50 Ways to Prevent Upper Respiratory Infection in Shelter Cats

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Preventing upper respiratory infection is an important goal to have at all times as a single case of upper respiratory infection could cause havoc in the shelter. All it takes for upper respiratory to spread is one cat which can then spread the disease like wildfire. I have included the top 50 ways to prevent upper respiratory infection in hopes that you can contain it or prevent it for the most part.

Caged Cats

Caged cat protocols are aimed at allowing the cat to display normal behavior and allowing them to feel like they have plenty of space to move around so they can do so. Being above the ground level, being able to scratch, and being able to perform normal coping mechanisms like hiding are all behavior that they should be able to exhibit.

1. Elevated Resting Areas

Elevated resting areas is one of my favorite ways for decreasing stress linked upper respiratory infection. An elevated resting area will allow for the shelter cat to be above ground level and gives him the unique ability to look over his territory. Being able to oversee his territory will boost his confidence and make him feel more secure where he is at.

I ran a test at a shelter and placed a hammock in 10 cages. 9 out of 10 cats were found sleeping in the hammock around 95% of the time that they were sleeping. Elevated resting areas can be provided several different ways which can help decrease stress and increase confidence.

You can provide a hammock which is suspended above the cave or a built in shelf. The stainless steel shelf would work better because it would be easier to clean and maintain but the hammock is a great alternative which is also cost effective. The last option is using an elevated bed such as the kuranda bed.

2. Scratch Pads

Scratch pads will provide shelter cats the opportunity to stretch, build physical muscle, and release pent up stress all at the same time. Scratch pads for caged cats are relatively cheap and can be bought in bulk to decrease the cost per unit significantly. You can purchase commercially made scratch pads from stretchandscratch.com which is the best maker of scratch pads for shelter cats.

Scratch pads have a place on the back to write the shelter cat’s name which will build rapport if you send the scratch pad home with the cat. This technique will also give you the opportunity to teach the client how to train a cat to a scratching post or cat tree. Doing this early will prevent a client from wanting to declaw a cat by giving them the education that they need to properly train the cat.

3. Toys To Play With

Every cat in the shelter environment will need a toy to play with so that they can have a minimally stressful shelter stay. Toys can be commercially purchased such as ping pong balls and catnip mice or made by scratch. One effective toy I have made by scratch is small paper towel rolls. I would take a large paper towel roll, cut it in 10 pieces, cut small slits around each piece and cover them in catnip or fish oil.

I like to give each cat a different toy on the first day of the week so that they do not get bored with one toy. Even something as simple as juice jug rings and milk jug rings can attract a cat’s attention and provide novelty.

You might consider giving each cat a foraging toy along with a ball like toy so they can be mentally and physically stimulated throughout the day. The foraging toys work great for cats who are overweight or need more of a challenge. You can find my list of the 2017 best cat toys for cage cats here and my cost effective guide for cat toys here.

4. Perform Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning method is the strategy to use for cleaning cages in the least invasive fashion. Cats are creatures of habit and we want to avoid any unnecessary changes or invasive cleaning methods. Illness in cats tend to pop up when their routine is constantly changed or broken. Click here for an entire guide on how to spot clean a cage.

Deep cleaning was a method used to clean cages for the longest time. Each cat was removed from the cage then the cage was completely sanitized. While this is the method to use if a cat leaves the facility, I do not recommend deep cleaning for daily cleaning. Just the stress of being moved out and back into a completely clean cage can be enough to throw a cat into enough stress to cause upper respiratory infection.

The theory is that you want to avoid fully cleaning the cage because a cat prefers for the cage to smell like him as much as possible and avoid having to be moved. Spot cleaning method implies that you will clean the cage without removing the cat from the cage and only clean what is noticeably dirty.

No sanitation is really required since the cat is staying in the same cage for a longer duration of time. You will wipe down the cage with a safe cleaner like Trifectant, replace the food and water, scoop the liter box, and give the cat fresh bedding as needed. Some days you may not need to wipe down the cage or change the bedding.

This method works best for a double sided cage since you can cut off one part of it. This type of arrangement is usually done by a portal method. You can simply move the cat around the cage and gently pick him up while you tidy things up if you only have a single sided cage.

Some kittens may need removed which is normal because they can make quite a mess. This should be done by placing them in their own pet carrier that they keep throughout their shelter stay. There must be a strip of tape on the pet carrier which lists the pet ID number and cage number.

5. Proper Resource Allocation

Each cat should have a food bowl and water bowl which are ideally separated by 3 feet or more from all of the litter boxes. Each cat should be given around 20 ounces of water to drink throughout the day and at least 8 ounces to 16 ounces of food per day. This amount will change based on the weight of  cat and if a diet is needed.

Some of the cats are likely to require canned food supplementation if they are pregnant or nursing. Kittens will require kitten food so they have the proper nutrition to grow. It is not okay to provide adult cat food to kittens because of budget cuts. Kitten food has been proven to increase the immune system of kittens so that they have more resistance against upper respiratory infection.

The litter should be heavy enough so that the litter box cannot be tipped or stored in a container to avoid tipping. Each cat should have their own separate supplies if possible. The cat litter should be non-clumping for kittens below 16 weeks old as clumping cat litter can cause a intestinal blockage in young kittens.

6. Have Calm Music Playing

Calm music can have a lasting positive impact on both people and on the animals that you house. I like to have a track of about 15 songs that cycle through a loop so that people do not get bored from one sound.

This is a cheap method for decreasing stress and upper respiratory infection rates. Make sure not to place the radio on top of cages could cause an annoying vibration for the cats.

7. Spacious Caging and Portals

The biggest factor in stress reduction and preventing upper respiratory infection is by having a properly sized cage so a cat can display all normal behavior for that species. The Department of Agriculture guidelines state that each cat requires 4 square feet of space in order to pass inspection.

I recommend that each cat be given 10.5 to 11 square feet when caged so that you avoid overcrowding or resource guarding. Going above the minimum requirement really shows how dedicated you are to the cat’s well-being and provides a wealth of benefits.

A bigger cage will allow you to add more fun to the cage such as hammocks, covers, beds, and toys. The litter box and bowls can be properly separated in a bigger cage so the cat does not feel stressed out. Cats do not like their excrement being so close to where they eat or drink.

Adding portals can add more life to a cage if you are looking to combine a few cages or expand one large cage. A portal is basically an opening between two cages or in the middle of a large cage which allows the cat to go back and forth between the two sides. The litter box and bowls would be on one side and everything else would be on the other side.

Cages that have a portal system provide a great way to spot clean by blocking the hole which connects the two sides so you can clean one side at a time.

8. Proper Handling

Proper handling of cats is not something that should be overlooked because it is a large factor in stress reduction and decreasing upper respiratory infection as a result. Staff safety is another reason that you need to emphasize proper handling of cats.

The number one thing I usually want to know from a shelter worker is how they remove the cat from their cage. All cats should be removed from a shelter with the cat facing away from you. Cats rely on being able to see where they been before they see where they are going. A cover or or towel can be used to shield a cat’s face if they have to be moved somewhere that is scary.

It is not okay to use a catch pole or leather gloves every time there is a feral cat loose or when you need to remove a feral cat from a cage. I was tasked with removing a feral cat from a cage one time and was instructed to use a catch pole. I thought to myself that there had to be a humane way to move a feral cat.

What I did was slide a pet taxi into the cage with a cover on top and canned food inside. I attached a string to the pet taxi door beforehand so I could close the door once the feral entered. The technique worked flawlessly and is one example of what we can do to decrease stress for cats.

Scruffing a cat is not something that should be done routinely. I prefer to use towel techniques such as the modified scarf technique to make the visit less stressful for everyone. Scruffing can easily agitate the cat and cause people to get injured if used improperly.

Finally, humane and stress-free techniques must be utilized when working with cats who need behavior modification. An example is working with a cat who is constantly hiding in the litter box. With this kind of cat I would gently coax the cat out with canned food on a spoon, play therapy, and gentle petting.

I would never force the cat out of the box. It is important that an acceptable hiding box such as a cardboard box or pet carrier is supplied for the cat so he can still hide when he leaves his litter box.

I would never force a cat to do anything because going at the cat’s speed is always the way to go about things and modifying behavior for the long term. You can read more about my strategy on getting cats to come out of the litter box here.

Feral cats may be tricky to tame for people who are not accustomed to doing so. I wrote a guide that you can read by clicking here on humane feral cat taming. Note that some feral cats, especially over the age of 8 weeks, may never be tamed. Taming feral kittens over the age of 8 weeks can be a crap shoot even for trained professionals.

9. Provide Fresh Amenities

I was surprised by how many shelters that I consulted with who thought that it was okay not to change food and water daily. Not changing the water daily can lead to mineral build up and leaving food out can lead to a decrease in taste and subsequent health issues from not eating.

This is not what we want as shelter cats can be picky. It can be especially hard to get cats to eat if they are adjusting to the shelter or ate different food previously.

10. Reduce Annoying Sounds

Some shelter workers may not realize just how much better cats can hear than humans. Cats can hear 3 times to 4 times better than humans which can present a problem for keeping the shelter quiet.

What I like to do is record the sounds from a routine cleaning day and play them back for staff to hear. It is expected that staff will be shocked at just how hard loud common noises are such as loud talking or door slamming. I amplify all sounds 3 times to emulate what it would be like for the cats before I play the sound track back.

Sample Sounds to Mitigate:

  • Dog barking
  • Yelling
  • Loud laughing
  • Stomping
  • Door slamming
  • Phone ringing
  • Power hose

These sounds are the biggest noises that may stress out your shelter cats. There may be more or less which depends entirely on how your shelter operates. Reducing the volume of each noise made will go a long way toward decreasing stress in your cats.

11. Prevent Noxious Smells

Smell within the shelter environment can be unavoidable but they should be minimized. An ideal disinfectant for the shelter environment is one that is broad spectrum, smells good, and works quickly. Trifectant is one such disinfectant that does all of the above.

Mop buckets that have been used to mop floors should be dumped out at the end of each day. Water that is left out may irritate the mucous membranes of the staff and cats. Additionally, never over dilute a disinfectant in the hope that doing so will make it work better. Making too strong of a disinfectant can cause serious side effects in both humans and animals.

Sample Smells To Prevent:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Gasoline smell
  • Disinfectant smell

12. Feliway and Rescue Remedy

Feliway is often used in animal shelters to provide relief and security to a cat who is scared. Feliway is a cat appeasing pheromone which means that each spray is mimicking a cat’s natural pheromones that is released. Phermones in the cat is released by several areas such as the paws and face which are used for marking an item as their own.

Feliway can be used in pet carriers prior to a vet visit, in a cage prior to a cat being housed in it, and in the intake area prior to a new intake coming in. Feliway can virtually be used anywhere you suspect that you will be working with a stressed out or fearful cat at.

I give a towel to every shelter cat to have during their intake procedures which is sprayed with Feliway. The cat is allowed to keep this towel throughout the intake and until it becomes so dirty that it needs washed.

Rescue Remedy is another great product to decrease stress in shelter cats. This product can be applied in the cats skin via hand or brush, or applied to water via a dropper.

13. PPE Switched Often

Personal protection equipment is a good first line of defense against the entry of disease causing pathogens into the shelter. Personal protection equipment that I like to use include disposable gloves, washable scrubs or smocks, and disposable booties.

I use a pair of disposable gloves between every single cat so that nothing is carried over from cat to cat. The hands are still sanitized as a second layer of protection. I like to use food service gloves because they are very cheap. Disposable gloves do not have to be tough since they only have to last for one cage.

Scrubs are changed between each cat section and again before opening to the public so you can avoid infecting incoming animals. The booties are for you to wear to each individual session to avoid transferring any infection from previously entered locations. Washable boots may be used instead of disposable booties. A trifectant foot bath is recommend for disinfecting boots.

14. Coop Cup Bowls Utilized

The best bowl to use for any animal shelter is coop cup bowls. A coop cup bowl is a 20 ounce water bowl that comes with a ring for them to fit into. The ring that comes with the bowl will attach and anchor onto any animal cage so that it cannot be tipped.

Tipped water bowls and food bowls are a huge cause of stress if the blanket or bedding is soaked overnight or while staff are gone. Being wet and being stressed could easily lead to an upper respiratory infection. Staff also have to expend energy and time to clean the cage a second time and new food has to be given which increases cost for the shelter.

15. Warm Covers

Warm covers are not just for winter time or when it is cold outside. Covers provide a comfortable place for cats to sleep throughout the day and can add some pizzazz to their cage. The covers also provide prime area to mark with pheromones so that they can feel safe in a place other than their litter box.

No cat should be made to sleep on stainless steel, in the litter box, or on newspaper because a shelter does not want to clean laundry. The public perception for a shelter that does not provide blankets would also be bad.

16. Separate Cat Areas From Dog Areas

Cat areas should be separated from dog areas so that the cats do not have to hear dog barking or see a dog. A shelter cat may be very freaked out or panic if they suddenly smell a dog, see a dog, or hear a dog. This separation of dog and cat areas would include different intake areas, adoption areas, quarantine, and isolation. A shared intake room would be sprayed down well with disinfectant if a separate intake for dogs and cats is not possible.

The worst case scenario is that a prospective adopter requests to see a cat who flips out right when the dog barking starts. I have seen cats who are very easy to handle in a quiet environment but would quickly transition toward wanting to escape once they heard dog barking. This kind of behavior could make an adopter think that the cat is not friendly even though that is not true.

I even like to schedule cat surgeries on one day and dog surgeries on a different day. This is because dogs that howl or bark during recovery from anesthesia may stress out the cats in surgery.

17. Separate Equipment  And Color Code Items

It is recommended that you equip your shelter with an intake room for new cats, adoption rooms for adoptable cats, quarantine for cats who may be sick, and a isolation room for cats who are sick. Additional rooms that you can choose to add include a cat community room, queening room, kitten room, feral room, and surgery suites if you have an in house clinic.

Every location of the animal shelter should have their own set of cleaning supplies and equipment. This includes a broom, mop, food, litter, disinfectant, sink, medications, and so on. Brooms and mops that are used for multiple rooms in a shelter are significant sources of upper respiratory infection spread.

It will save a lot of headache if you color code each item for the location that it is used at. An example is using red litter boxes in the sick cat area, green in the adoption area. This way there is no confusion as to what belongs in what area.

18. Integrate One Use Medications

One tactic I emphasized at my shelter is making good use of one time medications. My favorite medication to give just once was Ponazuril which is for treating coccidia off label.

Many shelters choose to use Albon which does the same thing but has to be given for 7 days. Albon will often cause some drooling which can be unpleasant for cats and lead to further stress. The cat will also learn when you are coming to give him medication which can cause him to associate negative experiences with you.

Giving the Ponazuril just once instead of giving Albon for 7 days would be preferred so the cat is less stressed. This protocol will seek to prevent injuries by decreasing the amount of days that a cat has to be medicated too.

19. Utilize Vaccination Protocols

Vaccinations are given on intake unless an illness or medical condition is present which would hinder the effectiveness of the vaccinations. The core vaccine for cats is the FVRCP which protects against rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. These three diseases make up the upper respiratory infection complex.

Most guidelines state that a kitten can be given a starting vaccine at 4 weeks old as a minimum if the kitten is entering a high risk situation and is not nursing from mom. The ideal time to give a starting vaccine is between 6-8 weeks old once maternal antibodies have waned.

A vaccine is given every 2 weeks until 16 weeks old as a gold standard. The silver standard is to give a vaccine every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. The vaccination protocol will rely on budget and prevalence of disease at our shelter.

Please note that kittens who are young and are being admitted to the animal shelter are better off being fostered until they have full immunity. Adult cats are given one vaccine on entry and can be given an additional vaccine 2 weeks later for added protection in high risk shelters.

20. Parasite Prevention Protocols

Parasite prevention must cover the common parasites that cats will encounter in the shelter environment. Common parasites include round worms, tapeworms, and ear mites. Coccidia and giardia may also be an issue. You should find out what the common parasites for your area is and adjust your parasite prevention protocols for your situation with the assistance of your veterinarian. I have listed some common protocols below for the most common parasites.

On intake you want to deworm with pyrantel against round worms starting at 2 weeks old then repeated every 2 weeks until 16 weeks old. Adult cats will receive one dose on intake, another dose 2-3 weeks later, then as needed. All pregnant and nursing cats are also dewormed every 2 weeks. Pyrantel has been proven to be completely safe in pregnant animals.

If coccidia is a problem then you can start a prevention on intake starting at 2-3 weeks old then repeat in 7-14 days with Ponazuril.

Ivermectin is a popular drug to use for ear mites on admittance if you notice it or highly suspect it. Ivermectin kills most of the ear mites on the first dose along with round worms. A second dose is always recommended 2 weeks after the initial dose. Ivermectin is a drug that must be dosed exactly as it can be lethal if improperly dosed. Ivermectin can be given via the subcutaneous method, orally, or in the ear. I find that injections are the most effective.

Fleas are another huge issue which shelters have struggled with for a long time. A monthly preventative is highly advised over flea dips as much flea dips contain pyrethrin which is dangerous for cats. Revolution has become one of the best products as it will take care of ear mites in addition to intestinal worms.

21. Daily Rounds and Intake Exams

An intake exam is an absolute requirement for any cat entering the shelter system. This is an obligation to the cat, the community, and the current population of cats. There should be a separate intake room for cats from dogs.

Intake is the best time to determine if a cat has an illness such as upper respiratory infection so you can make sure the cat does not spread it.

Intake Minimally Consists Of: 

  • Check for wounds, bleeding, lethargy
  • Check for vomiting, diarrhea, gasping for breath
  • Register gender, age, color, breed, etc.
  • Give vaccinations unless sick
  • Check for microchip
  • Deworm on intake
  • Weight animal on intake
  • Woods lamp to check for ringworm

Daily rounds are when you go through in the morning and make a visual note of how the cats are doing. Any behavior problems or medical issues should be reported to the veterinarian right away. All abnormal findings should be written down and documented.

Any cats who are displaying upper respiratory infection signs can be detected early and moved to treatment as soon as possible. Signs like sneezing, coughing, lack of eating or drinking, open mouth breathing, ulcers, and so on. Any amount of time that a sick cat is allowed to stay in a healthy cat area can be a disaster waiting to happen.

22. Stuffed Animals For Orphan Kittens

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Orphan kittens often come into the animal shelter stressed out and scared because they have no mother or litter mates to interact with or sleep with. Kittens like this may be more susceptible to upper respiratory infection because of the increased stress level.

Stuffed animal therapy can make up the difference for orphan kittens who may cry out for litter mates. I have seen the positive change that can come from this technique. Many orphan kittens will choose to sleep on or near the stuffed animal which is cute and can increase the adoptability.

23. Out Of Cage Time

Each cat will thrive on having at least 30 minutes out of the cage time per day split into two sessions throughout the day. This time can be devoted toward  training the cat with a clicker, harness training the cat, grooming them, or socializing them. Anything that can mentally and physically stimulate the cat is helpful.

Volunteers can come in and take them to the cat socialization room where they can have interactive play. I like to have a selection of interactive toys available for volunteers to use such as the Cat Charmer and Da Bird.

24. Use a Stainless Steel Cart

Utility cart

I prefer to use a stainless steel cart when I clean cat cages because it decreases contamination between cages. I would use the top part to set supplies on and the bottom part for cleaning cages.

I would use the bottom part of the cat for things like the food bowl, water bowl, cover, and litter box. I empty and refill the bowls, clean the litter box, and replace the cover if it is dirty. I disinfect the bottom of the cart then move on to the next cat.

One mistake I find that a lot of shelters do is that they set cage supplies on the floor or on a wooden surface. Wooden surfaces cannot be reliably cleaned and the floor will never been clean enough to set supplies on. This is a type of laziness that I simply cannot tolerate.

The best part about the cart is that you can move it from section to section without having to worry about finding a spot to set items at. Each room such as the intake room or isolation area should have a separate cleaning cart because the wheels can track infection from room to room.

25. Foster Care

Foster care is one of the best and free ways that you can prevent upper respiratory infection from spreading. You can use foster care in a couple of different ways to benefit the cat and the shelter.

Kittens younger than 6-8 weeks old are at a increased risk of being infected with upper respiratory infection and it is suggested they are fostered until they have had all of their vaccines and have been dewormed.

Sick kittens or cats can be fostered out if the shelter is having problems containing an outbreak or if a sick cat comes in and the shelter has only healthy cats at that time. Treatment is better provided at home than in the shelter. Some sick cats will require around the clock care to make sure they make it. Around the clock care could include fluid administration, assist feeding, and warming support.

26. Only One Person For Sick Cats

One newer strategy for preventing upper respiratory infection from spreading is by having only one employee clean sick cats. I would have one person clean sick cats then go home for the day which prevents any cross contamination between sick cat areas and healthy cat areas.

It would be awesome to have one person for all questionable areas such as intake, quarantine, and isolation. Have a door with a glass window or an internet protocol camera setup so you can still monitor the cats throughout the day. I would stream the feed right to a smart phone or computer and set it to record mode so the recorded file is saved on both devices or just one.

Sick cats recover better in an environment that appeals to their need to demonstrate normal species like behavior such as scratching and playing. Make sure every person who fosters a sick cat is aware of the potential for spread if they have another cat and are educated about preventing spread.

I recommend having sick cat foster parents sign a waiver. I like to have written up documentation regarding the disease that I cans send home with the owner as people only remember a small amount of what you actually say.

27. Wash Or Sanitize Your Hands

Upper respiratory infection is spread by a variety of ways but hands is the number one way that it is spread. A 65-90% alcohol based hand sanitizer will be needed for adequate hand disinfection. Less or more than that percentage will not work. Hand sanitizers other than alcohol will also be rendered ineffective.

Hand sanitizer is rubbed in for 20-30 seconds and allowed to dry by the friction applied to your hands via rubbing. Do not wipe the hand sanitizer dry or it will not work correctly. Read more about hand sanitizer usage by clicking here.

Sanitize your hands between every single cat to avoid contamination. Wash your hands after cats that appear to be ill and after every section. Hand washing is recommended above hand sanitizer for confirmed cases of upper respiratory infection because calicvirus is somewhat resistant to hand sanitizer.

To confirm that staff would use hand sanitizer… I would place a ping pong ball on top of the units at the start of every morning. If the ping pong ball was not removed then I know people was not sanitizing their hands. I also drew an X symbol in the sink with a dry erase marker to see if people washed their hands. Quality assurance methods are sometimes needed to maintain a high level of excellence.

Hand washing is done by turning on the water with a paper towel followed by lathering up your hands with hand soap. Wash your hands for 20-30 seconds then use a single paper towel for each arm. Use a final paper towel to turn the water off. Read my entire guide on washing your hands by clicking here.

28. Wash Laundry The Correct Way

Washing laundry is not that complicated but there is a few mistakes that I notice when I look through shelter protocols from year to year for various shelters.

People will not store dirty laundry in closed receptacles and not launder everything the same day it is pulled out of the cages Any time that dirty laundry is allowed to sit can be dangerous since it is a source of potential infection.

Another issue that I see is that people will place dirty laundry into the washing machine then immediately take out the laundry that just finished drying. The problem in this scenario is that if a person does not sanitize between touching dirty and clean laundry, you risk cross contamination.

29. Wash Dishes the Correct Way

There is a certain way to clean dishes to avoid cross contamination between cats from different areas within the shelter. I really prefer that every shelter has an individual dish washing area for each cat area at the shelter so no sink has to be shared. This is done so dishes do not have to be removed from the sick cat areas and moved around from spot to spot. A shared sink for more than one cat area can significantly increase infection ratesn

Dishes should always be cleaned with a two to three sided sink. Dishes are scrubbed first in dish soap to remove organic matter, rinsed, submerged in disinfectant for 10 minutes, then rinsed one last time.

The dishes can be sprayed with disinfectant which is allowed to sit for 10 minutes if there is no tote to submerge dishes in. Note that dishes that are cleaned in dish water must be rinsed prior to a disinfectant being applied or the dish soap will deactivate the disinfectant.

If only one sink is available then I recommend that you always clean the dishes from healthiest to sickest cat areas. A shelter without multiple sinks may be better off using disposable food dishes, water dishes, and litter boxes. Disposable dishes can just be thrown away after they are used up. This can prevent the need to move dirty and upper respiratory infected items from place to place.

Clean In This Order:

  1. Toys
  2. Bowls
  3. Litterboxes
  4. Litter scoops

30. Clean Cats In the Correct Order

You will want to clean from the healthiest cats in each area to the sickest cat in each area to avoid spreading disease around the animal shelter. I want to avoid “dancing” or jumping from one group of cats to another without any attention paid as to why. This list was made to keep people on track and to keep cats healthy by doing so.

Clean In This Order:

  1. Young healthy kittens
  2. Healthy adults
  3. Injured kittens
  4. Injured adults
  5. Stray kittens
  6. Stray adults
  7. Sick kittens
  8. Sick adults

31. Broad Spectrum Disinfectant

Use a broad spectrum disinfectant which reliably kills calicvirus and rhinotracheitis. I always recommend Trifectant or accelerated hydrogen peroxide because they are reliable, good smelling, and cost effective. You can click here to read more about Trifectant which is the top disinfectant used in shelters today.

A good smelling disinfectant will keep volunteers returning and keep the animals happy. Trifectant will last for 7 days each time it is mixed and accelerated hydrogen peroxide will last for 10 days. The issue with bleach is that it only lasts for 24 hours each time it is made so it require a higher compliance rate to make it. The odor from bleach is also much more powerful.

Quaternary ammonium compounds are best avoided because they have been found to a potential cause of corneal ulcers. Quaternary ammonium compounds have been found to be ineffective against most non-enveloped viruses like calicivirus.

A 1980 study, a 1995 study, and a 2002 study was ran to confirm that quaterinary ammonium compounds were being reformulated as effective when they were still not. Click here to read more about how quaternary ammonium compounds are ineffective against most disease causing pathogens.

32. Temperature and Air Changes

The ideal temperature for cats is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit but below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below or above this range can prevent a disinfectant from working properly and can be uncomfortable to the cats.

12-15 air changes per hour is a strong guideline for limit the spread of upper respiratory infection or preventing it. Air should always go from the healthiest cats to the cats who are infected with a disease such as upper respiratory infection.

33. Places To Hide

Every cat in the shelter should be provided a place to hide for when they are overwhelmed. Most cats can be given boxes, pet carriers, or a hiding box integrated into the cage. Feral cats and pregnant cats would do better with curtails and privacy screens.

Feral cats and cats who are pregnant can benefit big time from curtails, privacy screens, or hiding boxes. Cats that cannot perform normal coping mechanisms by being able to hide can become so stressed that they develop an upper respiratory infection.

This possibility is even more significant in pregnant or feral cats because they are under even more immense stress. Some pregnant/nursing animals do not like to be watched by strangers and feral cats are likely to freak out if they are looked at by strangers.

It is not unheard of for a cat to cannibalize her young if she is being watched and is not allowed to nurse her young in peace. Mother cats should be provided canned food and kitten food while she is nursing as well for additional nourishment and antibody production.

34. Designated Carrier For Each Cat

Each cat that enters the shelter setting would benefit from having their own designated pet carrier that they can have throughout their shelter stay. The pet carrier can be used for when you deep clean, when they have to visit the vet, or need moved from spot to spot.

Since there is a possibility that a cat may mess up a cage enough to require a full clean, this would be the less stressful method to accomplish a deep clean. You can even keep the pet carrier in the cage if there is enough room. Keep the pet carrier door off so the cat will sleep in the pet carrier and get used to being in it.

Spray pet carriers with Feliway prior to any vet visits or transportation throughout the sheltering system to make it an easier transition.

35. Keep Pet Carriers Off the Floor

Pet carriers must not be allowed to touch the floor or this can cause contamination of the floor or of the cat. You must consider how many people and animals travel on the same floor everyday.

36. Use One Litter Scoop Per Cat

Use one litter scoop per cat to avoid the transmittance of parasites and of upper respiratory infection between cats. The usage of a litter scoop for an entire section of cats or for multiple cages can be horrific in terms of outbreak potential.

Buy double the amount of litter scoops that you do cages. Have the litter scoops thoroughly disinfected at the end of each day. I like for people to buy double the litter scoops incase they get so wrapped up in an activity that they cannot get them disinfected right away.

37. Internet Protocol Cameras

This is a camera that can be setup in virtually any room and can be monitored by your smart phone or by a computer. The camera can be moved and even utilize two way audio. There is a recording feature which can save a 12 hour to 24 hour recording to your computer for most internet protocol cameras.

I used this device to monitor a group of cats that had upper respiratory infection and were not eating while I was gone. I would play back the recording at an increased speed at the end of the day and see exactly how the cats were doing.

This camera served as a fantastic monitoring device to gauge how the treatment of upper respiratory infection was going.

38. Label and Identify Everything

Everything in the shelter should be labeled and identified with a permanent marker or a printed label. No one should have to open more than one tote to find the item they are looking for.

In an emergency…there is no searching for things or guessing where things might be at.

39. Store All Unused Supplies

Tote storage

All supplies that are not used should be stored in totes which are properly labeled. I store items in a tote to prevent contamination of those items via hands, sneezing, or other fomites touching those items. There should be an individual tote for bowls, covers, litter boxes, and so on. Medications must be stored in a designated medicine locker.

40. Fast Track Adoptions

Being able to fast track adoptions and prevent long term shelter stays is another important strategy for minimizing upper respiratory infection rates. There are many ways to fast track adoptions. The secret to fast tracking is having a an plan for every cat that comes in as far as where they are going and what the pathway is after admittance.

To fast track effectively…you will want to have some very good statistical data setup with a good idea of the most busy days, weeks, months. Have a solid number of how many cats come in on an average day in each month of the year. You can estimate which months you may need to ramp up efforts and which months don’t need as much attention. Try to find out which animals in your shelter are adopted the fastest and have that written down.

My first method of fast tracking is to pre-adopt out an animal prior to an expiring stray hold. This has been a perfect method for increasing the adoption rates for many shelters. The adoptee just has to understand that there is always a possibility that the animal could be reclaimed. I would setup the spay or neuter date for the day the stray hold expires so everything can be finalized as soon as reasonably possible.

As an example – if a seal point Siamese cat pops up in the shelter and is on a stray hold, I would go ahead and spend the money on getting the spay/neuter surgery setup. I would schedule the spay or neuter for the day that the stray hold expires and have the cat pre-adopted out if possible. The sooner the cat goes home, the more space we have. The highly adoptable animals should have everything prioritized from behavior evaluations to being spayed/neutered so they can be fast tracked out.

Going off previous statistics,  I am one ninety nine percent sure that this kitten would be adopted within just a few days because everyone and there brother wants a Siamese kitten in my home town at least. I know that because I looked at statistics from the last nine years and it seemed to confirm this. This method is not to prioritize a certain breed but to get the highly adoptable animals off to where they need to go so the proper resources can be spent on the tougher to adopt out cats. Resources such as cages should not be tied up for a long period of time if they can be freed up sooner.

Fostering is the second type of fast tracking where a susceptible cat or kitten is immediately examined and sent straight to foster care to prevent the possibility of becoming infected with upper respiratory infection. The kitten can be vaccinated and put up for adoption from that foster home or brought to offsite adoption events without the risk of becoming infected. Fast tracking is about opening up space and providing a shelter with a less crowded and less stressful environment as fast as possible by moving the highly adoptable animals out quickly into good homes.

Sample Methods to Fast Track

  • Pre-adopt prior to a finished stray hold
  • Fix cats so they can go home same day
  • Hold adoption events
  • TNR and release day after surgery
  • Fostering

41. Written Protocols and Training

Written protocols and proper training via an orientation is the tried and true way of making sure that no mistakes take place in the shelter. An orientation should be hands on and be conversational for everyone so that they retain most of the information that they learn. Using real cages and real cages is often the best way to demonstrate.

Orientation will guide an employee through the basics of cleaning cages, disinfection habits, adoption polices, and so on. Training on the job is not a preferred way as even one mistake can be deadly to the shelter. Of course there will be humps across the way and that is expected, but we can minimize the humps.

I like to give a multiple choice examination 3 days after orientation and the day before starting their new job so I can assess their knowledge. I do this by sending home a copy of the power point and a detailed operating procedures book. I do explain that I expect them to know the information.

42. Deal With Outbreaks Effectively

Dealing with outbreaks of upper respiratory infection can be tough because it can spread like wildfire. The silver bullet to fixing an outbreak is creativity and the willingness to ask for help.

I have dealt with outbreaks in animal shelters that did not have a separate area for sick cats and in shelters that did. I was able to rectify both situations and get it under control.

If you are working in an open admission shelter which does not happen to have an isolation or quarantine area, that is bad news but not impossible to fix. I was able to section off a space for sick cats only in the same room as the healthy cats and have red tape starting where the sick cat area started. I was able to foster out half of the kittens so there was enough space to utilize my strategy.

Knowing that upper respiratory infection can spread up to 6 feet with each sneeze, I double checked that they were at least 6 feet apart from healthy cats. I had  the staff sanitize their hands in-between every cat so that nothing was transmitted from sick cats to healthy cats. It is important to remember that hands are the number one way that upper respiratory infection can spread.

I had just one person clean the sick cats then leave as an extra precaution during the outbreak. Personal protection equipment was utilized when cleaning healthy cats and cats infected with upper respiratory infection. Clothes for every person involved in cleaning was changed before opening to the public.

We still took cats but we always made sure to keep them at least 6 feet away from sick cats. Contrary to popular belief, upper respiratory infection is not as airborne as once thought. Many shelter veterinarians are not finding that hands and other fomites like bowls are a much more significant cause of upper respiratory infection.

Cats recovering from upper respiratory infection can still spread the disease after treatment but the possibility if significantly decreased after 14 days post treatment. Having every cat vaccinated and enrichment aimed at decreasing stress is the best way to keep cats healthy and happy.

43. Practice the 5 Patient Rights

The five patient rights were created and promoted in order to protect the healthy of animals who are admitted to animal shelters or veterinary clinics. The five patient rights is the code to live by when you are in a profession where life or death depends upon accurate work. Read more about the five patient rights here.

The Five Rights:

  1. The Right Patient
  2. The Right Drug
  3. The Right Dose
  4. The Right Time
  5. The Right Route

Community Cats

In addition to the previous protocols and techniques listed for caged cats, these are additional protocols that I would follow for cat colony rooms or cat community rooms.

45. Vertical Space

Vertical space is my top recommendation for fearful or stressed out cats. Being up high will provide security for your cat because being up high allows them to scout out their territory.

You can add shelving units which go up to the ceiling and around the room which can be fun. Another option is a ground to ceiling cat tower. You can have a mix of cat towers and shelving units as well.

Vertical space integration is a time to get creative and start figuring out what your shelter can do within the budget to provide a fun place for the cats.

46. Windows and Bird Feeders

No cat room would be complete without windows and bird feeders. Windows provide natural light, the opportunity to look outside, and the ability to enjoy the sunlight. The bird feeders provide hours of fun.

47. Space Requirements

Cat room space requirements are slightly different than cages cats. There should be 19 square feet allotted for each cat with a maximum of 12 cats in any community cat room. Any more than 10-12 cats could cause overcrowding and stress which could lead to upper respiratory infection.

48. Interactive and Leave Out Toys

I am a fan of providing both leave out cat toys that the cats can play without throughout the day and interactive cat toys. The leave out cat toys is a mixture of track ball toys, scratch pads, foraging toys, spring toys, water fountains, and so on.

I hang up the interactive cat toys for the volunteers to use for when they are socializing with the cats. Some toys I like to use include the Cat Charmer, Cat Dancer, and Da Bird.

49. Companionship

Companionship can be an ace in the hole for the prevention of upper respiratory infection prevention. The best mental and physical simulation for any cat is having another cat to play with.

Cats that are housed together must be of the same gender or sterilized so they cannot breed. The age ranges must also be close so that one cat does not over power the other.

50. Fake Aquarium and Fake Fish

A fake aquarium and fake fish in the aquarium which are automated to move can be a viewing pleasure for volunteers and cats.

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