Companion animal care guidelines


The following are general guidelines for the proper care and humane treatment of animals in nonagricultural facilities, such as humane societies, municipal animal control agencies, pet stores, boarding kennels, dog training establishments, grooming facilities, dealers, and veterinary hospitals and clinics. A single set of guidelines cannot completely describe appropriate care for all species in all situations; therefore you should always consult a veterinarian for advice and specific recommendations.


Staff should be screened and selected for suitability to tasks assigned and should be trained in performance of their duties. Training must address animal, personal, and public safety, and appropriate handling and animal restraint techniques. Performance should be monitored on a continual basis.

Animal husbandry

Housing or caging—Caging or housing systems should provide adequate space and accommodate appropriate population densities, allow animals sufficient freedom of movement, permit normal postural adjustments, and include a resting place appropriate for the species being housed.

Preventive medicine areas for isolation of sick animals and quarantine of newly arriving animals should be provided where appropriate.

Special housing accommodations are sometimes necessary for unusual species such as those with unique metabolic or genetic characteristics, or special behavioral and/or reproductive needs. Exercise areas, runs, or pens should be considered for animals that will be held for long periods. Other primary considerations include

Safety—Providing a secure enclosure that addresses physical safety, fear, and stress;
Food and water—Providing easy access to food and water;
Biological needs—Maintaining appropriate body temperature, permitting urination and defecation, ensuring timely waste removal, and, as appropriate, facilitating or preventing reproduction;
Cleanliness—Keeping animals dry and clean, depending on species requirements;
Restraint—Avoiding unnecessary physical restraint; and
Behavior—Ensuring the animals' ability to engage in normal species behavior.

Animals housed outdoors should have access to shelter from the elements. Caging or housing systems should be constructed of sturdy, durable materials and be designed to maximize biosecurity. Surfaces should be smooth and impervious to moisture, and be designed for easy maintenance. The design should allow for easy inspection of cage occupants. Feeding and watering devices should be easily accessible for filling, changing, cleaning, and servicing.

Caging, runs and pens must be kept in good repair to prevent injury, maintain physical comfort, and facilitate sanitation and servicing. Sharp edges and broken wires must be eliminated, floors must be kept in good condition, and deteriorating equipment must be refurbished or replaced.  Rough surfaces or uncoated wire flooring in primary enclosures should be avoided because they can lead to foot and skin trauma. Flooring material should not flex under weight, should accommodate footing and resting off of open metal floors, and may have perforations large enough to allow only moisture to pass through. Separation between food and water, urination and defecation, and resting areas should be maximized.

Feeding—Animals shall be fed palatable and nutritionally adequate food daily or according to their particular needs. Feeders must allow easy access to food, and soiling by urine and feces must be prevented. Food must be available in amounts sufficient to provide for normal growth, and maintenance of normal body weight, reproduction, and lactation. Areas where food is prepared or stored must be kept clean.

Bulk supplies of food should be stored in designated areas that are cool, dry, clean, and free of vermin, preferably off the floor on pallets, racks, or carts. Storage time should be minimized and the manufacturer's recommendations for proper storage followed to preserve nutritional quality and prevent contamination. Open bags of food should be stored in vermin-proof containers. Food containers must be sanitized frequently.

Watering—Animals must have access to fresh, potable, uncontaminated drinking water. Watering devices such as drinking tubes and automatic waterers should be examined routinely to ensure their proper operation. When water bottles are used, they should be appropriately sanitized.

Food and/or water may be temporarily withheld at the direction of an attending veterinarian.

Bedding—Bedding should be appropriate, free of toxic chemicals or other substances that could injure animals or personnel, and of a type not easily eaten by animals. 

Animal environment

Temperature and humidity—Appropriate environmental conditions vary with the species of animal being housed. Generally, for dogs and cats, the ambient temperature should be kept above  50 degrees Fahrenheit ( 10 degrees Celsius), and below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 degrees Celsius), and the relative humidity should range from 30 to 70%. Animals should be protected from extreme temperatures so as to maintain their health and render their environment comfortable. When climatic conditions pose a threat to the animal’s health or well-being, taking into consideration its age, breed, overall health status, and acclimation, then appropriate measures must be taken to alleviate the impact of those conditions.

Ventilation—Ten to twenty room air changes per hour are generally considered adequate ventilation for animal facilities. Room air should not be recirculated unless it has been properly treated. Proper ventilation removes heat, dampness, odor, airborne microbes, and pollutant gases such as ammonia and carbon monoxide, while allowing for the introduction of fresh air. If recirculating systems or other energy-recovery devices are used, these systems must be adequately maintained. Areas for quarantine, isolation, or soiled equipment should be appropriately exhausted to avoid contamination.

Lighting—Lighting may be both natural and/or artificial, and should be uniformly distributed throughout animal facilities, of sufficient intensity to permit good observation of animals, provide a photoperiod control appropriate to the species, and contribute to a safe working environment for personnel. Emergency lighting should be provided.

Noise—Activities that create noise with the potential to cause stress should be minimized and conducted away from animal housing. Excessive noise should be minimized by training staff and by use of appropriate equipment and facilities. Animals that produce levels of noise having the potential to cause stress should be housed separately. Appropriate noise protection for personnel should be provided where noise levels are high.

Social—Where group housing is appropriate, consideration should be given to behavioral and social interactions. Environmental enrichment provided should be appropriate to the species. Human interactions should be incorporated into daily routines where appropriate. Play opportunities and enrichment should be provided on a regular basis.


Cleaning—All equipment and areas must be cleaned with appropriate detergents and disinfectants as often as needed to keep them sanitary and free of debris and harmful contaminants. Bedding used in cages or pens should be changed as required to keep animals dry and clean. Animal waste should be removed at least once daily, via collection, hosing, or flushing. Animals should be kept dry during these procedures. Litter should be emptied from cages and pens in a manner that minimizes exposure of animals and personnel to aerosolized waste. Cages must be sanitized, using proper agents followed by thorough rinsing, before animals are placed in them. Animals and personnel must be protected from noxious agents. Waste cans or containers must be cleaned and sanitized frequently. The facility should be cleaned in order of animal susceptibility to disease and potential risk to the general population, starting with the most susceptible animals and ending with those who carry the highest risk of transmitting infectious disease.

Waste disposal—Waste must be removed regularly and frequently, and in compliance with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Waste cans should be leak-proof and have tight-fitting lids. Waste storage areas should be separate from animal housing areas and be kept free of vermin. Biological wastes must be stored appropriately prior to disposal.

Vermin—A program to control, eliminate, and prevent infestation by vermin is required. Preventing entry is the most effective method, and may be accomplished by screening openings, sealing cracks, and eliminating breeding and refuge sites. When possible, relatively nontoxic compounds (e.g., boric acid) or drying substances (e.g., amorphous silica gel) should be used to control insects.

Identification and records

An individual record should be prepared for each animal. Records should include a description of the animal, the date obtained, the source, the length of time held, and any treatment provided together with its final disposition. Individual animals should be identified in a consistent and recordable manner (e.g., tags, cage cards, microchips, tattoos). Identification should be physically attached to the animal for the duration of its stay unless this poses a safety hazard for the animal or staff.

Weekend and holiday care

Animals must be observed and cared for by qualified personnel every day. Procedures must be established for providing animal care during emergencies.

Disaster plan

A disaster plan should be prepared and rehearsed. Appropriate training for personnel should be provided.

Veterinary care and euthanasia

A program of preventive and emergency medicine must be established by and supervised by a veterinarian. Sick or injured animals must receive veterinary care promptly. Medications and treatments must only be administered under the advice of or in accordance with written protocols provided by a veterinarian, and all drugs must be dispensed in accordance with federal and state regulations. An emergency medical plan must be in place to provide appropriate and timely veterinary medical care for any animal who is injured, in distress, or showing signs of illness. Animals should be euthanatized when necessary only by qualified personnel, in accordance with recommendations in the current AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals, and as permitted by law.


Standards for AAHA Hospitals, American Animal Hospital Association, PO Box 150899, Denver, Colorado 80215.

Animal Husbandry Manuals, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, Suite 400, 1220 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036.

Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication No. 86-23.

Animal Welfare Act, as amended, including the accompanying regulations. US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Regulatory Enforcement and Animal Care, Riverdale, Maryland 20737.

Training Guide, National Animal Control Association, PO Box 480851, Kansas City, Missouri 64148.

AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals

Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Agricultural Research and Teaching, 3rd edition, 2010.

Federation of Animal Science Societies, 1111 N Dunlap Avenue, Savoy, Illinois 61874.

ASV Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters