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Sanitation in the Animal Shelter – Part II

Lila Miller, D.V.M., Sr. Director, Animal Sciences ASPCA


Sanitation in the Animal Shelter -Part 2

Part one of this discussion on sanitation dealt mainly with cleaning and disinfecting. This discussion will provide more specific, in-depth guidelines for good sanitation, especially during disease outbreaks.

There are many factors that make disease transmission a formidable problem for some shelters, yet only an occasional one for others. Some of the factors that work against shelters include

  • the constant introduction of unknown animals into the environment,
  • limited resources,
  • poor shelter design and/or an aging facility,
  • high staff turnover and/or poor staff training,
  • inadequate health care program,
  • stress,
  • poor planning and data management to handle outbreaks,
  • the variety of ways diseases are spread,
  • ability of many disease organisms to survive long term in the environment,
  • carrier states of diseases,
  • lack of scientific data about diseases in shelters

This is just a partial list and doesn’t give the whole picture. It would appear that, given such odds, no shelter could ever claim that it has no real ” problems” with disease. Yet many shelters do manage to maintain a healthy population of animals. Some of these shelters are traditional open-door shelters, while others limit their admissions. Some are new facilities, while others are aging. Some have large budgets, while others operate on a comparative shoestring. I suspect that while there may be a variety of factors to consider, one of the things they must have in common is a good sanitation program. Good sanitation can undo the damage caused by a multitude of other problems.

It cannot be overemphasized that for disease control methods to be truly effective, especially during a disease outbreak, every staff member and volunteer must understand and believe in the importance of proper sanitation, and their role in maintaining a healthy shelter. It may be necessary to impose additional restrictions on the public at times of disease outbreaks to minimize disease spread. Every member of the public who puts their fingers in each cage as they walk down the aisle playing with the cats poses a health threat if they don’t wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer before handling the next animal. One of the biggest challenges facing shelters struggling to minimize disease transmission is to control its spread by fomites or intermediate, usually inanimate objects. There are often no easy or practical ways to limit fomite transmission because there are so many of them (fomites). In addition to hands and clothing, other possible fomites widely encountered in the shelter includes cleaning utensils, food and water dishes, litter boxes, bedding, scratching posts, temporary transport cages, medical equipment (watch those stethoscopes!) ropes, leashes, leads and muzzles, toys, grooming equipment, pens, pencils and plastic record holders. The list could go on and on. These items should either be disposable, disinfectable, or remain with the same animal for the duration of their stay.

During disease outbreaks especially, consider using the following shelter signage:

Please do not place your fingers in the cages to touch animals, as this is how diseases are spread or
Please be certain to wash your hands or use the hand sanitizers after handling each animal. We appreciate your cooperation in helping us prevent the spread of disease in our shelter.

Other tips

  • Dishwashers, whether commercial or residential, should be considered essential equipment for disinfecting non-disposable food and water bowls. The high temperatures they reach, combined with the use of a quality detergent, will kill most organisms. The recommended temperature to kill most organisms is 180F.
  • Uniforms, towels, bedding and other cloth material should be laundered in the washing machine using hot water over 160F for 25 minutes with detergent and bleach.
  • Carriers that are used to transport or hold animals temporarily should be disinfected after each use. This is frequently overlooked as a source of disease transmission because the animals are typically placed there for such short periods of time. Because this may be impractical in high population shelters, a better system is to use the same carrier for each animal for the duration of their stay, or to use disposable cardboard carriers.
  • Cages should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a day regardless of whether fecal material or other dirt is observed. For the best disease (and odor) control, fecal matter should be removed as soon as it is noticed.
  • If the animals are placed in a communal area while their cages are cleaned, the communal area must be disinfected also. During disease outbreaks, animals should be tethered or otherwise prevented from congregating in a communal area while their cages are being cleaned. Divided cages are best, especially when cleaning the cages of aggressive animals.
  • Toys that cannot be disinfected should be discarded or sent home with the adopted animal.
  • Footbaths, hand sanitizers, disposable aprons and shoe covers are excellent aids to minimize disease spread. Their use should be considered essential during a disease outbreak
  • Ventilation ducts should be vacuumed and vacuum bags discarded.
  • Steam cleaning can be one of the most effective means of disinfecting a room.

A few words about dirt, gravel and grass

Many shelters have or are considering building dog runs or play areas consisting of dirt, grass or gravel surfaces. While aesthetically pleasing, they can pose health problems.

  1. The control of parasites in dirt and grass is almost impossible as neither surface can be effectively disinfected.
  2. Animals must be routinely dewormed before being permitted to use them.
  3. Fecal material should be removed as soon as possible after it is deposited.
  4. Gravel provides drainage, which is an advantage over dirt, but it also presents a disease control problem because the multiple surfaces and ability of organic debris to spread between the gravel pieces makes it impossible to effectively disinfect. As with dirt and grass, animals should be dewormed before being allowed into the area and stools should be removed as soon as possible. For truly effective disease prevention, the gravel should be totally removed and replaced periodically.

Pest control

  1. Pest control is a vital part of any disease control program. Rodents and insects can serve as a means of transmitting dangerous diseases to both humans and animals.
  2. Food should be stored in vermin proof containers
  3. Professional exterminators should be consulted for use of animal safe chemicals. When in doubt about a chemical’s safety, check with the ASPCA Poison Control Center.

© 2003 ASPCA

Courtesy of

424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128-6804

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