Refugios Para Gatos: Encarando los Problemas
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2009
Fabián Minovich

The notes for this presentation are available in Spanish.

At a cat's refuge, open shelter (where personally I refer to a cat refuge as that place where they have over 20 cats in semi-savage conditions and out in the open), these animals have specific problems that they have at breeders or at multiple households (10-15) in environment that are much harder to control sanitary and hygienically.

Therefore how do we face the problems at those refuges? Part of the answer is to know the problems that these places have, and these problems that are generally complicated and serious, because these animals compete for food and share chronic and infectious diseases and live in permanent stress.

The prevailing problems are:

A) Infectious diseases (for close contact and high cost of vaccination of all these animals)

B) Parasitic diseases (for difficult handling and administration of antiparasites.; and not so much for the cost involved)

C) Nutritional disorders (Due to the use of cheap food without age classification, and due to high population density)

D) Behavioral problems (Due to competition for the litterbox, territory, females, food, etc.)

But the primary problem is the high prevalence of infectious diseases because those responsible do not know about vaccines or of medical handling, making it difficult to implement anthelmintic plans and vaccination, as well as the appearance of sub-clinical nutritional deficiency that makes them prone to infections.

Another issue in these groups is the group immunity of the colony: this is understood as refuge cats as the resistance of the cats like a group to the invasion and dissemination of infectious organisms. This group immunity can be helped by reducing stress, improving nutrition and taking out the weaker individuals that are more prone to get sick.

Within the same thing, resistance to germ colonization depends in the innate and acquired ability to stand against infection. For that reason, it is important to detect individuals with low resistance or weakness, since generally they are chronically infected and can infect the entire group.

Variables that affect the risk at refuges:

1) Host: Maternal immunity, age of exposition and different ages living together, resistance or individual predisposal, status nutritional, stress level, concomitant diseases, defects of the immune system.

2) Agent: Virulence, effective dose, transmission, way of entry of infection, stage of the carrier.

3) Environment: Population (number of cats), sanitary level (vaccines, hygiene, antiparasites), humidity (if it increases the mean life of the virus stretches out), temperature (warm environments predispose the spread of disease), interchange (control of the movement).

The level of infection at the refuge is going to depend on how many of these factors are present, and generally there is more than one present.

When we talk about prevalence of diseases at refuges, we must identify what factors highlight that could predispose the population. These are generally different from those at breeders or home controlled cat populations, indicating if they are due to the host, agent or the environment.

In multiple households environment,

  • High population density
  • Cohabitation with humans, that makes a real disinfection difficult
  • Poorly defined environment
  • Fecal matter contamination
  • Fluctuating population
  • Inadequate quarantine and isolation
  • Modest-resources
  • Introduction of pathogens, more often in younger cats that introduce new variants
  • Population density

In this kind of environment, it's very possible to encounter zoonotic diseases.


  • Inappropriate vaccination
  • Mix of groups
  • Elevated stress level
  • Resident pathogens
  • Nutritional status
  • Normal bacterial flora (use of unsuitable antibiotics)
  • Age of exposition
  • Concomitant diseases


  • Virulence
  • Virus's quantity

If these factors are present we will have clinical consequences like: Severe diseases, increase in mortality rate, more cats with chronic stages of disease, more carriers of disease (it's been observed many cases of lymphocytic plasmocytic gingivitis associated with chronic carriers of calicivirus.)

How-to, sanitation procedures:

  • Daily washing of dishes and cleaning surfaces
  • Once per week, deep cleaning without the presence of cats, with immersion of dishes and objects for 10 minutes in a chlorine solution (1:10) or quaternary ammonium, covering surfaces with disinfectant for 10 minutes and rinsing.

Adverse effects of high population density (crowding):

  • Concentration of pathogens
  • Bigger risk of exposure
  • Increase of sub-clinical malnutrition
  • Increased stress increase
  • Increase of behavioral problems
  • Salubrity problems

Procedures of quarantine:

  • Three weeks (ideal, 6 weeks)
  • Physical examination on day 1-10-20 (vaccination on the first day)
  • Exam VIF and VILEF day 1 and 20 (FeLV, FIV)
  • Fecal exam day 1 and 20
  • Fungal culture (with new tooth brush)

Shelter design:

  • Natural and artificial light (4hr light and 10 of darkness)
  • Separating the cages with plastic, if there is direct contact with another cat
  • The cage should be facing a garden or the environment outside
  • Cover shoes within shelter areas

Grouping and separation:

  • Entire/intact females and kittens
  • Entire/intact males
  • Pregnant, females with newborn kittens
  • Kittens weaned early
  • Quarantine (cats recently arrived)
  • Isolation (sick cats)

Handling according to priorities:

  • Kittens weaned prematurely
  • Females with un-weaned kittens
  • Pregnant cats
  • Breeding females and kittens
  • Reproductive males
  • Cats in quarantine
  • Cats in isolation

When moving to a different area, change gloves, mask and cover shoes. This is fundamental to avoid spreading diseases.

Factors of practical importance in the prevalence of diseases:

  • Your mix of groups
  • Undetected carriers
  • Accumulation of pathogens
  • Uncontrolled introduction of cats to the shelter
  • Stress and crowding
  • Inappropriate vaccination

The relative importance of these factors like the host, environment and agent varies between different groups of cats and due to this reason, we can generalize between different cat populations (refuges, shelters, multiple households, outdoors cats, breeders, etc.)

The environmental factors are very important but at the refuges, the host factors are also important due to susceptibility. On the other hand, if the environment is not controlled, makes it almost impossible to control the prevalence of diseases. The successful management requires the knowledge of specific points where the cycle of infection can be interrupted.

English translation by Alejandro Garcia, LV, DVM

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Fabián Minovich

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