Optimizing feline housing in shelters (Proceedings)

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Optimizing feline housing in shelters (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2009

It is only relatively recently that shelters actually house cats. Most older shelters were designed to house only dogs as this was the legal mandate of animal control. For some reason we have collectively come to believe that placing cats into small metal cages for weeks, months even years on end is humane and acceptable shelter practice. This may be partly due to cats' behavior that tend to be quiet and "uncomplaining" and partly due to the sheer number of them. In addition, simple habit and a "that's how everyone houses cats" mentality are also at work. It is time to start thinking out-of-the-box and to reconsider how we house cats in shelters. Doing so will not only increase their welfare but will also significantly reduce the ubiquitous diseases that plague our feline friends.

Most shelters will not be able to finance new buildings or renovate their existing ones. However, if that is an option then the time to focus on cat housing is earlier rather than later. It is important to carefully articulate the goals for the project early in the process of building a new or expanded facility. Consideration should be given to both current and future trends. A good question to ask regarding cat is how will the new housing improve their welfare? Will a huge, impressive lobby have more benefit than high quality cat housing? Many times it is not. Sometimes shelters are built or expanded with the idea that simply expanding the space and making the environment more appealing on the surface (i.e. to humans) will lead to great gains in saving lives. However, more space alone will not necessarily increase adoptions or reduce euthanasia - if quality and efficiency of the space is not improved, the results of even an enormous investment in facility expansion may be disappointing.

Concepts to keep in mind when renovating cat housing

A - Minimize disease transmission

The majority of feline diseases in animal shelters are spread by fomites, environmental contamination, and direct animal contact. A fomite is any object that may become contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms and thus serve to transmit disease. Fomites include dishes, bedding, leashes, and, most importantly, the hands and clothing of animal care staff. Contamination of animal care staff occurs most readily when animals are handled for cleaning. It is a common misconception that the majority of diseases in a shelter setting are airborne. This is generally not true, especially in cats. Studies have shown that aerosol transmission plays little role in the contagiousness of upper respiratory infections in cats. Healthy cats housed in the same air space as sick cats remained healthy, as long as fomite transmission from the sick to healthy cats was prevented. Fomite transmission was prevented primarily by assigning different caretakers for the sick and healthy cats. Coughing or sneezing cats are unable to generate aerosols that will spread any further than 4-5 feet.
     • Recommendation number one for new cat housing:
     • Build or design double sided cages/runs. This system is not for dogs only. It also allows cats to be gently moved to one side while the other is being cleaned minimizing fomite transmission and stress.
          o "Old" small cages can be expanded with some ingenuity. Side-by-side cages can be made into double sided ones by cutting holes into sides or floors/tops.
          o If double sided cages are not possible then at least give each cat a hiding box. This will allow the cat to hide and stay within the cage while it is being "spot cleaned" :
          o http://www.animalsheltering.org/resource_library/magazine_articles/may_jun_2005/spot_cleaning_a_cat_cage.html
     • Recommendation number two for new cat housing:
     • Ensure that there is sufficient space to segregate the following sub-populations:
          o Sick cats by disease (e.g. respiratory disease, diarrhea, ringworm)
          o Cats recovering or recovered from illness
          o Kittens (under 5 months of age)