Shelter veterinarians update care guidelines

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians has released an updated version of its Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters (PDF), which includes additional references, expanded research, and new sections addressing forensics and disaster response.

The ASV published the first edition of the guidelines in 2010 to provide evidence-based support to those caring for animals in shelters, rescues, fosters, sanctuaries, and other population settings. The guidelines are intended as a benchmark for organizational self-assessment and improvement, a framework for shelter consultations, and a basis for shelter regulation.

Three dogs housed together in an animal shelter enclosure
The second edition of the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters marks the first update of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians document since its initial release a decade ago.

The second edition of the ASV guidelines, unveiled Jan. 17 during the Veterinary Meeting & Expo in Orlando, Florida, is the result of a nearly three-year effort to have the document reflect the diversity and breadth of tasks that shelter professionals encounter daily.

“Since our founding, we’ve maintained the same dedication to establishing and advancing consistent care in animal shelters,” ASV Executive Director Tom Van Winkle said in a statement. “With the advancement of research and changes in shelter medicine, we knew it was time to update the guidelines to provide the best possible resource to shelters and veterinarians everywhere.”

“The guiding principle of the guidelines is meeting animals’ physical and emotional needs, regardless of the mission of the organization or the challenges involved in meeting those needs,” said Dr. Erin Doyle, co-chair of the ASV task force that oversaw the revisions, during the VMX event.

Dr. Doyle, senior director of Shelter Medicine and Residency Programs for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, explained that the ethical framework of the first edition was based on the Five Freedoms: freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress. The new edition uses the Five Domains Model, a broader approach to assessing animal welfare that puts additional focus on creating opportunities for positive experiences in addition to mitigating negative ones within the domains of nutrition, environment, health, behavior, and mental state.

The document touches on the following topics:

  • Management and record keeping.
  • Population management.
  • Animal handling.
  • Facilities.
  • Sanitation.
  • Medical health.
  • Shelter surgery.
  • Forensics.
  • Behavior and mental well-being.
  • Euthanasia.
  • Animal transport and relocation programs.
  • Disaster response.
  • Public health.

The guidelines are limited in scope, Dr. Doyle said, focusing primarily on cats and dogs as well as the “what” and “why” of a standard rather than how it should be implemented. The guidelines also include words such as “unacceptable,” “must,” and “ideal” to help the shelter community prioritize standards of care.

Dr. Doyle said, “There are some areas that simply aren’t negotiable, while in other areas we recognize that resources may be limited,” such as if dental radiographs aren’t possible.

In addition to releasing the new edition of the guidelines, the ASV this past November launched a new publication, the Journal of Shelter Medicine and Community Animal Health, to advance the evidence base in the field of shelter and community veterinary medicine.

Founded in 2001, the ASV has more than 2,000 active members and 20 national and international student chapters. Also in 2001, the organization helped establish the first shelter medicine residency at the University of California-Davis. Since then, veterinary conferences have added shelter medicine tracks, and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners added a shelter medicine specialty. As of 2021, there were 32 diplomates in shelter medicine practice.

A version of this article appears in the April 2023 print issue of JAVMA.