Separation is key!

Do you know the different between isolation and quarantine? Does your staff, board members or architects understand what a holding ward is? If the answer is no–you are not alone. These terms are commonly misused by shelter workers, and it is important that we define each as a separate space. This is particularly poignant during renovations or the creation of a new facility. Let’s take a look at what these words mean for your organization:

1) Holding refers to a space for healthy, not yet adoptable animals. You may be familiar with holding spaces in the context of stray or health department holds. Holding is a place where non-infectious animals can wait for the next step in their shelter journey. They may be waiting for a medical check, spay-neuter, or their owner to reclaim them. Holding is further broken down based on species and age. It is important to separate based on these factors in the event of a disease outbreak and to reduce stress. In general every shelter should have four holding spaces: kitten, adult cat, puppy and adult dog.

2) Quarantine is confusing term due to overlap between holding and isolation. Strictly speaking, quarantine is for currently healthy animals which have been exposed to infectious disease. For example quarantine should be used for transfer of dogs from another organization which is experiencing a kennel cough outbreak. These dogs were exposed, may become ill, and shouldn’t be put in the general population (holding) in case they become sick. Quarantine is useful when there is a history or known high risk of disease exposure. Once again, quarantine spaces should be broken up by species and age, but also by origin. If you take in transfers from multiple organizations at the same time, it is ideal to quarantine them in separate spaces.

3) Isolation is where sick animals are held for the duration of their treatment. Another term you may have heard is infirmary or hospital. In general, isolation is for animals with contagious disease (e.g. URI, parvovirus, ringworm). A hospital or treatment area may refer to a space where non-infectious diseases are treated (e.g. injuries, recovering from surgery). Isolation should be broken up by species and disease. The disease categories we tend to use are respiratory (URI), gastrointestinal (GI or diarrhea) and derm (ringworm). At a bare minimum shelters should have one isolation ward per species. However, it is best to keep the diseases separate, as you do not want your URI cats to develop ringworm or panleukopenia, etc. With dogs, kennel cough is further complicated by distemper, necessitating a separate distemper area if your shelter chooses to

Wow, that’s a lot of spaces. You may be thinking that it is impossible to provide enough spaces for all the diseases, species and age groups described above–and you are right! In the real world shelters have limited space and resources. So how do you determine how much of each type of space your shelter needs? Ask yourself the following questions: What species do you keep? How many at a time? What diseases do you see commonly? Which diseases will you treat or not treat? What spaces do you have available?

If your shelter does not treat ringworm, parvo, panleukopenia or distemper, then those diseases can be ignored. Frequently we are left with URI and diarrhea (Giardia, coccidia) for dogs and cats. Having flexible spaces, i.e. small rooms, allows a shelter to shift the purpose of a room. For example, when taking in a transport of puppies, a room can turn from adult dog URI to puppy holding. Of course, it is important to clean and disinfect appropriately, as some diseases can stay in the environment (e.g. parvo, ringworm). In many instances rooms can be combined due to necessity, e.g. ringworm houses cats and kittens. Now that you know the basics, let’s summarize:

  • Holding (healthy animals)
    • Adult cat
    • Kitten
    • Adult dog
    • Puppy
    • Small animals (rabbits, etc.)
  • Quarantine (healthy animals)
    • Variable
    • Can be unoccupied isolation, holding space or foster
  • Isolation (sick animals)
    • Adult cat URI
    • Kitten URI
    • Adult cat diarrhea
    • Kitten diarrhea
    • Feline ringworm (adult and kitten)
    • Adult dog URI
    • Puppy URI
    • Adult dog diarrhea
    • Puppy diarrhea

I hope this overview has been helpful. Look at your particular shelter and make sure that you have basic holding and isolation spaces. Still overwhelmed? Consultation with an expert in shelter medicine may help!

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