Working with what you have to reduce disease in your population (Proceedings)


Increased population density leads to animal STRESS, a greater risk of disease introduction, higher contact rate, reduced air quality, exhausted resources, staff stress and commonly compromises in housing and husbandry. Unfortunately, crowding in shelters is not uncommon, either due to insufficient facilities, or a well-intended attempt to decrease euthanasia by housing more animals.

Crowd Control = the single most important tool for infectious disease control in shelters.

Increased population density leads to animal STRESS, a greater risk of disease introduction, higher contact rate, reduced air quality, exhausted resources, staff stress and commonly compromises in housing and husbandry. Unfortunately, crowding in shelters is not uncommon, either due to insufficient facilities, or a well-intended attempt to decrease euthanasia by housing more animals. Always keep in mind that:

     • Lives saved is determined by adoptions and prevention

     • Adoptions are determined by adopters, not number of cats in the shelter

     • Prevention is determined by stress reduction, vaccinations, sanitation, segregation, length of stay, and crowd control

An underappreciated strategy to prevent crowding is to reduce the amount of time any animal spends in the shelter. Increased time for each animal in the shelter contributes to increased crowding with all the associated risks. Common points for possible delay in some shelters may include:

     • Routine quarantine of apparently healthy animals

     • Delays while waiting for medical evaluation, behavior assessment or surgery

     • Housing animals in areas without access for the public even after they are available for adoption, due to lack of staff to move animals or lack of space

Stress Reduction

Enrichment and stress reduction are often thought of as luxury programs in animal shelters, when in reality they should be considered part of basic care.


Vaccinating all animals as soon as they arrive to your shelter is the single most important thing you can do to protect your animals against serious illness and ensure that the cost and effort of vaccination is not wasted. The vaccines for feline panleukopenia, canine distemper, and parvovirus can work very rapidly, often providing significant protection within hours (distemper) to a few days (parvo). Some shelters don't vaccinate on intake because of the "wasted" money for animals who end up euthanized. If a significant proportion of admitted animals do not end up getting adopted, it may seem like spending thousands on vaccines is not the most logical use of resources. However, those desperately needed adoptions are unlikely to increase if adopted animals regularly suffer through an expensive and scary bout of respiratory disease or die of parvo, panleukopenia, or distemper, and working with rescue groups will become nearly impossible if the majority of rescued animal takes weeks of treatment or contaminates their foster homes.


Cleaning and disinfection are not trivial concerns in shelters. Careful and effective cleaning by well trained employees is literally life saving. Although the main purpose of cleaning animal areas is prevention of infectious disease spread, an additional benefit is increased willingness of the public to adopt from and support a shelter that looks and smells clean. Because of its importance for animal health, cleaning should be approached systematically, and a well thought out plan developed, implemented and periodically revisited to make sure it is still functional. Time and money spent on training and supplies for an effective cleaning program will be amply repaid in decreased costs due to disease. Three types of product are generally used for environmental cleaning:

     • Soap/detergent: Cleaning agent which works by suspending dirt and grease. Does not kill harmful microorganisms.

     • Disinfectant: Chemical agent which kills harmful microorganisms. Does not necessarily remove dirt or grease.

     • Degreaser: More powerful soap/detergent specially formulated to penetrate layers of dried on body oils and other greasy debris.

Effective sanitation requires applying a germicidal agent to a basically clean surface. This requires use of both detergent and disinfectant products. Detergents in themselves do nothing to kill germs. Although some disinfectants can also act as detergents, many (such as bleach) do not. Virtually all disinfectants used in shelters are inactivated by organic material (such as feces, kitty litter, saliva, sneeze marks and plain old dirt) to some extent, so if they are not applied to a clean surface, they simply will not work. Periodically, a stronger degreaser should be used to deal with body oils and other grunge that builds up in kennels over time and can render disinfectants ineffective.

Common Disinfectants Used In Animal Shelters

Quaternary ammonium compounds, i.e. Roccal, Parvo-sol, Triple-two, Kennel-sol

     • Effective against most bacteria and some viruses.

     • Not reliably effective against parvo, panleukopenia or ringworm. Ineffective to only partially effective against calicivirus (common cause of feline URI).

     • Low tissue toxicity

Some quaternary ammonium compounds have detergent/cleaning action as well as acting as disinfectants, and are suitable as a good general purpose product for both cleaning and disinfection (a stronger degreaser should still be used periodically), keeping in mind that control of un-enveloped viruses require the addition of other products. A reasonable choice would be to use a quaternary ammonium compound with detergent characteristics for general cleaning of all areas, followed by an application of bleach where un-enveloped viruses are a concern.

Bleach (Sodium hypochlorite)

5% solution diluted at 1:32 (1/2 cup per gallon) completely inactivates parvo, panleukopenia and calicivirus when used correctly.

Inactivates ringworm at higher concentrations (1:10, or 1 1/2 cup per gallon) and with repeated application.

Significantly inactivated by organic matter, light and extended storage: should be stored for limited time in light-proof containers.

Bleach has no detergent action, and cannot be used as the sole cleaning agent in a shelter. Disinfection with bleach requires prior cleaning of the surface with a detergent.

Potassium peroxymonosulfate (Virkon or Trifectant)

     • Effective against panleukopenia and feline calicivirus. Studies also support efficacy against other un-enveloped viral agents, including parvo.

     • Moderate activity in the presence of organic matter.

     • Comes in powdered form, mixed solution stable up to 7 days.

Like quaternary ammonium compounds, potassium peroxymonosulfate reportedly has some detergent effect and can be used as a sole cleaning/disinfection agent for lightly soiled surfaces.

Segregation and Isolation

Animal with clinical signs of disease should be housed separate from the general shelter population. Keep in mind that even animals with only mild signs of disease play a substantial role in maintaining infection in a given population. Prompt removal of all symptomatic animals, no matter how mild the signs, is critical in preventing and resolving many outbreaks.

Animals of different species with clinical signs of disease should never be housed in the same isolation ward. This could create the perfect set up for pathogens jumping species, and it is important to remember that some pathogens can infect both dogs and cat. Dogs and cats can also act as reservoirs for some infectious agents. It is therefore imperative to have separate isolations wards for separate species. In general dogs and cats should be housed separately as we know that exposure to dog noise, smells and visual contact can be a significant stressor in shelter cats.

Daily Rounds

Doing daily rounds to inspect all the animals and all the areas in your facility is one of the most useful practices shelter veterinarians can implement to better manage their population and ensure good herd health.

Assess each animal daily and ensure that all needed steps have been taken for that animal that day, including:

     • Behavioral and/or medical assessment to determine adoptability

     • Spay/neuter surgery or other medical procedures required before adoption

     • Movement from areas such as holding rooms, isolation or quarantine rooms to the adoption areas as soon as an animal is released and has received require treatments or assessments

     • Designate animals for rescue groups or transfer programs, initiate contact and pick-up as soon as possible

     • Any behavioral and/or medical care necessary to alleviate suffering and improve adoptability

     • Euthanasia


What is the condition of the animal's environment? Is there evidence of illness, such as diarrhea or sneeze marks on the walls? Is the housing humane for the amount of time the animal has been held? If the animal has been in that kennel for a longer period, does it have enrichment equivalent to that expected in an adoptive home (e.g. room to stretch to full length, choice of hard and soft surfaces for resting, toys and access to human contact and exercise)?


Is there any evidence of illness or kennel stress? Is there anything about the animal's behavior or appearance that might deter adopters, such as a very dirty or matted hair coat or aggressive barking at by-passers? If so, what measures are being taken to alleviate or further evaluate these problems? A more extensive evaluation of each animal's physical and mental condition and adoptability should be made every two weeks. This should include taking the animal out of the kennel, running hands over the body to look for weight loss, sores or other physical problems, and reassessment of the animal's overall well being. Ideally animals should also be weighed every two weeks while in the shelter, as weight loss or gain is a common problem in long-term housed animals.


Is this animal waiting for some action to take place? What is the reason for the delay? Is the action scheduled or in progress? What deadline has been set to re-evaluate progress?

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