Animal Care Expo 2017: Do This, Not That - Shelter Medicine Fundamentals


Where should shelters concentrate their efforts when it comes to keeping their populations healthy? Experts provide some time-saving tips that can be applied to both shelters and private practices.

This week at the 2017 Animal Care Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Kate Hurley, DVM, MPVM, director of the University of California, Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, and Sandra Newbury, DVM, director of the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program, talked about some activities that shelters should do less often so that they have more time for other activities that may have greater impact on the health and well-being of pets in the shelter.

Widely attended by veterinarians, shelter administrators, and volunteers, the session offered several “do’s” and “don’ts” that can be applied to private practice animal hospitals as well as shelters.


  • Remove all debris before using a decontaminant. In animal hospitals and shelter settings, organic debris such as hair, dirt, and feces can harbor disease. Drs. Hurley and Newbury reminded attendees that “elbow grease” was just as important as decontamination in minimizing disease transmission. So, remove all debris prior to using a decontaminant, and allow appropriate contact time.

Additionally, it is important to select the correct decontaminant for the disease one is trying to prevent or treat. For example, accelerated hydrogen peroxide can be used in situations of parvovirus and to remove organic debris; it’s also fast acting. Both doctors recommend selecting an appropriate decontaminant and using only that decontaminant; dispose of other decontaminants to prevent inappropriate use.

Keep animals that are sick with the same disease together. Patients that are ill with the same disease do not need to be quarantined from one other. If multiple dogs have upper respiratory infection, they can be housed in the same space, allowing for appropriate interaction and socialization. This space should be cleaned last to minimize spread to healthy dogs, but the dogs do not need to be isolated from each other.

  • Vaccinate early and often. Vaccinate all animals upon arrival, including those with mild illnesses. According to Dr. Newbury, “The harm done by vaccines is very small, while the harm done by disease is very high and possibly lethal.” Pediatric animals should be vaccinated every 2 weeks until 20 weeks of age in an effort to provide the vaccine as maternal antibodies wane. Animals should be moved through the shelter as quickly as possible to minimize exposure to disease; do not wait for vaccine boosters before adopting out an animal.

Vaccines that are given inappropriately can cause significant problems, but accidents happen. Have a plan in place to identify adverse reactions and to treat them quickly. A subcutaneous FVRCP vaccine that is ingested can replicate and cause full-blown disease; do not draw FVRCP vaccines near a cat’s face, and immediately remove with a decontaminant any vaccine that may have spilled on the skin. If intranasal Bordetella vaccine is given subcutaneously, the Bordetella can replicate causing Bordetella disease, liver failure, and death; treat these patients quickly with antibiotics effective against Bordetella.


  • Test for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses. In many cases, the cat’s history is unknown, so interpreting FeLV/FIV test results can be difficult. Drs. Hurley and Newbury recommend not testing every cat in the shelter. Instead, train the staff and volunteers to recognize signs of disease and abnormalities, and test only those animals that show signs of illness.
  • Use footbaths. Footbaths have been shown repeatedly to be ineffective. In cases of panleukopenia or parvovirus, where disease spread is a concern, use shoe covers or contaminated shoes that will stay in the isolated area.

Amanda Landis-Hanna, DVM, graduated from Auburn University in 2002. Since then, she has practiced small animal, exotic, shelter, and relief medicine. She was a VCA medical director for 7 years in California and Virginia, and she served as director of veterinary medicine for Voyce from 2013 to 2016. Dr. Landis-Hanna resides in Virginia with her family and rescue Labrador, Sophie.

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