The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) compiled the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters to provide research-based guidelines that will help any sheltering operation meet the physical, medical, and behavioral needs of the animals in their care. The ASPCA and ASV presented a series of 1-hour webinars through early 2012, each spotlighting a section of the ASV guidelines.
This webinar covers:
The risks and benefits of group housing
Minimum standards for group housing
Steps to limit the spread of infectious disease
Tips for pairing and grouping animals safely
Specific guidelines for dog playgroups and multiple-cat housing
Top Tips from This Webinar
Home Sweet Home
As you're preparing housing for two or more animals, or evaluating your current setup, ensure that the following are provided:
Multiple feeding stations
Multiple resting areas
Adequate space for urination and defecation
Sufficient resources (food, litter boxes, toys, etc.) to prevent competition and resource guarding
For cats, a variety of elevated resting perches and hiding places
Thirteen's a Crowd
In group housing situations, smaller groups are preferable; it's easier to monitor individual animals, the risks for conflict and infectious disease transmission are reduced, and group-member turnover, which can be stressful for animals, is lessened. Ideally, don't exceed a group size of 10 to 12 for cats and 4 to 6 for dogs. At times, it can be tempting to add "just one more," but this practice can threaten the health and welfare of the entire population, even one that's healthy to begin with. Overcrowding creates a lot of stress and can even cost lives.
Who's a Good Candidate -- and Who Isn't
When determining which animals should share space, important factors to consider — and to detail in your written protocols — are age, sex, health, and behavior compatibility. Individual enriched housing should always be available as an alternative for those who aren't appropriate candidates for group environments, such as:
Animals who are fearful or aggressive toward others or stressed by their presence
Animals who require individual monitoring
Animals with a history of fighting
Puppies and kittens under 20 weeks from different litters
Sick animals who require treatment that can't be provided in group housing
Animals who are at the shelter for a very short time
An Ounce of Prevention
Before animals are housed together or put into playgroups, steps must be taken to limit the spread of infectious disease and to prevent breeding. Dogs should be vaccinated with core vaccines (Da2PP and Bordetella), treated for internal and external parasites, and spayed or neutered. Cats should be vaccinated with FVRCP, treated for internal and external parasites, test negative for Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FeLV and FIV), and spayed or neutered. In addition, behavior evaluations should be performed before unfamiliar or unrelated animals are co-housed.
To make group housing as pleasant as possible for cats, you'll need to make efforts beyond simply providing adequate space. Cats living in a large room who cannot hide or take advantage of vertical space can be much more stressed than those in a smaller room that does offer those opportunities. The number of perches and hiding spaces should be higher than the number of cats, and you should provide one litter box and feeding area for every two to three cats. Food and water should be at least a couple of feet away from any litter box. Besides having the ability to hide and climb, cats should easily be able to scratch, play, and rest.
Bonus: We've packaged the guidelines into a free resource, Shelter Care Checklists: Putting ASV Guidelines Into Action, and we invite you to use this set of easily understandable and actionable checklists in your shelter.
Adjunct Associate Professor of Shelter Medicine, University of Florida
For the past 15 years, Dr. Griffin has combined her expertise in small animal internal medicine and her passion for shelter animals to assist in the development of training, research and numerous publications focused on shelter medicine. In addition to co-instructing courses at the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, Dr. Griffin serves as the Regent for the new specialty in Shelter Medicine: ABVP- SMP. In 2000, she was named by the AVMA as the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year.