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Controlling Upper Respiratory Infections in Your Shelter

You will never totally clear your sheltering facility of feline URI and canine kennel cough, those ever-present diseases that afflict millions of companion animals every year. But don't despair. You can minimize their effect with the right approach.

In the beginning, the symptoms are often very subtle. You hear a quiet sneeze or cough, so quick you can't even tell which cage or kennel it came from. Then you hear it again, and you turn in time to see the red tabby wiping his nose with a paw, or the little terrier swallowing hard because his throat is raw and sore. And you know they've got it: an upper respiratory infection.

For cats, it's most likely one of two viruses: feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus, both commonly referred to as feline upper respiratory infection (feline URI). For dogs, the symptoms can be caused by canine parainfluenza virus, a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica, or a combination of the two (and possibly other viruses and bacteria). These infections are commonly called "kennel cough" (or KC). Veterinarians disagree on the official name for kennel cough, referring to it as infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB), canine upper respiratory infection (CURI), or canine contagious respiratory disease (CCRD). No matter what you call it, it's a problem for your shelter and for virtually every other animal-holding facility.

Upper respiratory infections can run through your shelter as quickly as a child's cold runs through a day-care center. With proper care, these common feline and canine illnesses typically present little or no problems. Affected animals usually recover quickly and with few long-term ill effects.

But without good management and care, the slightest upper respiratory infection can lead to severe illness, chronic health problems, even fatal pneumonia. Careful pre-adoption evaluation of animals, preventive health care, sanitation, and staff and adopter education are your best weapons against upper respiratory infections in your shelter.

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