Last Updated on July 26, 2023 by Dogs Vets
The Importance of Veterinary Care for Shelter Animals: A Pathway to Finding Their Forever Homes
For shelters without a staff veterinarian or those that do, partnering with local practitioners benefits everyone.
Private practice veterinarians gain experience in shelter medicine, a recognized specialty area of veterinary medicine, while shelters benefit from the support of dedicated veterinary care.
Medical protocols developed in consultation with the shelter’s vet of record allow for the utilization of support staff to perform a variety of procedures. This helps to maximize productivity with current resources.
While private practice veterinarians focus on the individual pet with an owner, shelter veterinarians must manage the health and well-being of large numbers of animals simultaneously.
The confined, communal environment of shelters increases the risk of infectious disease spread and stress on the animals, which often results in lower quality of life.
According to HSNY, multiple animals are admitted to the shelter daily and may require immediate medical attention or vaccines.
Shelter veterinarians are also responsible for developing programs that promote spay/neuter and behavioral rehabilitation for shelter animals.
Due to these special responsibilities, it’s common for many shelters to need help staffing their veterinarian positions.
A recent Association of Shelter Veterinarians survey found that 56% of respondents said the national veterinary shortage impacted their shelter “a lot” or “a great deal.”
Animals entering shelters often arrive under stress, with weakened immune systems. Vaccination, isolation, cleaning, and handling protocols are essential to ensure their safety and prevent disease transmission.
Performing daily rounds to evaluate food and water consumption, defecation, attitude, ambulation, and other factors that may indicate illness can alert staff to potential problems. It is recommended that a trained individual, such as a vet tech or kennel attendant, do this.
Unfortunately, shelters are disproportionately feeling the impact of the national veterinarian shortage.
This leaves veterinarians tucked away in surgery suites and neutering rooms instead of out on the floor, scrutinizing shelter policies and procedures and ensuring that basic care (cleaning, feeding, vaccination, quarantine) and behavioral needs (enrichment, exercise, and socialization) are being met. This should not be tolerated. It is time to change this.
Shelter dogs and cats often have behavioral issues that impact adoption. These issues can keep animals from finding homes, from intraspecific aggression to fearfulness and hyper-arousal. Behavior modification programs can help.
Providing a high quality of life for stray animals should be the guiding principle of shelters and rescue organizations that serve them.
As a result, shelter veterinarians must scrutinize the overall well-being of the animals in their care. If they find that conditions are unsafe, they should advocate for change.
Shelter veterinarians must be given a leadership role consistent with their education and expertise in organizational policy, animal welfare, and population management.
Despite the best efforts of shelters, some animals will be euthanized. Sadly, this is an unavoidable reality of the care and management of homeless pets.
Shelter veterinarians must be experts in the health and welfare of large pet populations, including organizational policies, disease control strategies, spay/neuter programs, standardized euthanasia protocols, and animal behavior.
This expertise is necessary to meet the needs of a growing population of unwanted and abandoned dogs, cats, and other pets.
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