Shelter Medicine Symposium

by Amanda Newsom

This February, I attended the University of Georgia Veterinary Medicine’s Shelter Medicine Symposium, which is organized by UGA CVM Shelter Medicine Club students. This conference is meant to “provide educational resources to those outside of a university setting to further veterinary education as it relates to animal health in shelters.” 

I came with my shelter background in mind to see what kind of information I could bring away that would be useful to Classic City Paw Print readers as well as shelter/rescue volunteers and workers, and these are some of my big takeaways:



Dr. Staci Cannon, Medical Director of Nashville Metro Area Animal Care and Control, packed a lot of good info into an hour, starting with this stat: less than 20 percent of strays in the United States are returned to their owners, as a national average. [Do I really need to make another PSA about microchipping your pets and making sure they always wear a collar with an ID tag?]

She discussed a five-question protocol for medical advisors to ask themselves of each animal in a shelter on their rounds to help uncover any potential issues. While they seem simple and obvious, it’s a nice habit for even volunteers to get in the habit of when visiting the shelter:

  1. Who are you?
  2. How are you doing?
  3. Are you where you should be?
  4. Do you need something today?
  5. Do you need something scheduled?

She also discussed some strategies for lower the hold times of animals in shelters, with some terms I hadn’t heard before. First, the adoption hold: placing pets on stray holds in areas where potential adopters can still see the animal and let staff know that they are interested in adopting them if their owner doesn’t come forward. Second, managed admission: scheduling intake from owner surrenders or found pets so the shelter isn’t as overwhelmed and can plan better for that animal. Last, intake aversion: applying for grants that provide vouchers to give rescues incentives to accept adoptable pets into their programs, which avoids intaking the animal at animal control to help manage their population.

Last, she explained the five freedoms of animals in shelters and rescues:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress


The Healthy Hug

Like people, more than half of pets in the United States are overweight, and our view of a healthy pet weight has become skewed. Dr. Ainsley Bone, Veterinary Communications Manager at Nestle Purina North America, talked about optimizing nutrition in shelters while answering: how much they should weigh, how much to feed, how often to feed and when to feed. Again, her tips are excellent for practical use from any pet owner in addition to shelter staff and volunteers. 

How much should your pet weigh? 

There are body condition score charts that you can review online that show what the pet should look like from side and top views, which should include:

  • An hourglass figure from the top
  • A tuck under their waist
  • Be able to easily feel ribs when touched

There is also a muscle condition score, to determine not only if the pet is a healthy weight but if they have adequate muscle mass. WASAVA has online charts for dogs and cats to refer to for this score, and Dr. Bone also had an interesting hand trick to use to check the muscle along the side of the spine. Here’s my layman interpretation of that trick: in between your thumb and index finger is too squishy, the pads along the inside of your hand nearest your fingers is ideal, and the top of your hand means there isn’t adequate muscle mass.

What to feed? 

Look for the “complete and balanced” statement on the pet food bag, and get a type of food that’s appropriate for the pet’s life stage. Larger breed dogs may even follow puppy guidelines until they reach a year and a half while small breed dogs may only require puppy guidelines until 6 months, but the general rule is to feed puppy or kitten food until the animal reaches their first birthday.

How much to feed? 

I know, this seems obvious: feed the recommended guidelines on your pet food bag or can, or follow instructions from your veterinarian. But many people miss one important part of this, which is to follow the recommended amount of food for your pet’s ideal weight, not necessarily their current weight (they may be carrying around a few extra LBs.) Lactating animals need more food than normal, and pets that have been spayed/neutered may need less. Fun fact: cats require 40 essential nutrients while dogs only require 36.

How often to feed? 

Feeds dogs once or twice a day, cats twice a day, and puppies and kittens at least three times a day until they’re six months old. Cat food aversion may be useful to not only better monitor how much your cat is eating, but to be sure they are eating adequately if there are other cats or pets in the home. Food aversion simply means teaching the cat to eat when you present their food, which is learned when you remove the food bowl after they have eaten.



Again, like people, antibiotics have become overused in the veterinary world, so International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Diseases (ISCAID) is supposedly preparing to revise their recommendations in the next two to three years for antibiotic usage in pets to reduce the duration of treatment as well as recommending stopping treatment when symptoms resolve. There’s also a general trend in veterinary medicine to reduce prescribing antibiotics so often and trying other treatments that may be just as good if not better for the animal’s health.