USAVA congress – impressions of animal welfare

A few months ago I came across information about a large number of stray and abandoned animals in Ukraine and this triggered some questions about animal welfare and shelter medicine.

USAVA congress was an ideal place to talk to colleagues and the perfect opportunity to negotiate guidelines for veterinarians. Discussed topics included: welfare, vaccination protocols, early vaccination, euthanasia of stray animals, assistance to homeless animals, etc.

Animal health and welfare can be seriously affected. Directly, when the stray animals themselves live under poor conditions, (e.g. hunger, chronic skin disorders, lack of shelter, etc.) and indirectly when inappropriate dog population control measures (e.g. shooting, poisoning, inhumane handling) are used.

There are some specifics of prevention and treatment of Infectious diseases in dogs and cats in shelters and all veterinarians should be familiar with shelter medicine.

Vaccination is an integral and inseparable component of preventative program of animal health management in animal shelters. Every shelter has to develop its own protocol according to the individual needs. This way, it will minimize the stress and the exposure to pathogens, help animals stay healthy or reduce the severity of symptoms if a disease develops. Strategies concerning vaccination protocols for pets kept in household conditions differ from those in shelters or any other large population of animals where there is a fast and large entry and exit of animals. The possibility and the exposure to diseases is often much higher and consequences of infection more severe for the sick animal and the entire population.

A well-done vaccination program can be a tool that maintains a healthy population. Some vaccines offer protection within a few days of administration and can drastically lower the frequency of some diseases, as well as mortality.

A Shelter Medicine veterinarian will monitor for pathogens, hygiene, or stress levels while at the same time improving animal housing and shelter management. Shelter veterinarians provide basic care for animal health and welfare by checking the individual animal identification which increases the chance of returning it to its owner; by spaying and neutering which reduces the number of surplus animals in our care; by providing vaccination and thus preventing diseases, and treatment of the sick prevents impairment of animal welfare.

The goal is to keep shelter animals healthy and rehome them as soon as possible. There is a direct connection between time of stay and chronic stress (Hennessy 1997, Hiby 2006, Menor-Campos 2011, Titulaer 2013) so rehoming is vital to animal welfare.

Veterinarians are directly involved in the problem of keeping pets. In practice they meet daily with both well-kept animals and the abandoned ones. The collaboration with a number of animal welfare associations is seen through the network of resources provided for abandoned animals that come daily to veterinary clinics, ambulances and practitioners. It is not a question of whether veterinarians are willing to help. Rather, the problem lies in the impossibility of collecting often very high costs (due to irresponsible owners). In all of these situations, colleagues unselfishly give their time and knowledge, set up diagnoses, cure, vaccinate, neuter, using appropriate therapeutic, anaesthetic and analgesic protocols.

Veterinary clinics, Animal shelters ( standards-oct2011-wforward.pdf) and Animal Welfare Groups need to work together to enhance health and welfare of both owned and stray dogs; promote responsible ownership; reduce the number of abandoned dogs to an acceptable level; maintain a high enough level of rabies vaccination coverage and finally to prevent illegal puppy trade.

Lastly, we talked about The Five Animal Welfare Needs and why they matter. Those needs are: suitable environment; diet; the need to exhibit normal behavior patterns; the need to be housed with or apart from other animals and the need to be protected from pain, suffering and disease. These topics are yet to be discussed.

Zagreb, June 14, 2019.

Croatian Small Animal Veterinary Section

Tatjana Zajec, DVM

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