ones who stayed home, for a minimum of two weeks. They should be kept in a separate room, or ideally floor, of your home. Consider not bringing in any new animals for two weeks.

When a serious incident has occurred at a show, the following communication should take place:

First, email all show participants with details.

Second, sharing of a general message to all members, “An outbreak of ______ was detected at this show. The following steps have been taken: _________. As always, sanitize your hands and use good quarantine practices.” We can share information about symptoms and what to do for safety.

Section VII. Additional Information

General Information on Necropsies:

The difference between a gross necropsy and a more detailed one: A gross necropsy is an internal surgical examination of a dead animal. A gross necropsy is often enough to determine the general cause of death, and can be a comfort to the owner and possibly provide a warning of a disease in the kennel. A more detailed, and more expensive necropsy may be able to give a more minute examination of each organ, a more precise diagnosis of illness, and type of infection present, if any.

If there is any diarrhea present, it is a good idea to have at least a gross necropsy done.

How to preserve a gerbil for necropsy when they inevitably die on the weekend when the vet is closed:

If the owner’s own vet has given the owner different instructions, those instructions should be followed. If the owner doesn’t have instructions from their vet, the gerbil should be immediately placed in a ziploc bag. The gerbil should not be wrapped, but put as is directly into the bag. If the gerbil is not immediately being put into the car and taken straight to the vet, it should be stored in a refrigerator. It should not be put in the freezer; this will destroy tissue. It needs to be taken to the vet for necropsy as soon as possible, but in any case within a maximum of 48 hours.  The sooner the gerbil gets to the vet, the more accurate the necropsy results will be. Time is of the essence!

If an owner suspects a serious infection in his or her kennel: A veterinarian’s involvement is absolutely necessary. In addition to what the vet recommends, members may wish to arrange for specialized testing from Zoologix. This type of testing should be used to test for Tyzzer’s and can be done with fecal samples.

Section VIII. Final Thoughts

Everyone has done a wonderful job of cooperating and sharing information, without finger-pointing, after this recent Tyzzer’s incident. This was a stressful situation that was well-handled by everyone exposed. We are all very sorry about the severe impact on a member’s kennel. The gerbil world is smaller than many other pet hobbies; if gerbils disappeared, the world in general might not notice so much, and we are protective of each other’s animals. We are a small group of friends who go to these shows, and we all need each other.  We trust and hope that this cooperation and friendship will continue as the years go on.

Section IX. How to Handwash with Soap and Water

Washing your hands properly can help prevent the spread of the germs (like bacteria and viruses) that cause these diseases, even if your hands do not appear visibly soiled. The duration of the entire procedure should last 40-60 seconds.

Section IX. How to Handrub with Sanitizer

Rubbing your hands properly with alcohol sanitizer can help prevent the spread of the germs (like bacteria and viruses) as a temporary measure until soap and water are available. The duration of the entire procedure should last 15-30 seconds.