Shelter Medicine – Changing The Way We Think

Presenter Dr Rachel Dean BVMS PhD DSAM (fel) MRCVS, RCVS Specialist in Feline Medicine, Director of the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine, Clinical Associate Professor in Feline Medicine, Nottingham University

Having just returned from 2 weeks in the South of France I eagerly ventured back to ‘The Webinar Vet’ to seek out a webinar I had missed. ‘Shelter medicine’ led by Dr Rachel Dean caught my eye and led to a very welcome return to CPD. 

Shelter medicine was not an area of veterinary medicine focused on during my university years but Rachel explained that there is an increasing level of interest with one of the first lectureships in shelter medicine being provided by Nottingham University.  According to a questionnaire performed by the CPL , 90% of vets in practice deal with animals in shelters making shelter medicine education a necessity for most vets within the profession.

Rachel’s ‘sit up and take notice’ message during this webinar focused on getting vets to consider a ‘new way of thinking’ when dealing with shelter animals. Starting out in practice, Rachel described her frustration, when a rescue centre would continually bring in animals suffering from the same infectious diseases.  

The cycle of dealing with a sick puppy or kitten suffering from a preventable infectious disease would never seem to stop. This resonates with my first job in practice where a rescue shelter, whose heart was undoubtedly in the right place, would constantly bring down cats suffering from herpes/calicivirus despite them entering the shelter perfectly healthy several weeks earlier. Rachel explained, in retrospect, rather than considering and treating each animal as an individual, a ‘treating the whole herd’ approach should have been adopted. Perhaps in my case rather than becoming frustrated by the constant flow of sick cats I should have discussed the problem in greater depth with the shelter, forming a plan to try and prevent its specific problems. 

In adopting the ‘treating the herd’ mentality, difficult decisions need to made, as specifically treating any individual can have an effect on the whole shelter. For example treating an individual for osteoarthritis with NSAIDs and exercise moderation will have an impact on vital resources available to the shelter, mainly money, time and staff. Would this time and money be better used on a vaccination or neutering programme? Rachel explained that one of the keys to understanding the needs of a shelter involves visiting the shelter and coming to grips with its policy. Is their aim to re home animals as soon as possible, or do they wish to ‘sanctuarise’ them on a more long term basis? What is their view on euthanasia and neutering? Rachel also advises drawing a schematic plan of the shelter premises allowing advice to be more readily given over the phone if there has been an outbreak of infectious disease. It also gives a better understanding of the weaknesses and strengths within the shelter i.e. do they have a quarantine and isolation area?

This veterinary webinar organised by ‘The Webinar Vet’ challenged me to think differently about the cases I see from shelters and to consider the shelter’s needs as well as those of the individual animal which is perhaps something I rarely considered before. Of course Rachel stressed the importance of a good knowledge surrounding infectious diseases, an area I most definitely need to work on, but for any of you who would like the challenge of changing the way we consider treating shelter animals and for anyone dealing with shelters regularly , this is a webinar not to be missed. 

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)


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