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A shelter-neuter-return program and the association with cat health

Edinboro CH, Watson HN, Fairbrother A. Association between a shelter-neuter-return program and cat health at a large municipal animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2016 Feb 1;248(3):298-308.

Management of free-roaming and feral cat colonies entering animal shelters has evolved over recent years where many shelters include a trap or shelter-neuter-return program versus the more historical manner of housing cats for variable durations depending on resource availability. The movement for change is to conserve valuable resources that can be put to use more efficiently, decrease euthanasia of cats in the shelters, and improve the general health of the cats housed in the shelters.

This study looked at what effects a shelter-neuter-return (SNR) program has on cat admissions and health at a large municipal shelter in Northern California (San Jose Animal Care Center). The authors examined recorded data from the admission of 117,383 cats over a period of eight years from January 1, 2006 until December 31, 2013. The City of San Jose Animal Care and Services (SJACS) has embraced the Feral Freedom strategy where free-roaming cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, and returned to their sites of capture, with recognition that the cats were living successfully without dedicated caregivers or colonies. The purpose of this large study was to determine whether, after the start of the SNR program on March 9, 2010, fewer cats were admitted to the SJACS, fewer cats were euthanized, the proportion of feral cats admitted was lower, and fewer cats in the shelter were identified with upper respiratory infection (URI). An additional objective was determining if changes in the treatment protocol for URI resulted in final savings due to decreases in the proportion of cats with URI and duration of stay in the shelter.

The study results showed fewer cats were admitted after the SNR program began than were admitted previously and the duration of stay also decreased starting in 2010. The proportion of cats euthanized decreased from nearly 70% in 2006 to < 30% in 2013.  The authors noted a decrease in the number of cats admitted to other surrounding county shelters during this period. The number of cats euthanized because of URI decreased over the study period, but it was noted the number of cats with URI (diagnosis or treatment) did not change significantly.  The treatment protocol for URI was changed in 2011 where approximately 10 to 20% of cats were treated with antimicrobials (versus where all cats with URI were treated with antimicrobials previously) and no ophthalmic treatments were administered. Costs decreased considerably with the use of this new protocol.

The authors conclude that the start of a SNR program led to a decreased number of cats admitted to this shelter and a lower percentage of cats were euthanized.  With a larger number of resources now available to treat sick cats with URI and the change in treatment protocol, fewer cats were euthanized due to the disease and more cats were treated at a lower cost and had a briefer stay at the shelter. (VLT)

See also:
Levy JK, Isaza NM, Scott KC. Effect of high-impact targeted trap-neuter-return and adoption of community cats on cat intake to a shelter. Vet J. 2014;201(3):269-74.