Animal disease in shelters: Where to send animals to get sick

BVSc (Hons) MANZCVS (Animal Welfare) PhD

Associate Lecturer in Veterinary Microbiology and Animal Disease, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Australia

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Historically animal shelters came about mainly for population control – to reduce the unwanted animal population through humane destruction, and to serve as a holding facility for lost animals until they could be reclaimed by the owner. Despite an overall trend for a reduction in the unwanted pet population (e.g. due to high rates of neutering and public education), and improved methods for reuniting lost animals with owners (e.g. microchipping and online databases), animal shelters continue to ‘thrive’ around the world. Today, they frequently serve as ‘nuisance solvers’ for the community and play a significant role in animal cruelty investigations such as animal hoarding. 


Shelters are not ideal places for animals. The dense housing of large groups of animals, although (theoretically) only for a short period of time, exposes them to a range of infectious diseases that are less commonly encountered by individually housed pets. Consequently shelter medicine often requires a different approach to individual patient care and requires, amongst other skills, a strong background in microbiology. This webinar will review some of the most common infectious diseases managed by shelter veterinarians, including infectious tracheobronchitis (‘kennel cough’) in dogs and upper respiratory tract disease in cats. We will examine some published case studies of disease outbreaks in shelters, including multi-drug resistant Salmonella typhimurium, virulent systemic feline calicivirus disease, dual canine adenovirus-1 and canine coronavirus infection, Streptococcus canis infection and Streptococcus equi subsp. zooepidemicus infection. We will also cover two recent outbreaks of disease in shelters in Sydney caused by feline parvovirus and feline leukaemia virus. 


Finally, we will consider the question: If shelters are not ideal places for animals, how can we make shelters obsolete? The future of animal sheltering is to develop programs that will ultimately lead to the end of sheltering. A case example will be presented of an Australian charity called Pets in the Park which is seeking to reduce the burden on shelters by helping pets owned by the homeless stay with their owners instead of entering shelters.

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