Yesterday in the plane, I started reading a very interesting book called “Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters” and thought about the fact that I haven’t written anything on our shelter blog for a while. Maybe I was recently lacking inspiration… the good news is that while reading, it came back instantly !
The chapter on upper respiratory tract diseases (aka URTD- if you are not familiar with it, look at the picture below!) in feline collectivities particularly captured my attention. Indeed, each time I speak with our shelter partners about cats, this is usually THE thing they mention. And I think the 1st sentence of this chapter tells it all: “Elimination of upper respiratory tract infections in cats in animal shelters is virtually impossible because of carrier states, the agents’ high infectivity, their ease on transmission, the inability of vaccination to prevent infection and shedding, and susceptibility of cats to reinfection.” To make it short: hard diseases to get rid of in a shelter environment, but I’m pretty sure this is something we will all agree on!
Prevention remains as usual the key, and the authors discussed some elements to consider for minimizing the impact of such diseases on feline collectivities. I definitely things these tips are worth sharing, but since there are so many of them one post will not be enough so let’s start with the beginning: how to minimize the concentration of infectious agents in the environment.
– Avoid overcrowding: agreed, easy to write but not always easy to follow this in the field. When are you dealing with overcrowding? I would say this is the case when you have more animals than you can care for. Keep in mind the larger the feline population, the more stress generated… which favors occurrence of URTD. Since in these situations it becomes complicated to give each animal proper medical care, this will definitely favor URTD’s outbreaks.
– Clean and disinfect: I already wrote a post on the difference between cleaning and disinfecting so have a look there if you want a fresh reminder. But as usual, this part is essential when it comes to diseases’ control in shelter. We know that cats that are moved too often during cleaning procedures can be stressed out and therefore be of higher risk to develop URTD, and that’s why many shelters are now using procedures called spot cleaning instead of the deep cleaning usually recommended. But deep cleaning should still be performed in group-housed areas or after a cat leaved its cage. As you could see above, URTD is a syndrome caused by several agents (viruses, bacterias). Some of them can survive for a while in the outside environment, the most resistant being from far feline calicivirus. Since it is the most difficult to eliminate, it must be the target of the sanitation measures taken… and keep in mind not all disinfectants will be efficient (see picture below)! Since fomite transmission is important, water and food dishes, toys and other equipment in contact with cats must be washed and disinfected between animals as well.
– Hand disinfectants: Frequent hand washing by the shelter staff is paramount. By removing or diluting bacteria and viral agents from the hands, people are less likely to transmit agents from cats to cats. 70% alcohol hand disinfectants are usually recommended and are generally efficient against bacteria and enveloped viruses… but they are unfortunately not totally effective against nude viruses like calicivirus. Research is being done on more efficient products, but meanwhile, thorough hand washing or frequent changes of gloves (especially when working with sick animals) are the best we can come up with.