Veterinary Medicine Within the Animal Shelter
Principles of sound shelter health practices include evaluation of the incoming animal at the time of intake to identify specific needs of the individual animal; preventive medicine measures such as vaccination and parasite treatment; testing for detection of prevalent infectious diseases; appropriate cleaning and disinfection to minimize disease transmission within the facility; stress management and reduction; and population management to ensure that the shelter operates within its capacity for care. Protocols for any given shelter are shaped by the available resources, the needs of the population, and the mandate or mission of the organization.
Veterinarians can help by developing programs to move animals through the shelter system efficiently and by providing expedient medical care. Veterinarians can also assist in developing appropriate behavioral rehabilitation programs, so that resident animals can enjoy a high quality of life during their shelter stay. These measures reduce the impacts of infectious disease. Numerous studies have shown that length of stay in a shelter is the single greatest risk factor for illness, and stressed animals do not “show” well on the adoption floor. Therefore, providing both medical and behavioral care is essential to shelter population health.
Unless the animal shelter is intentionally a longterm, sanctuary-care facility, the focus should always be on moving the animals through the shelter system quickly and minimizing their length of stay. In so doing, the animal shelter organization simultaneously maximizes its lifesaving and animal welfare potential.