Shelter Health

Good Nutrition for Shelter Animals

Developing an appropriate feeding plan that is practical to implement and still meets nutritional needs of the variety of animals entering a shelter is challenging but key to proper health care. Having an accurate weight and body condition score (BCS) is an important baseline in calculating an animal's daily nutritional requirement. The amount each animal is fed can then be calculated from a formula that takes into account life stage, health status, activity level and the particular food chosen.

Here are actions you can take to ensure good nutrition is provided for shelter animals in your care:

  1. Record weight and BCS as part of your intake examination and repeat regularly throughout shelter stay – and be sure you route animals promptly to the veterinarian if you observe animals who are very thin, obese, or experiencing significant weight gain or loss.
  2. Calculate the amount each animal is to be fed. Having an accurate weight and BCS is only a part of calculating an animal's daily nutritional requirement. The amount each animal is fed can be calculated from a formula that takes into account life stage (adult, young, pregnant, nursing), health status, activity level and very importantly, the particular food chosen. The calories (expressed as kcals) and nutritional value vary considerably among types and brands of food. This affects the amount of a specific food that an animal needs.
  3. Create a written feeding protocol to use with each group of animals in your shelter based on the food(s) in use. Whatever food brand is selected should minimally be one that has been through feeding trials to validate its nutritional adequacy. You can determine this by checking the label, which should state that the diet is adequate for the life stages indicated based on the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trials. Our calculator lets you enter the number of kcalories per cup of a specific food and will automatically calculate the amount of food to feed based on weight and life stage for dogs and cats. You can print this and use it to train your staff how to feed animals at consistent times.
  4. Ensure that fresh, clean water is available at all times unless there is a medical reason for water to be withheld for a prescribed period of time. Water should be changed daily and whenever it is visibly soiled.
  1. Be sure you monitor whether animals are eating, drinking, and eliminating. Worksheets help you track this information consistently. Route animals promptly to the veterinarian for evaluation and/or work-up if significant appetite or elimination abnormalities are noted.

ASV Shelter Guidelines

For more information about segregating animal populations, see the following topics in Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters:

  • Nutrition
  • Monitoring and Daily Rounds
  • Rodent/Pest Control

More Nutrition Resources

Cage card for staff to note whether animals are eating

Tufts Body Condition Score Worksheet

Dr. Sandra Newbury on ASV guidelines and feeding

Article on feeding cats in shelter

Information sheets with nutritional recommendations

Information on starvation and re-feeding

More Saving Lives at Intake Resources

Examine Animals at Intake
Here are five things you should accomplish during a basic intake exam. Read More »

Vaccinate at Intake
Get the most out of the vaccines you invest in by reviewing which type to use, what animals to vaccinate, and when to revaccinate. Read More »

Treat Parasites at Intake
Review these five steps to improve the health of your shelter population and prevent transmission to animals and people. Read More »

Segregate Animal Populations
Smaller groups of animals in separate housing spaces make for healthier shelter animals; these guidelines can help. Read More »

Related Webinars

The Five Freedoms and Shelter Wellness

ASV Shelter Guidelines series

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