Factors Informing Outcomes for Older Cats and Dogs in Animal Shelters

March 8, 2017

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: University of Denver
Investigator(s): Sloane M. Hawes, Josephine Kerrigan and Kevin Morris
Grant Amount: n/a
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

This study from the Institute for Human-Animal Connection, at University of Denver, aimed to assess the factors that inform outcomes of older cats and dogs. This study found that a pet's condition at intake had the greatest impact on the outcomes. Additionally, the application of specialized veterinary care, such as orthopedic surgery or chronic disease maintenance, is discussed as factors that inform higher rates of live outcomes for these senior companion animals.

Objective(s)

To assess the factors that inform the outcomes of these older cats and dogs

Methods

This was a retrospective cohort study using data from the Austin Pets Alive! (APA) ShelterLuv database. The sample consisted of 124 cats and 122 dogs over the age of 84 months (seven years) taken in over a one-year period. To assess the impact of condition at intake on the outcome for the senior animals, a multinomial logistic regression was performed. Beyond age, this study also looked at other considerations for shelter decision-making, including breed, size, condition on intake, treatment plan, and reason for surrender. Understanding these variables and the relationship that they have to length of stay and live outcomes can support animal shelters in critically evaluating their policies and programs for older cats and dogs.

Results

Sample Demographics

  • Majority in the sample (55.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs) were 9 years or older
  • Majority of cats (81%) and dogs (55%) came to AAC as stray or abandoned
  • 10% (13) cats and 22% (27) dogs were surrendered due to the animal's medical concerns

Length of Stay (LOS)

  • Average LOS for cats (M = 68 days, SD = 73 days) was less than the average LOS for dogs (M = 89 days, SD = 89 days) ranging from 1-348 days for cats and 1-367 days for dogs.
  • Dogs spent a greater amount of time in foster homes (M = 71 days, SD = 82 days) than cats (M = 38 days, SD = 63 days), ranging from 0-367 days for dogs and 0-345 days for cats.

Predictors of Outcomes

  • Older cats who were surrendered due to animal illness and then assessed as a terminal condition were likely to be euthanized at a rate of 80% (or adopted at a rate of 20%), while cats who were surrendered due to animal illness and then assessed as poor body condition or requiring further medical attention were likely to be adopted at rates of 99.5% and 98.3%, respectively. Cats that came to the municipal facility as strays and were then assessed as a terminal condition were likely to be euthanized at a rate of 86.6% or died in the care of APA at a rate of 12%, while cats that came to the municipal facility as strays and were then assessed as poor body condition or requiring further medical condition were likely to be adopted at rates of 72.8% and 56.8%, respectively, or likely to die in the care of APA at a rate of 22.7% and 30.4%, respectively.
  • Older dogs regardless of reason for intake, were 100% likely to be euthanized if they were classified as terminal. Conversely, dogs who were assessed as poor body condition at intake were likely to be adopted, regardless of reason for surrender, at a rate of 100%. Dogs who were assessed as further medical attention needed, regardless of reason for intake were likely to be adopted at an average rate of 73.8% or to die in the care of APA at an average rate of 18.5%. Similarly, all healthy dogs, regardless of reason for intake, were likely to be adopted at an average rate of 71.5% or to die in the care of APA at an average rate of 14.3%.

Conclusions

By determining the gaps in shelters' programs for older cats and dogs, shelter management can address the factors that have driven this population to be one of the most at-risk for euthanasia. These findings indicate that preventative programming addressing the reasons these older animals are surrendered (preventative outreach), as well as advancements in specialized medical or behavioral programs for ageing companion animals, and a strong foster care system that is equipped to address the needs of older animals in their homes may support an increase in live outcomes for older cats and dogs in shelters. Further study is needed to evaluate how the quality of life of older animals is impacted by remaining in the care of shelters rather than being euthanized.

Comments

Please see our Code of Conduct guidelines.