Animal Shelter Advocates

Inside Sales

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Shelters depend on their vendors for the best products, resources,  and savings available to provide for the well-being of the animals in their care.


I’ve always been a big advocate for the adoption of rescued pets, so I was pleased that the topic of shelter medicine is featured in this issue of Vet-Advantage. Over the years, I’ve volunteered and raised funds for various organizations, from my struggling hometown shelter to our well-funded metro humane society, to the country’s largest no-kill sanctuary – and partnered with them as their distributor rep. No matter the size or budget, the health and well-being of homeless pets are a challenge for every shelter and rescue. Knowing the issues they face, being able to discuss products to support the welfare of shelter animals, and helping them save money will make you a valued asset they can depend on.

Animal sheltering has evolved considerably in the last couple of decades and, in most cases, has come a long way since the depressing “pound” many of us remember when we were kids. Several veterinary schools now offer shelter medicine programs, including Cornell University, the University of Florida, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) was founded in 2001 to advance the field of veterinary shelter medicine. Last December, it released the second edition of its Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. The guidelines were initially published in 2010 to provide standards and guidance for the care and welfare of shelter animals and were updated with expanded research and resources.

Comprehensive medical assessment and care should start at the animal’s intake and continue through their stay. Shelters should provide preventive health care, including vaccination, parasite control, and good nutrition. Administering core vaccines and parasite prevention usually happens at intake, along with screening tests for heartworm, FeLV, and FIV, depending on the shelter’s policy.

Shelter medicine protocols

Shelter vaccine protocols often differ from the recommendations of a private veterinary practice since animals are at an increased risk of infectious disease due to exposure to other animals, stress, a lack of previous preventive care, and the potential for increased pathogen levels in a shelter environment. The key differences may include an earlier and more extended age range for juveniles, a shorter time span between vaccines, and different core and noncore products.

For all core vaccines (except rabies) the ASV recommends that shelters use modified live (MLV) or recombinant vaccines rather than killed products because they provide a faster immune response. Subcutaneous MLV vaccines for canine distemper, adeno, parvo, and parainfluenza viruses (DAPP) and intranasal vaccines with Bordetella and parainfluenza virus (Bord/PI) are considered core for shelter puppies and dogs. Intranasal administration maximizes efficacy and activates respiratory immune cells, which may provide protection against other infectious respiratory diseases. Subcutaneous MLV vaccines for feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia viruses (FVRCP) are core for shelter cats and kittens. Rabies vaccines for both species must be administered following state and local guidelines.

Unsurprisingly, internal and external parasites are one of the most common health issues in shelter animals. Animals should receive anti-parasite treatments at intake, particularly for roundworms and hookworms, since they can infect and cause harm to humans. Since risks vary geographically, it’s important to discuss the parasites of concern in the shelter, and in the areas the animals come from, including any received through relocation programs. Regardless of their location, all shelters should have policies regarding testing, prevention, and management of heartworm disease, even in areas where it’s not considered endemic.

It’s sad that many animals surrendered to shelters are often senior pets or animals with health issues that their owners don’t want to pay for. Reading some of the excuses on the intake paperwork for the relinquished pets I worked with was really upsetting. There’s a good chance your shelters will need various medications for pain management, infections, or chronic conditions. One of the most common issues I saw was skin and coat conditions resulting from poor nutrition or animals who’d been kept outside or picked up as strays. Grooming and bathing are essential for the comfort and well-being of shelter animals, so be ready to recommend shampoos and coat conditioners.

Behavioral issues are one of the top reasons pets are surrendered, and being in a shelter is stressful for most animals. Products that provide enrichment and alleviate stress can minimize undesirable behaviors that can prevent pets from being adopted. Calming products like Thunder Shirts, pheromone sprays, and diffusers help reduce stress and anxiety.

Pet overpopulation is what keeps rescues overcrowded and in business, so all animals should be sterilized before adoption. Shelters with veterinarians on staff give you the opportunity to keep them stocked on all their surgical supplies. Performing dentals is an increasingly common procedure in shelters, particularly for older animals.

Microchips provide some of the best insurance for returning lost pets to their owners. It stands to reason that no newly adopted pet should ever leave a shelter without a microchip and registration, so be sure your customers are always well-stocked with their preferred brand.

Sanitation is always a significant concern for shelters. Many animals obviously produce a lot of waste that can spread disease and parasites to other animals and the people caring for them, so sanitation protocols should address various pathogens, routes, and transmission risks. Disinfectants used in animal areas need to be effective against viruses like parvovirus, panleukopenia, and calicivirus. Knowing the active ingredients of the disinfectants you carry will help you make recommendations, especially if the shelter needs to adjust sanitation protocols if disease rates change or a new pathogen is identified.

No matter their size or how well-supported they are, saving money is always essential to rescues and shelters. My customers always appreciated the information on promotions, specials, and free goods, particularly on vaccines, exam gloves, syringes, parasite prevention, and disinfectants. Knowing their purchase history and informing them of savings opportunities will make you a valued partner.

As the ASV Guidelines state: Comprehensive shelter medical programs are the foundation of humane sheltering. Helping your customers provide optimum care will enhance the well-being of shelter animals and give them the best chance of finding forever homes.


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