Adopting Your Future Pet from Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups

Adopting a rescued animal is a rewarding experience. Although there are countless advantages to rescuing an animal, responsible owners should be aware of some health problems that are frequently overlooked in these animals. 


Be aware of infectious disease testing and vaccination protocols of the organization you are adopting from

You should always ask what the animals are tested for and the type of vaccination they have received so far at the organization you are adopting from. Ideally shelters and rescue groups should test and vaccinate their animals prior to adoption but this does not always happen. Make sure that your animal has boosters and they have received them at the right time. Even if your local shelter/rescue group tested and dewormed your pet for intestinal parasites before adoption, you should still consider a fecal exam during your vet appointment. Keep in mind that parasite shedding takes place intermittently and the previous tests may not detect parasites or re-infection can happen if preventative parasitic treatments are not followed monthly. Upper respiratory infections, FIV (Feline AIDS) and FeLV (Feline Leukemia) infections are among common viral infections to watch for in cats. Upper respiratory infection vaccines are covered by most of the shelters’ protocols, however FeLV and FIV testing and vaccinations are not routinely done. These viruses are spread by saliva during grooming between cats sharing the same shelter environment, and more frequently acquired during cat fights between free roaming male cats. You should certainly consider testing and vaccination for these serious viral diseases, as they can also be contagious to other cats in your household. Lastly, make sure to update your address and contact information if your animal is microchipped.


Ask for a full history of your pet  

An accurate and complete medical history is crucial for providing the best care for your pet.  You should ask about the history of your future cat or dog at the animal shelter prior to your first appointment with your veterinarian. Why was he or she in the shelter? Is he or she from a local area or brought in from another region/country? Geographical location where an animal is found plays an important role when it comes to diagnosing some of the diseases caused by parasites that are not endemic in Greater Toronto Area. Most of these parasites are transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks, and may pose potential health problems not only to your animal but also to yourself.  Some examples of these parasitic infections include:

  • Heartworm Infection – The parasite Dirofilaria immitis uses mosquitos to spread from one animal to another. It can easily be missed during a routine physical exam, as in early stages most of the animals do not show clinical signs at all. Additionally, animals may test negative on a blood test for up to 6 months after infection. The parasite resides in blood vessels leading to lungs and the heart itself, which eventually leads to lung, heart and liver disease and associated complications. Your animal may be at risk for heartworm disease depending on where he or she was adopted from. Your veterinarian can provide you the information on high-risk regions to help you determine when your animal should be tested. This serious disease can easily be avoided by using preventative treatments during mosquito season months.
  • Lyme Disease – This is a bacterial infection that is spread via blacklegged ticks. Ticks like grass and warm temperatures.  Although the chance of acquiring Lyme disease in Toronto is quite low, high-risk areas include the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River. Only a small percentage of dogs develop clinical signs when infected with Lyme disease, but they can serve as a potential source of infection for other ticks that could spread the disease to animal owners.  The best approach to this disease is based on preventing ticks from embedding by using monthly treatments and if embedded, removing the tick as quickly as possible, or vaccinating in high risk areas.  
  • Leishmania Infection – The parasite Leishmania infantum lives in the gut of sand flies and transmitted by them from one dog to another. These flies can transmit the disease from a dog to a human as well. Adopted or rescued animals from South America or any of the Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy etc. where this disease is endemic, should be tested.  A special set of diagnostic testing is necessary to detect this parasite, and a complete travel history of your animal is very crucial in this case. We advise owners to get their pets tested even if they do not show any clinical signs as the incubation period can vary from months to several years!

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