Shelter veterinary medicine – which has attracted more and more attention in recent years – is not just the practice of traditional small-animal medicine in a shelter. It has a distinct goal: Producing a healthy companion animal who will hopefully end up in a lifetime home.
The primary goal of shelter medicine is to prevent disease rather than just treat it, as treatment is time-consuming, costly and often results in prolonged animal pain and suffering. Shelter medicine must balance the physical and behavioral needs of the individual animal with the overall health of the herd without jeopardizing the welfare of either one.
ASV & Shelter Medicine
Shelter medicine was formally recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as a veterinary specialty in 2014, an acknowledgement that veterinarians who work with or for shelters require special knowledge and skills to design a successful shelter health care program.
The AVMA also recognizes the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) as the professional organization representing shelter veterinarians. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) was formed in 2001 and as of April 2015 had over 750 members, including veterinarians, veterinary technicians, international members, student chapters and members at several universities.
Among its many services, ASV publishes position statements, spay/neuter and shelter guidelines, manages a listserv that promotes member communications and information exchange, and posts exciting continuing education and employment opportunities.
Shelter Medicine Highlights
There have been many exciting developments within the last 15 years in shelter medicine:
- The first formal shelter medicine classes for veterinarians were taught as part of the American Humane Association Conference in the late 1990s.
- Cornell University taught the first shelter medicine course at a veterinary college in conjunction with the ASPCA in 1999. The first class only had seven students, but the numbers increased every year.
- The University of California at Davis began the first shelter medicine residency program funded by Maddie’s Fund in 2001.
- Courses, internships and residency programs in shelter medicine began to be offered at Cornell, UC Davis, U Penn, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon, Tennessee and other veterinary schools.
- Mutually beneficial, cooperative efforts with shelters to provide opportunities for veterinary students to obtain spay/neuter, treatment and physical examination experience have flourished.
- The major national and regional veterinary conferences, including North American, Western, and Midwest, regularly offer continuing education in shelter medicine. Courses have also been offered at overseas conferences in the UK, Canada, Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, etc.
- The first Internet course in shelter medicine was offered on the Veterinary Information Network by the ASPCA in 2003.
- The American Animal Hospital Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners developed separate vaccination guidelines for shelter animals in recognition of the different risk factors and needs in a shelter environment.
- The first textbook devoted to shelter medicine, Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff, edited by Drs. Lila Miller and Stephen Zawistowski of the ASPCA, was published in 2004 and an updated second edition was released in 2013.
- The second textbook devoted to shelter medicine, Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters was edited by Drs. Lila Miller and Kate Hurley of the ASPCA and UC Davis respectively, and published in 2009.
- The ASV assembled a task force to research and write “The Association of Shelter Veterinarian’s Veterinary Medical Care Guidelines for Spay-Neuter Programs” that was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2008. The ASV also self-published “Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters” online at www.sheltervet.org in 2010. Learn about the free webinar series here.
- ASV’s petition to AVMA to create a shelter medicine specialty under the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners was approved in 2014.
Lila Miller, DVM, is Vice President of Shelter Medicine at the ASPCA