The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has just released a new set of guidelines entitled Relocation of Dogs and Cats for Adoption: Best Practices. It is a comprehensive look at what is necessary to ensure that transportation of dogs and cats (for any reason, really) is done in a humane and healthy manner.


The movement of dogs and cats between shelters is becoming increasingly common. The reason is usually quite simple. Shelter A has so many of a particular type of animal (e.g., kittens or small dogs) that the chances of adopting them all out are slim, while Shelter B is having to turn away people looking for that type of animal. Under these sorts of circumstances, relocating animals to avoid unnecessary euthanasias only makes sense, yes?


Of course. But transporting animals is not without risk. As the AVMA guidelines state:


Animal transport programs have the potential to spread infectious diseases along animal transport corridors and to new destinations. The stress of transport may increase susceptibility to infection or increase viral shedding. The risk of exposure to infectious disease is increased when animals from multiple sources are transported together. In addition to affecting individual animals, transportation programs may impact animals at the source and destination in both positive and negative ways.


The potential danger associated with moving a sick dog or cat cannot be overemphasized. Highly contagious diseases (think canine parvovirus or virulent systemic feline calicivirus) can prove catastrophic for destination shelters, and if a relocated pet comes down with a disease that is not prevalent in its new community, veterinarians may have little reason to suspect the cause, and this can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment and a poor outcome.


The AVMA guidelines touch on many topics, including:


  • Reasons for relocating adoptable pets
  • Methods of relocation
  • Selection of dogs and cats for relocation, including whether they are suitable for transport
  • Responsibilities of participating individuals and organizations
  • Responsibilities at the point of origin, during transport, and at the destination (e.g., vaccination, parasite control, identification, spay/neuter, monitoring of temperature within vehicles, etc.)
  • Enclosure space and design
  • Special precautions for young animals, brachycephalic (short nosed) dog breeds, cats, and “special needs” dogs and cats 


Unfortunately, even the best protocol cannot guarantee that every relocated animal arrives at its destination in perfect health. A delay between the time of infection and the development of symptoms or a positive test result is common. A perfect example is heartworm disease in dogs. Six months must pass before the bite of an infected mosquito will result in a positive heartworm test, and even more time may be necessary before noticeable symptoms develop.


Relocation efforts that are overseen by reputable organizations generally have some transport guidelines in place, but this is an opportunity for both source and destination shelters to make sure they are doing everything possible to protect the wellbeing of dogs, cats, and potential adopters. Relocation of Dogs and Cats for Adoption: Best Practices is a must read for everyone involved.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: Annette Shaff / Shutterstock