Each shelter is unique. Unique in its organization, in its challenges. Unique also in its animal population.
I used to picture shelter pets as young and skinny at the time they entered the structure. Probably not well taken care of by their previous owners. That was my general idea of the animal shelter population. I quickly learnt that it was one of those misconceptions. The reality was way different.
Indeed, if shelters generally deal more with cats than dogs, I’ve seen the opposite in certain rural areas. I expected to see mainly young adults in those structures I visited. But there were also a fair amount of puppies & kittens. And seniors as well. I thought all those animals would be skinny. I’ve seen some that were overweight and even obese.
Sure, there might be certain similarities. But as I wrote at the beginning : each shelter is unique ; the unique reflection of the community surrounding it.
Why does it matter when it comes to nutrition ? While we move more and more towards individualized pet nutrition, let’s face it. It is hard, if not impossible, for a shelter to carry a large variety of diets in order to fulfill each pet’s individual needs. Some compromise must be made here in order to provide adequate nutritional solutions that will fit their main animal population.
So how to decide which diet should be picked ? My recommendation : start by making a snapshot of your average shelter population (foster homes included).
—> Think size : cats represent a very homogenous population regarding this matter (ok you might see a Maine Coon from time to time, but still). Dogs, on the contrary, are THE species on Earth in which size vary the most. And size does matter when it comes to digestion : while large/giant dogs are more prone to softer stools, small dogs on the contrary are more predisposed to constipation.
Practical tip : categorize your dog population in small (<10kg adult body weight), medium (10-25kg), large (25-45kg) and giant (>45kg). Then pick (a) diet(s) that will fit to your most important subpopulation(s).
—> Think lifestage : Adult maintenance diets will be required, that's for sure. Birth & Growth solutions might also be considered if your structure often deals with puppies & kittens. Indeed newborns need dedicated milk replacer (see why here) and nutritional weaning should be carefully conducted to minimize gastro-intestinal disorders (see how here in puppies or kittens).
Practical tip : Be ready, especially for kitten season ( see here). Train your staff and your foster homes on how to use the products you selected. And have them on hand since you'll never know when you'll need them.
—> Think Spay & Neuter : no need to convince you that pet overpopulation is a problem. That is the reason why you guys run spay & neuter programs. But did you know that spayed and neutered animals have a tendency to eat 30% more while their daily energy needs are decreased by 20-30% ? Overweight is the most frequent encountered side-effect after an animal is spayed/neutered. If your shelter population counts a fair amount of spayed & neutered individuals, nutritional modifications should be made to prevent this risk. It is also of utmost importance to educate the adopters on this matter : many of them are indeed unaware ; by telling them, you will make a huge difference for the life of their pet.
When you have a better idea on what your average shelter population is, it is time to crunch some numbers in order to make the best decision. Don't hesitate to invest in nutrition for your shelter. The more adapted it is, the healthier your pets. The lower your veterinary fees as well.
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