Disease Risks to Your Pets if You Volunteer at an Animal Shelter
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Disease Risks to Your Pets if You Volunteer at an Animal Shelter

Information for people who want to volunteer at an animal shelter and are worried if they can bring home any diseases to their own pets. Can my pets get sick if I volunteer to look after pets at my local humane society? How to protect my pets at home from diseases that I might be exposed to while working at an animal shelter?

If you are interested in volunteering, or working, at a local shelter you may have concerns in regards to whether or not you could risk bringing home a disease to your own pets. You need to be aware that there is always a risk of bringing home a virus to your own pets anytime you are around other pets and animals. There are also things you can do to help reduce this risk.

Your Pets

Pets in good health are generally less likely to get sick, older pets, and very young animals (those under 8 weeks) are the most vulnerable. Any animal that is not vaccinated should be considered at risk to getting sick as the result of germs carried home after working, or volunteering, at an animal shelter, humane society, SPCA, or anywhere that there are animals.

The Shelter

Most shelters keep stray pets of unknown medical history in areas that are off limits to the volunteers. This does help minimalize the risks of bringing home and illness to your pets but it is still possible. Many shelters offer smocks to their staff and volunteers which should be put on before you visit any animals, and taken off and put in their laundry as you leave.

Some shelters offer bleach dips, shallow trays to step into on your way out to disinfect your shoes.

Disease Risks

While there are many disease risks the most serious, that can be easily transported home on your clothing, are parvo in dogs, and upper respiratory tract infections in cats.

Parvo can be spread by even healthy dogs so is always a risk factor if you have unvaccinated dogs (pups) at home.  The virus can be carried home on clothing or shoes.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in cats are similar to colds in people, but they can develop int a pneumonia in pets with weak immunities. They are very common in shelter cats, and can be spread to cats at home, however healthy cats are seldom affected.  

Other conditions include distempers and so forth but the shelter would try to isolate any animals with such conditions.

Other Risks

There is the risk of fleas however most animal shelters do their best to ensure their pets do not have fleas.

How to Minimalize the Risks of Bringing Home a Disease to your Pets

If you have pets at home you need to be aware of the risks, and how to reduce them.

If you have a young litter of kittens or puppies you may want to avoid volunteering altogether, or should select a different species to volunteer with. If you have puppies, volunteer with cats, birds, or rabbits.

If the shelter does not provide smocks to wear, consider keeping something in your car to use to cover up while at the shelter, or change your clothes when you get home.

Wash your hands before leaving the shelter.

Take your footwear off at home.

You may not want to do any foster care if you have any unvaccinated pets at home.

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Comments (6)

Very interesting article.

I would imagine a worker at a shelter would have to take precautions just like a nurse at a hospital has to take precautions. I always came home and showered and changed clothes before picking up my daugher when she was little. It was just something I automatically did to protect her.

very important article I never thought of bringing home diseases that way

I can vouch for everything you have written in this article, Brenda, having done a great deal of volunteer work for various shelters and rescue agencies. I have given many educational talks on the subject and most of the things you talked about in this article come up regularly in the Q & A sessions after my talks.

Very valuable article Brenda, I never thought of volunteers can transport virus or disease back home after a volunteer work, thank you.

Very valuable article Brenda, I never thought of volunteers can transport virus or disease back home after a volunteer work, thank you.

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