Have you adopted a pet recently? Where did it come from? Even if you picked up a pet from a local shelter, he or she may have traveled great distances to get there; transportation of animals from overpopulated shelters to communities with a lack of adoptable animals is an increasingly frequent occurrence.
The movement of animals is most typically from southern to northern states, but this may not hold true for a particular individual. In some cases, groups of animals are transported by organizations dedicated to bringing adoptable animals into contact with potential owners, but I’ve also heard many stories of well-meaning folks who are simply picking up a dog or cat in one area and adopting it out in another.
You might be thinking, "So what? If it means that pets are finding loving homes instead of being euthanized, I’m all for it."
While I agree that reducing euthanasias caused by pet overpopulation is all to the good, how animals are picked and prepared for transport is VERY important.
Ideally, these pets should be examined by a veterinarian, receive their full complement of vaccines, be tested for common health problems (e.g., heartworms and intestinal parasites), and have a behavioral assessment before traveling. Some animal transport groups do follow rigorous screening practices, but "fly-by-night" groups or individuals may not.
Unfortunately, even the best protocol cannot guarantee that every individual will be healthy. Many diseases have a delay between the time of infection and when symptoms develop, or when positive test results occur. A perfect example is heartworm testing in dogs. Six months can pass between the bite of an infected mosquito and a positive heartworm test result. So, that "negative" dog you just adopted should be retested in six months to confirm his results or to diagnose the infection that was brewing when he came home with you. Diagnosis need to take place at an early enough stage for treatment to be at its most successful.
Moving an adoptable animal that becomes sick soon after it arrives at its new destination can have tragic consequences. Highly contagious diseases (think parvovirus, or the new, especially virulent form of calicivirus in cats) can prove catastrophic for destination shelters. And if your new pet carries with it a disease that is not prevalent in your community, veterinarians may have little reason to suspect the cause, which can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, and to a poor outcome.
So when adopting a dog or cat, do all you can to learn where it came from and don’t forget to pass this information on to your veterinarian. You might be surprised to find out what a globetrotter your new pet has been.
Dr. Jennifer Coates