Pediatric spay/neuter: do recent reports have you confused?

It looks like spring is once again upon us and with it is the start of puppy and kitten season. As you likely already know, providing spay and neuter services to our shelter and community animals is essential for managing pet overpopulation. This makes sense, as preventing unwanted litters will ultimately decrease the number of homeless animals. However, you may be aware of some recent reports linking harmful health conditions to early age spay/neuter. With many puppies and kittens soon entering our shelters, this may leave you wondering when is the optimal age for these procedures?

kittens looking confused

Is younger better?

In most cases, yes! For those of us involved in animal sheltering, our goal is to get animals adopted as humanely and as quickly as possible. Most people would agree that dogs and cats are at their cutest and, therefore, most adoptable during puppy and kittenhood. It is, therefore, beneficial for shelters to have them ready for adoption at the safest and earliest age possible.

For several years now shelters and high-quality high-volume spay/neuter clinics have been spaying and neutering puppies and kittens as early as 2 months of age. What veterinarians have seen in the short term is that these youngsters require less anesthetic and surgical time as compared to their adult counterparts, decreasing the risks associated with these factors. Additionally, puppies and kittens clinically appear to recover from surgery much quicker and can often be found playing and rough housing just a few hours after surgery!

Is there any cause for alarm?

Not at this time. Recently, several studies have reported that certain types of cancers and musculoskeletal conditions may be the result of early age spay/neuter. However, most of these studies sampled specific breeds from hospital records, making application to the general dog and cat populations inappropriate. Although there are risks (anesthetic related complications, post-operative bleeding, etc.) associated with every type of surgical procedure, at this time there is no conclusive evidence indicating that early age spay/neuter increases the risk of developing harmful health conditions later in life. In light of pet overpopulation, the benefits of pediatric spay/neuter indeed outweigh any risks.

Are there any precautions for pediatric spay/neuter procedures?

Yes. These little creatures are quite susceptible to both hypothermia (being cold) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during anesthesia. It is, therefore, important to feed them a small amount of food just prior to anesthesia in order for them to maintain their blood sugar levels. For a 2lb puppy or kitten, a tablespoon of canned food ½ hour before premedication for anesthesia will help keep their blood sugar stable. In order to maintain body temperature, puppies and kittens should be provided with a supplemental heat source before, during and after their procedures. Individual puppies and kittens can be given a warming disc or bag while in their cages before and after surgery. Litters should be housed together or with their mothers, if possible, to benefit from each other’s body heat. Use of a warm water pad or even a layer of foam over the surgery table will help prevent their body temperatures from dropping dangerously low during surgery.puppies in a box

Another benefit to consider

Pediatric spay/neuter shortens the length of stay for puppies and kittens in shelters. It is well accepted that the longer an animal is in a shelter, the more likely it will become exposed to contagious disease and become ill. Puppies and kittens are our most susceptible shelter residents and it should be a priority to get them adopted as soon as possible. By spaying and neutering them at 2 months of age, we will not only have them ready for adoption when they are at their cutest, but also when it is most protective for them.

What do you think about early age spay-neuter? Leave your comments below in the discussion area.

Daily Rounds

Whether you have been working in a shelter for years or today is your first day, you have likely noticed that managing the health and wellbeing of the many animals under our care can be a daunting task. Performing daily rounds is an excellent way to keep your team informed and help ensure that every animal stays as happy and healthy as possible. This efficient method of physically observing every animal on a daily basis will facilitate decision-making, as well as each animal’s path towards adoption.

How are they helpful?

We know that shelters can be stressful environments, which can facilitate susceptibility to disease. To lend to that, animals of all ages and health statuses enter and leave our facilities on a regular basis. Daily rounds are a great way to ensure that animals are remaining healthy or are receiving and responding to treatments in a timely manner. By observing every animal every day, new illness can be detected early and in the case of infectious disease, potentially prevent shelter-wide outbreaks.

yellow lab

How do you do it?

The very nature of animal sheltering requires a team effort and effective communication to ensure the successful adoption of animals entering ours shelters. Daily rounds is an essential method of not only monitoring the health of each animal, but also is an opportunity to discuss that animal’s plan with a variety of team members with a goal of expediting the path towards adoption. Although there is no right or wrong way to perform daily rounds, they are typically held at least once daily, where every animal is observed in its enclosure and a brief history of the animal is reported. The current and future status of that animal is then discussed as a team with any needed actions recorded and initiated.

Who should come?

Because of the various needs of the animals, any staff member involved in decision-making should participate in daily rounds. This may include medical staff, behavior staff, managers, directors, adoption staff, and animal control officers. Although it will typically only take a few minutes to “round” about each animal, for shelters with large populations these minutes can quickly turn into hours. Dividing team members to cover different shelter populations may be the best viable option. Any serious concerns can then be reported to the entire group at a later time.

kittens in cage

Is that all there really is to it?

Yes! It’s daily observation and discussion of each animal that can make all the difference in keeping the animals and shelter at their healthiest. However, you and your team decide to perform daily rounds, consider organizing your team and get started today!

Microchips can save lives

tiny microchip

They may be tiny, but their impact is great.

You probably already know that if a lost pet has a microchip implanted, their chance of being reunited with their owner is greatly increased. But did you know that without a microchip (or any other form of ID) on average, only 2% of cats and 30% of dogs are returned to their owners? Placing a microchip can increase this success rate to 40% for cats and 60% for dogs. It is therefore very worthwhile to be sure all pets entering a shelter are scanned for a microchip and have a chip implanted if one is not found.

Keep that scanner handy

Ideally, every animal entering a shelter should be checked for a microchip with a universal scanner at the time of intake. The process takes less than 30 seconds and the only equipment required is a scanner that has fully charged batteries. The scanner should be held just above the animal’s body while it is moved slowly over the animal, covering the entire body. It is important to scan the whole animal because although most microchips are implanted between the shoulder blades, they can migrate over time. If a microchip is found and has been registered by the owner, the number can be entered into AHHA’s Pet Microchip Lookup tool  in order to identify the owner. This process can also be done in the field by animal control officers, which may prevent a pet from entering a shelter altogether.

Give it a try

If a microchip is not identified at intake, it’s best to go ahead and place one at that time. This procedure is similar to giving an injection for a vaccine and causes minimal discomfort to the animal. If you are concerned that the animal will not remain still for the microchipping process, try distracting them with a treat or attention from another staff member.  Check out the link below to see how microchipping is accomplished quick and easy!

microchip scanner

Although implanting a microchip does not require anesthesia, many animal welfare organizations will wait to place one until the time of spay/neuter. This is particularly helpful if staff availability is limited for intake procedures. Additionally, there are no age restrictions when implanting a microchip. However, it is typical to wait until a kitten or puppy is 8 weeks of age before placing the chip, as this is the most common age these little ones are spayed or neutered.

Make microchipping one of your shelter’s protocols

It’s truly amazing that such a tiny and easy to use piece of technology can have such a large impact. We encourage every animal welfare organization to consider the potential life saving affects of microchips and be sure to scan every animal that enters their facility. Better yet, consider placing microchips in shelter animals to help ensure future owners will be reunited with their pet if ever lost!

Check out this video of how to microchip!

Helpful links:

AHHA’s Pet Microchip Lookup




Let’s take care of the animals, and ourselves!

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

winter cat

As the temperature cools and daylight becomes scarce, winter brings a chance for us to slow down and catch our breath from the typical hecticness that is spring through fall in animal shelters. This is a good time of year to refocus on our own physical and emotional health, and that of our colleagues.  Remembering to take care of ourselves will allow us to continue our efforts in caring for many shelter animals over the lifetime of our careers.


You’ve probably heard the terms “burnout” and “compassion fatigue” used before in association with animal welfare. But, did you know that they are two different concepts? Burnout is a condition that evolves from a stressful workplace environment, such as working long hours. Compassion Fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion that result from your relationship with the animals, essentially from caring too much.

Both Burnout and compassion fatigue are sadly common conditions experienced by those involved in animal welfare. We experience a full range of emotions on a daily basis as we celebrate the adoption of an animal or empathize with the loss of another. Although much of it will depend on the organization you are affiliated with and your own personality, you may be susceptible no matter what your role is within the organization.

Symptoms of trouble

Burnout and compassion fatigue can manifest through either mental or physical symptoms, and in many cases both. Commonly reported mental changes include: depression, sadness, irritability, apathy, hyper-vigilance, and anxiety. Those affected by compassion fatigue in particular have reported a variety of physical indications including: chronic headaches, fatigue, appetite changes, chronic illness, and trouble sleeping. In severe cases, these symptoms may progress to negative coping strategies or self-harm behaviors.

person with headache 

A body, mind and soul approach

Awareness of these conditions and our own susceptibility is the first step in prevention. However, a proactive approach focusing on both our physical and mental health is essential in protecting our career choice.

As it is true for the animals within our shelters, physical exercise directly improves our own mental health. Exercise is a known method for stress relief. Because stress can impair our immune function, exercise can help us fight off pathogens typically encountered this time of year. If a gym membership does not fit into your lifestyle that’s okay! Try taking a dog for a walk for 20-30 minutes each day instead. The exercise and fresh air will be great for both you and your canine companion!

dog in snow

In addition to getting regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet is essential for physical and mental health.  Fruits and vegetables are particularly important components of a lean diet that supports healthy immune function. Although making healthy food choices can be difficult this time of year, try adding one additional serving of a fruit or vegetable to your diet each day. Gradually add more servings over time until your eating the recommended 4-6 servings per day. You may even discover that you like most of them!

Furthermore, remember that a healthy state of mind is just as important as a healthy body and immune system. Please do not forget to focus on the positive that you do. Animal welfare is a large and complex issue.  However, every positive outcome that you experience is a positive outcome no matter how small it may seem! Be proud of your work and know that you are making a difference in the lives of the animals that you care so very much about.

Ask for help

For some of us, no matter how proactive we are, there will be times when we need additional help in combating Burnout or Compassion Fatigue. Consulting your supervisor to discuss your concerns and brainstorm ideas to work towards a solution may be all that is needed. However, it is often helpful to have a co-worker, family member or friend to confide in as well. These people may give a unique insight to a tough situation.  No matter whom it is that you chose to talk with, remember Burnout and Compassion Fatigue will take planning and determination to overcome.  However, I am sure we can all agree that our career in the Animal Welfare field is well worth the effort!

Additional resources

Taking Inventory (Animal Sheltering 2013)

People Care Starts with you (Animal Sheltering 2009)

Rethinking community cats

Have you ever passed by a cat outside and wondered whether it was lost or just an owned cat enjoying the outdoors? In some instances, the cat may be neither and instead a “community cat”.  Community cats are cats that may be stray, feral, or loosely owned outdoor cats. These cats are “owned” by a community of people, rather than one individual person. Members of the community provide their care by providing food, shelter and in some instances veterinary care. Many animal welfare organizations have recognized these efforts and offer resources and assistance to ensure the care and management of community cats. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend “Rethinking the Cat”, a daylong symposium in Syracuse, NY dedicated to community cats sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States and Petsmart Charities.

outdoor cat 1


The session began with an inspiring lecture by Christy Rogero of Pets For Life Philadelphia and Camden at HSUS. Christy’s passion for pets and people led her directly into underserved areas of these cities where her goal was and continues to be sharing information with community members that will help provide care to their pets. Emphasizing the need for animal welfare organizations to develop trusting relationships with the members of these communities, Christy highlighted personal stories of challenges and triumphs. She reminded the audience that although community cats may appear to be un-owned, community members often feel a strong attachment to these cats. It is therefore very important that members of animal welfare organizations introduce themselves and clearly explain their intent to help community cats.  By doing so, community members are more likely to be supportive of the animal welfare agency’s efforts and may even be willing to lend a hand. The result will be greater success at providing care and management of community cat populations.

feral cats eating


Dr. Cynthia Karsten of the Koret Shelter Medicine program at UC Davis College of Veterinary Medicine discussed the effects of traditional community cat population management methods on the cats, shelters and the communities from which the cats come. Removal of community cats has historically been expensive and ineffective. Admitting community cats into shelters may contribute to overcrowding, leading to increased disease transmission. Dr. Karsten advised returning healthy community cats to the locale in which they were found, as even in harsh climates these cats are capable of survival. Returning community cats after they have been neutered and vaccinated will contribute to the health of both the community cat population and the shelter.

cat buried in snow


Dr. Michelle White of Cornell University gave several tips on how to engage local veterinarians in the management of community cats. Dr. White suggested animal welfare organizations reach out to veterinarians who are openly supportive of humane community cat management. Veterinarians may be willing to help by providing individual animal care, population level care or spay/neuter services. Establishing medical and surgical protocols in collaboration with the veterinarian will strengthen the relationship between the animal welfare organization and the veterinarian. Lastly, Dr. White stressed the importance of determining surgical and medical capacity, after-hour care and fees with the veterinarian ahead of time to ensure a smooth process.

feral cat and kittens

“Rethinking the Cat” provided an excellent opportunity for animal welfare organizations to learn and discuss innovative methods for community cat care and management. If your animal welfare organization is thinking about becoming involved in caring for community cats please visit the following links:


Making a difference one conversation at a time

Once again this year’s ASPCA Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference was a wonderful success, offering a variety of helpful topics for all shelter and animal welfare team members. A trending topic, often of great value to anyone invested in animal welfare, was presented this year by Matt Piccone of PAWS of Rochester on, “Engaging your community to increase positive outcomes for dogs.”

Founder and director of PAWS of Rochester, Matt Piccone

Founder and director of PAWS of Rochester, Matt Piccone

Matt began his presentation by telling his own personal story of why he founded PAWS of Rochester. Before establishing and directing PAWS, Matt worked for the security department of a national cable TV company. His position required him to search for illegal cable TV hookups to houses within the less affluent areas of Rochester, NY. Matt’s work necessitated entering the yards of hundreds of houses each day, where he immediately became exposed to dogs living in very concerning conditions.

Quickly realizing the need for both animal welfare education and veterinary access to these communities, Matt self-admittedly became consumed with finding a solution. He ultimately left his job with the cable TV company in order to dedicate his career to serving the animals and people living in the under-privileged areas of Rochester. Matt partnered with a dedicated local animal control officer, and the two began going door to door within the community offering animal welfare education and assistance with the care of their dogs.

Matt reported that through trial and error, he learned how important it is not to be judgmental of the people who own the animals in the targeted communities. By engaging these owners in benign conversations about their dogs, Matt learned time after time how much they loved their dogs, and strived to provide the best care possible. He cautioned the audience members that because these community members typically experience “empty promises” it may take an extended period of time to earn their trust, which is crucial for succeeding your organization’s mission.

Matt explained that it is this very reason that he is sure to always follow through with his commitment to the owners and their dogs. For example, PAWS of Rochester transports animals to veterinary clinics, donates dog houses, and repairs fences for owners who agree to have their dogs spayed or neutered. Committing to these services not only establishes a foundation for an impactful relationship, but also directly improves the lives of the dogs in these communities. Matt is now a trusted member of many of the at-risk Rochester neighborhoods, which in turn, makes his efforts even more successful.

Dog house and straw donated by PAWS of Rochester

Dog house and straw donated by PAWS of Rochester

Before ending the session, Matt advised that establishing a non-profit animal welfare organization is not an easy feat. It takes trial and error, and there will likely be set backs. But, Matt has kept on open mind towards the community members he is aiming to help and his mission remains close to his heart. He whole-heartedly encouraged the audience members to do the same. Gauging by the audience’s questions and comments, I can see that Matt Piccone was an inspiration to this year’s conference goers.

A lucky dog who has been helped by PAWS of Rochester

A lucky dog who has been helped by PAWS of Rochester

For more information about PAWS of Rochester visit:

For additional information on establishing an open-minded, effective organizational culture visit this blog post by ASPCApro highlighting Amy Mills of Emancipet:

Don’t let Isospora run your shelter down

As spring has transitioned into summer, the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine team has been focusing on what flourishes most this time of year: kittens and parasites! What comes to mind next? That’s right, diarrhea. Neonatal parasitic diarrhea is a common condition that can give any shelter a run for its resources. This week’s article will focus on a frequent culprit: the coccidian parasite Isospora.

kittens playing in litter box

Isospora ssp. are a type of protozoal parasite. Interestingly, these parasites can be found in the feces of healthy adult animals, resulting in no illness at all. Healthy animals become immune to Isospora and eventually clear the infection. However in young or immune-compromised animals, this type of coccidian parasite can invade the cells of the intestinal track resulting in severe inflammation. Inflammation interferes with the ability of the intestinal track to absorb nutrients and fluid. The resulting symptoms may include diarrhea with or without blood, vomiting, and weight loss. Rarely death may result from severe dehydration or secondary bacterial infections.

Isospora ssp. are diagnosed by the identification of oocysts via microscopic examination of feces. For most shelter puppies and kittens with diarrhea, diagnosis of Isospora will be presumptive due to the common nature of these organisms. Additionally, diagnosis can be challenging, as the coccidian organisms may not be shedding their oocysts at the time of fecal analysis. However, for refractory cases of diarrhea it is a good idea to submit feces for microscopic evaluation, whether performed in the shelter or at a veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Fecal analysis may confirm Isospora or reveal additional parasites resulting in a co-infection, requiring further treatment.

Isospora oocysts

Isospora oocysts


The current recommended treatment for Isospora ssp. in shelters is ponazuril. Ponazuril is an equine product used off-label as a coccidial-cidal agent for dogs and cats. Because coccidian parasites are so common and infection can be very severe, it is recommended to treat all puppies and kittens four weeks of age and older with ponazuril at the time of intake. Ponazuril can be purchased as Marquis Paste. It can then be diluted to 75mg/ml by mixing 10ml of paste with 10ml of water. Ponazuril is dosed at 30mg/kg once daily by mouth for 1-7 days depending on the presence and severity of diarrhea. Treatment may need to be repeated in severe cases.

Isospora may be spread through fecal-oral transmission, vector transmission or by ingestion of an intermediate host. In addition to minimizing the shedding of Isospora via prophylactic treatment, it is very important to minimize exposure to the infective oocysts through proper cleaning and disinfection. Oocysts are infectious immediately upon passage from the infected animal. Therefore, prompt removal of feces from play yards, housing units and litter boxes is essential to prevent exposure to litter mates and other shelter animals. Regular pest control is vital to prevent transmission via insects and rodents. Lastly, it is important to know that oocysts are environmentally persistent. For known or suspected cases of Isospora, deep cleaning of housing units with bleach diluted 1:32, or steam cleaning will ensure the oocysts are destroyed. Additionally, consider disposable litter boxes for kittens and adult cats with diarrhea as oocysts can remain in defects within the plastic of traditional litter boxes.

Disposable litter boxes

Disposable litter boxes


We hope you find this information useful as your shelter continues through the summer months of kittens, puppies and diarrhea! As with many pathogens encountered in shelters, Isospora can result in severe neonatal disease. However, with preventive techniques and good cleaning protocols, Isospora will not erupt in a diarrhea outbreak.

For information on fecal sample submission, visit the following link:

A proactive, positive approach to kitten season


In last week’s blog, Dr. Tiva Hoshizaki reminded us that kitten season is practically here and it’s time to start preparing for their arrival. Dr. Hoshizaki advised shelter teams to reflect on last year’s season to help determine this season’s goals and strategies.  She suggested that with timely planning and a committed crew, our shelters will be ready for the many, many kittens to come.

With Dr. Hoshizaki’s recommendations in mind, this year our Shelter Medicine program and the team at the SPCA of Tompkins County have vowed  to embrace kitten season.  Our goal: to actually enjoy these little critters all through the season instead of just in the beginning when they are novel and in fewer numbers!

Our plan starts by being proactive. This took some time and organization, but we sat down as a team and discussed what was successful about last season and what we would like to work on for this one.  Our team agreed that although at times it seemed an impossible feat, our greatest accomplishment was the adoption of approximately 450 kittens. This year’s goal is to not only continue that trend, but also to be as prepared as possible, while gathering some much needed data about kittens in foster care.

Many shelters are unable to house kittens less than 8 weeks of age and rely solely on foster care programs in order to ensure the kittens remain healthy until they are old enough for adoption.  With this in mind, our preparedness began just last week as Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, Cornell’s shelter medicine program director, along with Karen Nieves, the shelter’s LVT, hosted a very informative information session on kitten foster care for our volunteers who are willing to sacrifice their sleep, homes and peace of mind all in the name of adoptable kittens.

The session informed potential fosters about what to expect medically and behaviorally with kittens, from neonates through 8 weeks of age. It was an excellent, informative balance on the joys and challenges of fostering kittens. We had the largest volunteer turnout yet, which makes us even more hopeful that this kitten season will be very successful.

In addition to rallying our kitten foster volunteers, the team has stocked the shelter with essential kitten supplies including milk replacer, nursing bottles, human baby food, warming devices and the appropriate pharmaceuticals and vaccines. We have even recruited a licensed veterinary technician student to complete an internship at the shelter during our busiest summer months. Although her primary goal is an educational opportunity, she is thrilled to be able to help facilitate care for the many kittens to come.

Additionally, Allison Cowan, a current 2nd year veterinary student interested in shelter medicine, also received a grant to study foster and shelter kitten health. With the help and guidance of Drs. Elizabeth Berliner and Jan Scarlett, Allison will be collecting data on kittens in foster care. With the data gathered from this current research project, our team hopes to gain and share valuable information on growth rates, disease symptoms and response to treatments.

Our plan is in motion and our outlook is hopeful that this kitten season will be a success. As Dr. Hoshizaki mentioned in last week’s blog, our advice to you about to climb up “Kitten Mountain” is to unite your team by planning ahead. Gather your kitten foster volunteers now and inform them about the rewards and trials of caring for these vulnerable beings. Be sure to have essential supplies on site and ready for when the kittens start coming. Celebrate your kitten adoption successes and remember to pause and enjoy the cuteness that they are. Continue to keep in mind that our study will bring valuable information in the near future. Our program wishes all of you luck, peace and joy through this kitten season!