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


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

Aug 01, 2010

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.