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Doctoring a Stray

Lila Miller, D. V. M.; Director, ASPCA Brooklyn Clinic

Doctoring a Stray

The vast majority of strays adopted from shelters make wonderful, healthy pets. They may take a little work in the beginning, but the result can be years of joy derived from a relationship that began by offering an animal a second chance at life.

Stray animals come to the ASPCA with varied histories and health problems, ranging from devastating malnutrition and disease, such as parvo and distemper, to simple, minor scrapes and cuts. The ASPCA Shelter Veterinary Program is designed to offer only the healthiest animals for adoption, thus minimizing the risk of obtaining a pet with a serious health problem. Selected animals are examined, vaccinated and dewormed. and cats are tested for feline leukemia virus before being placed in the adoption ward. Many adoptable animals with minor problems are treated before being placed for adoption. Seriously injured or diseased animals may also be adopted, but only when the adopter fully understands and accepts responsibility for the extent of medical care needed for recovery.

Despite careful screening, occasionally an animal may develop a health problem soon after it is brought into a new home. The ASPCA’s free medical exam program is designed to detect problems within two weeks of an adoption and treat them at no cost to the adopter.

Many of the stray’s commonly encountered medical problems can be treated easily, and in no way should discourage you from adopting a stray as a pet. Some of the most common problems and treatments are outlined below.

Disease/Condition: Infectious Tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) (mainly viral; dogs)
Signs: Dry, hacking cough; brings up phlegm
Treatment: Cough syrup, antibiotics (for secondary infections)

Disease/Condition: Upper Respiratory Infection (usually viral; cats)
Signs: Sneezing, runny eyes and nose
Treatment: Antibiotics (for secondary infections)

Disease/Condition: Ear Mites (usually cats)
Signs: Shaking head, scratching
Treatment: Ear cleansing and ear drops

Disease/Condition: Fleas and Ticks (dogs and cats)
Signs: Scratching; you’ll see fleas, “flea dirt” or ticks
Treatment: Dips, powders, sprays, shampoo (Flea collars alone are inadequate.)

Disease/Condition: Flea Allergy (dogs and cats)
Signs: Scratching, extreme hair loss, fleas
Treatment: Antibiotics, flea control, steroids

Disease/Condition: Endoparasites (worms) (dogs and cats)
Signs: Increased or decreased appetite, weight loss or no gain, vomiting, diarrhea
Treatment: Oral medication, injections

Disease/Condition: Stress (dogs and cats) usually due to change in environment
Signs: Lack of appetite, diarrhea, hiding or defensiveness
Treatment: Change diet; patience; tender, loving care

Disease/Condition: Sarcoptic Mange* (dogs)
Signs: Scratching, biting skin, hair loss (may be extensive)
Treatment: Topical dips, antibiotics

Disease/Condition: Ringworm* (dogs and cats)
Signs: Circular areas of hair loss, especially face and feet
Treatment: Oral medication, topical cream

* These diseases are uncommon in adopted strays as they are usually detected on the initial physical examination. However, they can escape diagnosis in their early stages, and are contagious to humans. Ringworm and mange do not pose serious health threats to humans but may require prolonged treatment in animals to cure.

© 1992 ASPCA

ASPCA REPORT – Winter 1992


Courtesy of

424 East 92nd Street

New York, NY 10128-6804

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