Education

Shelter worker holding cat in front of kennels

Animal Care Staff Training Manual: Onboarding and Training New Animal Care Staff

Chapter 1: General Information

Chapter 2: Identifying and Documenting

Chapter 3: Dog Care

Chapter 4: Cat Care

Resources


Introduction
 

Customize with your own greeting 

This manual gives an overview of your duties and responsibilities as a new animal care staff member. Please have this manual and the checklist at the back with you as you progress through your training. As a trainee, you will be scheduled to shadow a staff member, which will allow you to acclimate to your surroundings safely. You will be able to see each procedure being done before you are trained on it and you can ask any questions you have during the training.

Each section has a projected training timeline. Once you and your manager determine that you have mastered a section, you will both sign off on it. Signing off on a section indicates that you understand the information in it and feel confident in that specific area of operations.


Chapter 1: General Information


In Chapter 1, you will learn about general operations, facilities, customer service, volunteer engagement and shelter programs. When you have completed this chapter, you will have the knowledge and skills to:

  • Implement excellent customer-service skills
  • Maintain a safe working environment
  • Know what sanitation and disease control chemicals are used and how to use them properly
  • Know what internal and external programs and services are offered by the shelter

Implementing excellent customer-service skills

Insert your projected training timeline 

Mission statement

Insert your mission statement, organization background, etc. 

Greeting customers

Greet and welcome every single person who walks through the shelter’s doors, if you are in range. Even if you are busy, let customers know that you or another staff member will be with them shortly. It is the responsibility of every staff member to seek out

customers who may need assistance. Be attentive and ready to answer any questions that customers have or direct them to the appropriate staff member.

It is the responsibility of every staff member to attempt to resolve a customer service issue before it becomes a customer service problem.

The 10-4 rule

When customers come within 10 feet of you, make eye contact and smile; at four feet, verbally greet them and ask if you can help them with anything. When used well, the 10-4 rule helps to create a positive environment, the kind of place where the best people want to work and where customers feel welcome.

Volunteers

Shelters rely heavily on the assistance of caring, dedicated, hard-working volunteers to accomplish their lifesaving goals. Volunteers work side-by-side with shelter staff to maintain and improve the animals’ quality of life. Use the 10-4 rule to start engaging with volunteers, but when you are working directly with volunteers, be sure to also introduce yourself and thank them for their time and effort.

Be prepared for volunteers to ask you for assistance or guidance. If you are unsure how to help the volunteer, find another staff member who can do so. To help establish that you are working as a team, thank volunteers for asking for assistance and let them know you are available to help at any time.

Maintaining a safe work environment

Insert your projected training timeline 

Incident reports

Insert your incident report SOP and an example document 

Animal bite reports

Insert your animal bite SOP and an example document 

Inclement weather and fire protocols

Insert your weather and fire policies 

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

The Hazard Communication Standard requires that the chemical manufacturer, distributor or importer provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for each hazardous chemical to downstream users to communicate information on these hazards. SDSs are required to be presented in a consistent, user-friendly format. This brief provides guidance to allow workers who handle hazardous chemicals to become familiar with the format and understand the contents of the SDSs.

The SDS binder is located INSERT LOCATION IN SHELTER and can also be found on the shared drive at INSERT DRIVE LOCATION.

Hand washing

Practicing proper hygiene is the single most effective disease prevention method used in a shelter. To be effective, however, it must be done properly and at the appropriate time. To protect both human and animal health, experts recommend three primary methods for managing hand hygiene: wear gloves, wash with soap and running water, rinse and dry completely. Some tips:

  • Food-handling gloves are inexpensive and easy to put on and take off.
  • Latex gloves may be used for tasks requiring more dexterity.
  • Check out the CDC hand-washing guidelines.

Gloves should always be changed and hands washed before and after handling a puppy, kitten, cat, incoming animals, litter boxes, dirty laundry, feces and blood. Hand-washing should also occur before eating and before leaving the shelter.

Using sanitation and disease control chemicals properly

Insert your projected training timeline 

How disease spreads

Air: Some infections are spread when an infected animal coughs or sneezes small droplets containing infectious agents into the air. Generally, these droplets travel only a short distance (a few feet) from the infected animal before falling. However, the droplets may be breathed in by animals nearby. Some pathogens can travel even farther, up to 20-25 feet.

Fomites: A fomite is any object (e.g., toys, door handles, bench tops, bedding) that may be contaminated with infectious agents (such as bacteria or viruses) and serve in their transmission.

Contact: Some infections are spread directly when skin or a mucous membrane (the thin, moist lining of body parts such as the nose, mouth or throat) comes into contact with the skin or mucous membrane of another animal. Infections are spread indirectly when skin or a mucous membrane comes into contact with a fomite.

Feces: Some infections are spread when microscopic amounts of feces from an infected animal (with or without symptoms) are ingested by another animal.

Shelter layout: You should know what type of animals are in each area of the shelter. Different areas may have different disease prevention protocols.

Adoption area: Contains animals who have been identified by the staff as available for adoption or transfer. The public can visit with the animals in this area.

Impound area: Contains animals who have recently arrived and are deemed healthy. Animals are held in this area to give them time to relax and acclimate to the facility. While animals are here, staff determine the best placement for them in the shelter.

Quarantine or court holds area: Contains animals who are either in quarantine for rabies observation or who have been seized per the animal control department.

Isolation area: This housing area is for all animals who enter the facility with a contagious disease, or animals who become sick at the shelter.

Add descriptions for any additional designated areas 

Insert shelter map and layout 

Cleaning and disinfecting agents

In shelters, cleaning refers to the removal of organic material and debris. Disinfecting, the most important part of sanitation, involves applying chemicals to remove pathogens. Your shelter’s protocols should give detailed instructions on how to do both cleaning and disinfecting. Some items may simply need to be cleaned daily, but not disinfected.

It is important that all products used for cleaning and disinfecting are measured accurately. Inaccurate measurements will cause the product to be ineffective. Referring to laminated charts in the cleaning areas, as well as chemical mixing stations, will help you to make sure you are always mixing accurately.

It is a rule of thumb to never use cleaning products containing phenol for housing areas in the shelter, especially with cats. (See this article in Veterinary Practice News.) Most products that use this chemical have the suffix “-sol” in them. These products have been found to be toxic to certain animals and can cause irritation.

Insert descriptions of cleaning and disinfecting agents used 

Deep cleaning

Animals should be removed from their cages or kennels before deep cleaning occurs. All chemical agents and water should be removed and kennels should be dry before placing the animals back in. Leaving chemicals and/or water in the kennels can cause serious health issues.

The recommendation is to clean the areas where the healthiest animals are housed first, followed by stray/intake holding areas, and finally isolation areas or quarantine areas where sick animals are housed. In addition, areas where juvenile or younger animals are housed should be cleaned first. While the time it takes to make these shifts and determinations can seem burdensome, the payoff is a healthier population that moves through the shelter more quickly.

Area-specific cleaning equipment should be identified and kept in each area and not transferred from quarantined to healthy animal areas. Using colored duct tape is an easy way to identify specific kennel areas.

Insert your deep cleaning protocol

Check out these helpful ASPCApro videos:

Deep cleaning dog kennels

Deep cleaning cat kennels

Here's an example of a cleaning protocol (see section 9) from the University of South Florida. 

Spot cleaning

Spot cleaning is a less intensive process that allows animals to remain in their kennels while cleaning is done. This process is preferred and recommended when a deep clean is not required. Spot cleaning reduces the animals’ stress levels by reducing the amount of handling and allowing the animal’s natural smell to remain dominant in the kennel.

Even when you are spot cleaning, you should always clean healthy to sick, young to old. Clean all healthy animal areas before quarantine or isolation areas throughout the day.

Insert shelter's spot cleaning protocol 

Check out these helpful ASPCApro videos:

Spot cleaning dog kennels

Spot cleaning cat kennels

Laundry

All laundering machines should have laminated charts nearby showing the proper amount of detergent and bleach to use and how to start and stop the machines. Use laundry detergent according to the manufacturer’s specifications with every load. Here are some tips:

  • When applicable, gloves should be used when handling dirty laundry and care should be taken with clean laundry not to cross-contaminate. If gloves are not available, precautions should be taken via thorough hand-washing.
  • Hot water, laundry detergent and a long wash cycle should be used in each load of laundry. Organic material should be removed as much as possible from all items before washing. Clumps of hair and feces can retain germs.
  • For efficient laundering and effective cleaning, do not overload the machines.
  • Do not put leashes and collars in the dryer; they should be air dried.
  • Any bedding, toys or soft washable items that have come in contact with parvo or ringworm should be wrapped in a garbage bag and discarded in the dumpster immediately. The transport and handling of this type of dirty laundry can easily result in contamination and further spread of the disease.

Insert your laundry machine protocols 

Dishes

The following information is from the UC Davis Shelter Medicine Program. When cleaning stainless steel dishes, as with other hard surfaces, a three-step process should be performed:

  1. Remove all organic material and debris, such as feces.
  2. Apply a detergent product.
  3. Apply a disinfectant.

Within a healthy animal population, a standard dishwasher or thorough mechanical cleaning is likely sufficient to remove pathogens without needing an additional disinfectant step, as long as all organic debris is completely removed.

In cases when there’s more concern about infectious diseases (active outbreak, high prevalence, etc.), use the dishwasher’s sanitation cycle, which allows the addition of a disinfectant, or the steam sanitation cycle, which may replace steps 2 and 3 listed above. It is important to know what temperature is reached during the sanitation cycle, as a temperature above 180 degrees Fahrenheit is needed to inactivate resistant pathogens such as parvovirus.

Insert your dishwashing method/machine protocols 

Shelter programs and services

Insert projected training timeline 

Being knowledgeable about the programs and services that your shelter offers the community allows you to accurately direct clients. Below are descriptions of the shelter’s programs and services.

Programs and departments

List all programs and department with a short description of each (animal control, foster care, volunteers, managed intake, rescue, transport, community cat program, etc.) 

List of services

List all services with a short description of each (field operations, clinic, community clinics, adoptions, etc.) 

List available cross trainings for each program for future reference 

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Chapter 2: Identifying and Documenting


In Chapter 2, you will learn how to properly identify animal attributes and how to document all information. When you have completed this chapter, you will have the knowledge and skills to:

  • Identify and document basic animal information
  • Identify and document the mental and physical health of animals in the shelter

Identifying and documenting basic animal information

Insert projected training timeline 

Learning how to document animal identification information is important for several reasons. Documenting that information and doing it accurately can help an animal be reclaimed by his/her owner more quickly. It also allows the shelter to have a starting point at which to gauge the animal’s medical and behavioral conditions. When trained properly, any staff member should be able to immediately identify the basic information for most animals entering the shelter and know how to accurately document that information. Identifying basics include ID, size, age, initial behavior assessment and sexual status.

ID check

Double-check for tags or writing on the animal’s collar. Scan the entire body with a universal scanner for microchips. Look for tattoos on the inner ear, abdomen or inner thigh. Note any distinguishing marks, such as brands or ear tipping.

Insert protocols for finding owner information 

Size

Identifying animals by weight and height is more exact than guessing the animal’s breed. Labeling animals by size is more helpful when pet owners are looking for their animal, since they may not see their animal if the animal’s breed is incorrect in the shelter’s system.

Age

Aging by teeth is most useful in animals who are less than one year old. Although overall body condition, condition of teeth and appearance of the eyes can give some idea of age, it is impossible to accurately estimate age within more than a few years in a mature animal. For information on performing a physical exam on a shelter animal, see this resource from the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program.

Initial assessment of behavior

This process helps to guide initial housing and care choices. For example, frightened animals can be housed in quiet areas with hiding places and friendly, apparently highly adoptable animals may go straight to the adoption housing area while awaiting further evaluation.

Sexual status: dogs

Males: Examine the dog for external male sex organs. Identify the penis and scrotum of male dogs by looking at the area between the belly and the tail. In older dogs, these sex organs will be very visible, while they may be small and almost non-existent in young puppies. The scrotum should be just below the anus, almost directly between the hind legs. If a male dog has been neutered (i.e., his ability to reproduce has been eliminated), he will not usually have a visible scrotum.

Females: Look for external female sex organs. If a dog is female, you should be able to identify her vulva while she has her belly exposed. Gently lift the dog’s hind legs apart until you can see the anus. Above the anus and between the dog’s legs, you should be able to see the vulva, a leaf-shaped structure. The easiest way to identify a spayed female is a visible spay tattoo on the belly. Spay tattoos are usually green in color, but not always. Usually, if there’s no spay tattoo, a veterinarian will have to determine if the dog is spayed.

Sexual status: cats

The opening just under the tail is the cat’s anus. Below the anus is the genital opening, which is round in males and is a vertical slit in females. In kittens of similar size, the distance between the anus and the genital opening is greater in the male than in the female.

The easiest way to identify a spayed female is a visible spay tattoo on the belly. Spay tattoos are usually green in color, but not always. Usually, if there’s no spay tattoo, a veterinarian will have to determine if the cat is spayed.

Shelter software

Shelter software helps to track in-care pets (medical and behavioral), licensing, adoptions, volunteers, donations, payments and many other daily operations. Knowing how the shelter software functions and how to use it is critical to obtaining important information on animals entering and leaving the shelter.

Insert shelter software protocols and trainings 

Kennel information

Kennel cards contain a lot of useful information for animal caregivers. To have a better understanding of the animal, review the kennel card before going into the kennel and make sure that the correct animal is in the kennel. All the following information should be on the kennel card: photo of the animal, kennel number, animal status (stray, available, etc.), age, sex, colors and markings, microchip number, medical information and behavioral observations.

Laminated reminder cards can be clipped to the kennel to alert animal care staff if an animal is away from his/her kennel for the day (for surgery, doggie day out, etc.) or to alert animal care staff about any medical or behavioral need (e.g., take a fecal or urine sample before cleaning, feed three times daily and only wet food, slow walks only, head-shy).

Insert shelter kennel care example 

Identifying and documenting mental and physical health

Insert projected training timeline 

Identifying signs of sickness or pain (canine and feline)

Daily monitoring of the animals in the shelter is key to keeping our populations healthy and providing the best care possible. Evaluating each animal’s appetite, hydration, stools and behavior can alert us to potential health problems and give us an idea of how the animal is adjusting to being in the shelter. Animal care staff should be responsible for monitoring animals for general health and behavior while they are taking care of daily cleaning or spot cleaning.

Daily monitoring should include all of the following:

  • Appetite: Is the animal eating? Is there food left over from the day before?
  • Vomiting: Is the animal vomiting? Is there vomit or dried vomit in the kennel?
  • Stools: Is there stool in the kennel? Is it diarrhea? Is it formed or soft? What color is it? Consider using a fecal score chart to help identify stools correctly.
  • Urine: Is there urine in the kennel? Is it a small or large amount? What color is the urine and is there blood in it? If it’s a feline kennel, is the cat using the litter box?
  • Eye discharge: Does the animal have any eye discharge? Is the eye area swollen?
  • Nasal discharge: Does the animal have any nasal discharge? What color is the discharge?
  • Collar: Is the collar on the animal too tight?
  • Sneezing: Is the animal sneezing?
  • Hydration: Can the animal maintain his/her own hydration? Is the water bowl full?
  • Energy level: How is the animal acting? Does he/she seem bright, alert and responsive (BAR)? Aware of his/her surroundings?
  • Behavior: Is the animal exhibiting any abnormal behavior or behavior that is cause for concern?

To determine if a puppy is feeling ill, offer a tablespoon of canned food in a bowl and monitor the puppy’s appetite. If he does not immediately eat all of the food, this is a red flag that the puppy is sick. Alert a manager or clinic staff immediately.

Alerting the medical team or manager of possible illness

If you notice an animal with any of the aforementioned symptoms, a “contagious” sign should be added to the kennel and a manager or clinic staff should be alerted as soon as possible to treat the animal and prevent the spread of disease. If your shelter has an isolation area, refer to your contagious animal protocol and move the animal to the designated area immediately.

Insert protocol for altering management about illness 

Daily documentation for altering management 

All medical observations should be noted in an animal’s record to allow for tracking of symptoms and to help make a correct medical diagnosis. Shelter software is generally set up to allow input of daily medical and behavioral observations. Documenting these observations on paper should be done if the shelter’s software does not support input of such data.

Insert protocol for tracking medical observations 

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Chapter 3: Dog Care

In Chapter 3, you will learn about basic canine handling, enrichment, kennels, feeding and common canine shelter diseases. When you have completed this chapter, you will have the knowledge and skills to:

  • Handle canines appropriately and safely
  • Identify and monitor canine behaviors
  • Provide daily enrichment
  • Maintain correct canine housing
  • Know canine feeding structures
  • Identify common canine shelter diseases

Handling dogs safely

Insert projected training timeline 

Safe, effective animal handling demands total concentration on the animal you are handling and the knowledge to read the body language that the animal is displaying. Taking a few moments to visually assess the dog you are about to handle can make your job safer and less stressful for the animal. ASPCApro has a helpful training webinar called Shelter Guidelines: Animal Handling.

Insert your agency's canine safe-handling protocol

Interpreting body language

Insert projected training timeline 

Because each dog is an individual and will express fear, aggression, stress or joy slightly differently than another dog, there are no hard and fast rules for interpreting dog body language. Tail wagging, for instance, can indicate several emotions. The important thing is to look at the entire body of the dog.

Doggie Language Image

Providing enrichment

Insert projected training timeline 

Enrichment refers to a process for improving the environment and care of confined animals within the context of their behavioral needs. The purpose of enrichment is to reduce stress and improve well-being by providing physical and mental stimulation, encouraging species-typical behaviors (e.g., chewing for dogs, scratching for cats), and allowing animals more control over their environment.

Successful enrichment programs prevent the development and display of abnormal behavior and provide for the psychological well-being of the animals. Enrichment should be given the same significance as other components of animal care, such as nutrition and veterinary care, and should not be considered optional. (For more information, see the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.) Below are some enrichment ideas.

Puppies: Socialization should be provided by workers or volunteers wearing clean protective clothing in an environment that can be fully disinfected between uses. Puppy-to-human socialization is important for puppies to be successful in the homes they will eventually have, so make sure they get attention every day.

Taste: Kongs or frozen food treats can be self-soothing for dogs and encourage positive chewing behavior. When you approach a kennel, give treats for all four paws on the floor to help train the dogs to present well for potential adopters.

Smell: As we all know, dogs love to smell things, so simply spraying aerosols (vanilla, orange, cherry) in the kennel can engage their brains and provide enrichment. As a bonus, it adds a pleasant smell to the kennels. Having different scents on your hands when cleaning or working with a dog is another easy way to engage their brains. Even adding smells to their blankets gets those sniffers working!

Hearing: Playing music or audiobooks can be calming for dogs; classical and reggae are said to be most calming for dogs.

Sight: Adding mobiles to the kennels so dogs have something to watch provides positive visual stimulation. For dogs who may be experiencing too much visual stimulation (often leading to barrier frustration), try reducing the visual stimuli and placing those dogs in a quiet area with few distractions or hanging a sheet in front of the kennel.

Touch: Soft blankets, bedding and toys help provide warmth and comfort for dogs in shelters. And, of course, simply petting a dog who is asking for attention can provide enrichment.

Kennel setup

Insert projected training timeline 

Even short-term housing in shelters must meet the minimum care needs of animals, providing separate areas for urination and defecation, feeding and resting. 

The animal must have sufficient space to sit, stand and walk several steps, and lie down at full body length. (For more information, see the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.)

Cleaning

You should clean the kennels on a regular daily schedule to minimize the dogs’ stress. Stress is increased when the cleaning time is unpredictable, and it may even result in chronic fear and anxiety. Dogs like a predictable routine.

Always remove dogs from their kennels when applying chemicals or spraying with water. It is never OK to spray a kennel with an animal inside or to tether a dog to another kennel or wall during cleaning. If your shelter uses trained volunteers for cleaning, work out a system so one of you walks the dog and one of you cleans. Dogs will get a clean environment and enrichment at the same time!

Puppies

Some cleaning and sanitation tips:

  • Using medical pads or newspaper allows for quicker clean-up with messy puppies.
  • Wear gloves anytime you handle a puppy and change gloves before touching unrelated puppies or other surfaces (to prevent transmission of disease via fomites).
  • Using a pillowcase, towel, blanket or gown to cover your torso or cover the puppy helps to decrease cross-contamination between litters of puppies.
  • Disinfect any surface that the puppy touches before moving on to the next unrelated animal.
  • Litters of puppies can be split into pairs or groups of three for housing in the shelter. This protects their behavioral welfare (much healthier than social isolation) and creates smaller groups to facilitate effective daily care and monitoring.
  • Ideally, do not place unrelated puppies in adjacent kennels; instead, alternate them with adult dogs in between.

Nursing moms

Some cleaning and sanitation tips:

  • Obtain a clean, dry bed (e.g., plastic kiddie pool or plastic crate) and line it with clean pads and towels to make a warm nest.
  • Obtain all necessary cleaning equipment. Use a guillotine door to close mom on one side of the kennel while you clean the other side, or have another staff member walk mom while you clean.
  • If the bedding is not soiled, you can pick up the warm bedding and the puppies and place everything into the new clean bed. Preserving the warm bedding keeps the neonates warm and less stressed.
  • If the bedding is soiled, gently move the puppies to the clean bed. Clean and disinfect the kennel, making sure to rinse all disinfectant away, then thoroughly dry the kennel floor. Place the clean bedding with the puppies back in the kennel.
  • You can give nursing moms some privacy by hanging a sheet in front of the kennel. Foster homes are usually the best place for nursing moms.

Water

Water bowls should be emptied daily and filled with fresh water. Care should be taken with water bowls when applying cleaning chemicals to kennels. Bowls should be deep-cleaned at least once a week and whenever organic debris is present.

Food

Fresh food should be given daily, and food intake should be monitored to make sure the animal’s nutritional needs are being met. If you notice that food hasn’t been eaten, report it to your manager or the clinic. It is best practice to pull the bowls daily (after feeding) and deep-clean them to help reduce pests. Nursing moms should always have access to puppy kibble.

Beds

Beds and blankets provide warmth and comfort for dogs. Both blankets and beds should be checked for dryness and cleanliness and deep-cleaned in between animals.

Enrichment

Don’t forget to provide enrichment inside the kennel. Giving the dogs stuffed and frozen treat toys is great for providing snacks and mental stimulation.

Feeding

Insert projected training timeline 

Always defer 

to the shelter’s medical team when feeding any animal in the shelter. Many shelters only feed their dogs dry food, since it’s more convenient to serve, has less odor and is less likely to spoil in the bowl. Some shelters use wet food as a treat, to hide daily medications or as a way to increase water intake (which is sometimes

medically indicated). Any wet food that remains uneaten after 30 minutes should be thrown away.

Guidelines for feeding dogs:

  • Dogs and puppies are fed one cup per 10 pounds of body weight. Body weight should be documented on the kennel card.
  • Puppies (six months and younger) are fed puppy food twice daily. So, a five-pound puppy should be fed half a cup of puppy food twice daily.
  • Puppies under six months of age and underweight dogs are fed twice daily.
  • Puppies without their eyes open must have a nursing mother or be bottle-fed. They cannot be placed in a cage alone. Foster homes are often the best place for them.
  • To prevent food guarding or bullying behavior, puppies housed in groups should each have their own bowl of food or you could use a wide, shallow puppy pan.
  • Tiny adult dogs (under 10 pounds) can be offered puppy kibble if the adult kibble is too large for them to chew.
  • Offer canned food in addition to dry food to dogs who are geriatric or are not eating dry kibble.
  • Nursing moms should always have access to dry puppy kibble.

For underweight and overweight dogs, there should be a detailed feeding schedule, which should be placed on the kennel for visibility. A laminated sheet with check-off boxes is helpful. Avoid over-feeding both types of dogs and notify medical staff or your manager if any dog is not eating.

Common canine shelter diseases

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Prevention of disease 

in the shelter is not always easy. Confirmed illnesses are easier to contain, but there is a grey area when animals do not show any signs of illness. Being knowledgeable about some of the basic diseases and their symptoms can help you identify an illness.

Kennel cough: The classic symptom of kennel cough is a persistent, forceful cough. It often sounds like a goose honk. Some dogs with kennel cough show other symptoms of illness, including sneezing, a runny nose or eye discharge. Kennel cough is contagious and is often spread through airborne transmissions.

Giardia: Giardia infection in dogs may lead to weight loss, chronic intermittent diarrhea and fatty stool. The stool may range from soft to watery, often has a greenish tinge to it and occasionally contains blood. Infected dogs tend to have excess mucus in their feces. Vomiting may occur in some cases. Giardia thrives in a wet environment.

Parvo: Canine parvovirus (CPV) is highly contagious and puppies are especially vulnerable. CPV is spread from dog to dog by direct or indirect contact with their feces. Some of the signs of parvovirus are lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and bloating, fever or low body temperature (hypothermia), vomiting and severe, often bloody diarrhea. Any puppy exhibiting even one of these symptoms should be evaluated for parvovirus.

Distemper: Canine distemper affects the gastrointestinal, respiratory, skin, immune and central nervous systems. Mild cases of distemper can appear identical to kennel cough. Symptoms can take up to 14 days to show up after exposure. Canine distemper may also cause brain inflammation and neurological symptoms. Distemper is highly contagious and is usually transmitted through airborne exposure.

Coccidia: Coccidia are tiny single-celled parasites that live in the wall of a dog’s intestine. They are found more often in puppies, but they can also infect older dogs and cats. Dogs become infected by swallowing substances in the environment that contain coccidia or dog feces. Usually the smell of iron (think of a handful of pennies) is present in fecal matter as well as blood.

External parasites: The most common external parasites in dogs are fleas, ticks, and ear and mange mites. Usually, preventives are given topically or via oral medication.

Intestinal parasites: There are several types of internal parasites that can cause problems in dogs, including roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms. Intestinal parasites can cause diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, rough hair coat and a pot-bellied appearance.

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Chapter 4: Cat Care


In Chapter 4, you will learn about basic feline handling, enrichment, kennels, feeding and common feline shelter diseases. When you have completed this chapter, you will have the knowledge and skills to:

  • Handle felines appropriately and safely
  • Identify and monitor feline behaviors
  • Implement daily enrichment
  • Maintain correct feline housing
  • Know feline feeding structures
  • Identify common feline shelter diseases

Handling cats safely

Insert projected training timeline 

When approaching cat kennels or carriers, always talk slowly and softly. 

Try to make yourself seem smaller by approaching the kennel with your side to the front. This posture is less threatening to most cats.

When handling a cat, use the least amount of restraint necessary, to reduce stress on the cat. Cats should have minimal handling during their first 24 hours inside the shelter. Hiding spaces should be provided (e.g., feral den, cardboard box, carrier). If those are not available, a towel or sheet can be placed over the cage front to minimize outside noises and stress. Having some time and a place to hide helps cats accept a new environment more quickly. When transporting cats through the shelter, make sure to always cover the transporting carrier.

Insert protocols for feline safe handling 

Interpreting body language

Insert projected training timeline 

Cats use their bodies to tell us, and each other, how they feel. Everything from their ears, eyes and whiskers to their toes and the tips of their tails give us clues as to what’s going on inside their heads.

Cat language image

Providing enrichment

Insert projected training timeline 

Enrichment refers to a process for improving the environment and care of confined animals within the context of their behavioral needs. The purpose of enrichment is to reduce stress and improve well-being by providing physical and mental stimulation, encouraging species-typical behaviors (e.g., chewing for dogs, scratching for cats), and allowing animals more control over their environment.

Successful enrichment programs prevent the development and display of abnormal behavior and provide for the psychological well-being of the animals. Enrichment should be given the same significance as other components of animal care, such as nutrition and veterinary care, and should not be considered optional. (For more information, see the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.) Below are some enrichment ideas.

Kittens: Socialization should be provided by staff or volunteers wearing clean protective clothing in an environment that can be fully disinfected between uses.

Taste: Offer novel or unique food items as special treats. Even a spoonful of wet food daily can help encourage healthy eating habits in cats and add quality to their day.

Smell: Feliway is a synthetic version of a feline pheromone that can be used to comfort cats in a new or stressful environment. It’s available as a diffuser or collar. Spraying scents for enrichment is not recommended, since it can cause damage to cats’ respiratory tract. Placing something as simple as a pinecone in a cat’s enclosure can produce smells that help reduce stress.

Hearing: Cats can be sensitive to loud noises, such as kennel doors clanging shut. If music is played for the cats, keep it at low volume and make it something soothing, like classical music.

Touch: Cats’ feet are tremendously sensitive and can easily pick up vibrations throughout the kennel. Provide blankets, bedding and hiding spots for the cats to reduce those stressors and give them much-needed comfort. Low-cost toys such as pipe cleaners and ping-pong balls are great ways to engage cats. Scratching posts or donated carpet squares are also necessities to allow cats to express their typical behaviors. They can even be sent home with new adopters for added comfort.

Kennel setup

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Historically, food, water and housing have been considered the only essentials that animal shelters must give to cats in their care. While this standard does provide for the physical well-being of cats, it doesn’t provide for their emotional well-being. As our understanding of cat behavior has grown, it has become obvious that we must pay attention to the emotional and mental health needs of cats, too.

Cleaning

Cats find their own scent reassuring, so for daily cleaning of cat kennels, it’s better to spot-clean rather than deep-clean. During cleaning, try to be as quiet and gentle as possible, and do not handle the cat if it’s not necessary.

Some cleaning guidelines:

  • Before you start cleaning, look at each cat in the room to see if you notice any changes in health that may affect your cleaning order. Make sure health changes are recorded and shared with medical staff.
  • Separate cleaning supplies should be available in each cat room; they should not be shared between rooms.
  • Cleaning in each room should proceed relatively uninterrupted until the room is finished. This helps to reduce the risk of disease transmission into or out of a room and also reduces stress for the cats by making cleaning time efficient.
  • Clean in order of most vulnerable to least vulnerable: Clean healthy kittens first, then healthy adults, then sick kittens and adults last. Clean cages top to bottom.
  • If the cat or kittens cannot remain safely in the cage during spot-cleaning, place them in a carrier. Do not use carriers for multiple unrelated cats housed in different cages.
  • If a cat is fractious, a feral box or mammal den should be placed in the cage. Use safety equipment to coax the cat into the feral box and close the door from outside the cage prior to opening the cage door. Open the door and cover the feral box window with a towel to calm the cat while you tidy the cage and provide fresh litter, food and water. Remember to open the feral box door from outside the cage once you are finished with spot-cleaning.

After sanitation is complete, staff should change clothing before beginning other duties and handling healthy animals, such as new intakes.

Litter box

Litter boxes should be scooped daily and deep-cleaned weekly or as needed. If using litter scoops, they must be cleaned in between kennels or each kennel should be assigned its own scoop. Some litter boxes may be set up for a one-time use and therefore would need to be changed daily. Litter boxes should always be deep-cleaned and sanitized in between cats. Communal cat spaces should have more than one litter box and possibly several more, depending on the number of cats living in the space.

Water

Water bowls should be emptied daily and filled with fresh water. Care should be taken with water bowls when applying cleaning chemicals to cages. Bowls should be deep-cleaned at least once a week and whenever organic debris is present.

Food

Fresh food should be given daily, and food intake should be monitored to make sure the animal’s nutritional needs are being met. If you notice that food hasn’t been eaten, report it to your manager or the clinic. Nursing moms should always have access to kitten kibble.

Blankets

Beds and blankets provide warmth and comfort for cats. Towels, pieces of felt and even carpet squares are great additions to a cat’s living space.

Hiding boxes

Providing felines with places to hide in their kennels helps to reduce stress. The hiding places can be feral dens or even cardboard boxes. Dens should be cleaned in between animals and boxes should be discarded or sent home with the cat’s adopter.

Enrichment

Don’t forget to add some form of daily enrichment, whether it’s a new toy or a dab of wet food, to the cats’ kennels after cleaning and feeding. Including something new or different every day will help keep the cats mentally stimulated.

Feeding

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Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they must eat a balanced, meat-based diet. They need certain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which are found in high levels in meat. If cats do not eat a diet containing these amino acids, serious and often fatal diseases can develop.

Because of this, cats should not be fed a vegetarian diet, or a diet consisting solely of tuna, hamburger or another meat source, without explicit guidance from a veterinarian. Similarly, cats should not be fed dog food, since most dog foods do not give cats adequate levels of vital amino acids or vitamins.

Guidelines for feeding cats:

  • All cats and kittens over one pound should be fed dry food each morning.
  • For kittens under six months of age, feed them kitten food.
  • Feed cats one-half cup per 10 pounds of body weight daily.
  • Group-housed cats and kittens should have access to multiple bowls of food that are separated by several feet to prevent food guarding or bullying behavior.
  • Kittens whose eyes aren’t open yet must have a nursing mother or be bottle-fed. They cannot be placed in a cage alone.
  • Kittens weighing under one pound can be offered dry kitten chow and “mush” (wet food mixed with water).
  • Nursing moms should be fed food specifically for nursing and pregnant cats.

Offer canned food in addition to dry food to cats who are underweight or have signs of upper respiratory infection. There should be a detailed feeding schedule, which should be placed on the kennel for visibility. A laminated sheet with check-off boxes is helpful. Notify medical staff or your manager if a cat is not eating.

Common feline shelter diseases

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When cats' immune systems are suppressed by stress, they can become sick more easily. Familiarize yourself with these common shelter diseases to help everyone stay on top of disease prevention and outbreaks within the cat population.

Upper respiratory infection (URI): Symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections include clear or colored discharge from the eyes or nose, coughing, sneezing, swelling of the mucous membranes around the eyes, lethargy, tongue or facial ulcers, and anorexia.

Ringworm: The clearest and most common signs of feline ringworm are circular areas of hair loss, broken and stubbly hair, scaling or crusty skin, alterations in hair or skin color, inflamed areas of skin, excessive grooming and scratching, infected claws or nail beds, and dandruff.

Feline panleukopenia virus: The first visible signs of this virus include generalized depression, loss of appetite, high fever, lethargy, vomiting, severe diarrhea, nasal discharge and dehydration. Sick cats may sit for long periods of time in front of their water bowls but not drink much water.

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV): Most cases of FIV involve an infected cat passing it to another through a deep bite. A mother cat infected with the virus can pass it to her kittens. While FIV is contagious, cats do not transmit the virus by sharing a food bowl with other cats or through other feline contact actions. It is diagnosed through a blood test. Cats who test positive for FIV can be housed safely with other cats as long as no fighting occurs.

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV): Diagnosed through a blood test, FeLV is passed from one cat to another through saliva, blood and, to some extent, urine and feces. The virus commonly causes anemia or lymphoma, and because it suppresses the immune system, it can also predispose cats to deadly infections.

External parasites: In cats, the most common external parasites are fleas, ticks and ear mites. Usually, preventives are given topically or via oral medication. Cats should never be given preventives meant for dogs, as it can cause serious illness and even death.

Intestinal parasites: There are several types of internal parasites that can cause problems in cats, including roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms. Intestinal parasites can cause diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, rough hair coat and a pot-bellied appearance.

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