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Vet Pathol. 2014 Mar;51(2):478-91. doi: 10.1177/0300985813511129. Epub 2013 Nov 21.

Common and emerging infectious diseases in the animal shelter.

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  • 1School of Veterinary Medicine, UC Davis, Vet Med: PMI, 4206 VM3A, 1 Shields Ave, Davis, CA 95616, USA. Email:


The beneficial role that animal shelters play is unquestionable. An estimated 3 to 4 million animals are cared for or placed in homes each year, and most shelters promote public health and support responsible pet ownership. It is, nonetheless, inevitable that shelters are prime examples of anthropogenic biological instability: even well-run shelters often house transient, displaced, and mixed populations of animals. Many of these animals have received minimal to no prior health care, and some have a history of scavenging or predation to survive. Overcrowding and poor shelter conditions further magnify these inherent risks to create individual, intraspecies, and interspecies stress and provide an environment conducive to exposure to numerous potentially collaborative pathogens. All of these factors can contribute to the evolution and emergence of new pathogens or to alterations in virulence of endemic pathogens. While it is not possible to effectively anticipate the timing or the pathogen type in emergence events, their sites of origin are less enigmatic, and pathologists and diagnosticians who work with sheltered animal populations have recognized several such events in the past decade. This article first considers the contribution of the shelter environment to canine and feline disease. This is followed by summaries of recent research on the pathogenesis of common shelter pathogens, as well as research that has led to the discovery of novel or emerging diseases and the methods that are used for their diagnosis and discovery. For the infectious agents that commonly affect sheltered dogs and cats, including canine distemper virus, canine influenza virus, Streptococcus spp, parvoviruses, feline herpesvirus, feline caliciviruses, and feline infectious peritonitis virus, we present familiar as well as newly recognized lesions associated with infection. Preliminary studies on recently discovered viruses like canine circovirus, canine bocavirus, and feline norovirus indicate that these pathogens can cause or contribute to canine and feline disease.


canine; cat; dog; feline; infectious disease; intensive housing; shelter; virus

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