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Shelter Medicine: A Basic Physical Examination for Shelter Animals

Shelter veterinarians often assert that there is no single health care plan that will be successful in every shelter. Available resources, the organization’s mission, characteristics of the animal population, and skill levels of staff all play a role in tailoring a plan to a given shelter’s needs.

All humane, successful health care plans do have at least one thing in common, however: a physical examination of every animal as soon as possible following intake. Shelters should examine all new arrivals for signs of infectious disease, injuries, or medical conditions that could require immediate attention.

For many shelters, health evaluations that lead to prompt isolation of sick animals may be the leading factor in maintaining a healthy animal population. Examination upon entry also allows for compliance with guidelines that recommend vaccination as soon as the animal enters the shelter, before exposure to disease.

The shelter should have a written policy that provides for timely treatment of and pain relief for sick and injured animals. The policy should also allow for humane euthanasia when necessary to prevent suffering and the spread of disease.

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