All the Cats: The Million Cat Challenge


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As recently as 20 years ago, cats were considered a kind of after thought at most animal shelters. To be honest, their value didn’t always quite appear equivalent to their canine cousins, and shelters didn’t completely comprehend their medical and emotional needs.

Launched in 2014, the Million Cat Challenge set out to save the lives of one million shelter cats in North America within five years.

When the 1,075 participating shelters met and exceeded that goal a full year early, the Challenge has now turned its attention to an initiative dubbed #allthecats, which seeks to provide the right outcome and care for every cat, every day, in every shelter.

Anxiety and Stress Causes Disease and Supports Spreading Disease in Cats

While dogs, ferrets or even Guinea pigs can feel fear, anxiety and stress in any shelter environment – cats sometimes have a tougher go of it.  Why? In part, just because they’re cats.

“Multiple studies have looked at the effect of poor housing on cats, and have linked it to a high incidence of stress-related illness, particularly upper respiratory infections (URI), says Challenge co-founder Dr. Julie Levy, Fran Marino Endowed Professor of Shelter Medicine Education at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Cats who get sick in the shelter environment may actually be euthanized – even if all the cat has is a URI, which is not all too different than any of us having a common cold. At the very least, no one adopts sick kitties.

This his housing which cause stress, and subsequently cats are more prone to illness

The problem is that the infection is so contagious and easily spread to other cats because their immune systems are suppressed by stress. URI’s can get pretty nasty, and ultimately become chronic. So it all becomes a vicious cycle with cat after cat becoming ill, some for long periods of time These infections are viral, so throwing antibiotics at the issue offers little relief.

It turns out that lowering stress is the best hedge against URI’s. Lots of ways which that is done. One big one is offering appropriate housing.

Kitty Portals Saving Lives

Calgary Humane Society upgraded their cat housing by installing porthole-like passages known as “portals” between two cat cages, thereby doubling the space for each cat and allowing them to sleep and eat in a separate space from the litter boxes. As a result, there was an immediate benefit to cat health.

image courtesy Million Cat Challenge

Once the portals were installed, done stress-related illnesses such as URI dropped. Cats also appeared livelier with less scratching and biting directed at humans.

Such improvements, of course, gets more cats adopted

And along with portals, now shelters often add improved enrichment – which all lead to improved quality of life, and even more lives saved.

How This Happened

This first-of-its-kind educational experience was made possible by the outstanding generosity of the animal welfare community. The exhibit was designed pro bono by Animal Arts Design and the housing was provided by the Mason Company, Shor-Line, TriStar Vet, Crijo, Kuranda, Snyder Manufacturing, Kitty Kasa, and Tomahawk Live Trap. The units will be donated to local animal shelters when the conference is over.

The space was donated by the Humane Society of the United States, the organization behind the annual conference. The exhibit was sponsored by Petco Foundation, which works with and supports thousands of local animal welfare groups across the country and helps find homes for more than 400,000 animals every year, and Vetoquinol, a family-owned, global leader in animal health since 1933. Additional sponsorship was provided by the Michigan Pet Fund, an education and advocacy organization working to improve lifesaving and care in Michigan animal shelters.

The Million Cat Challenge is a joint project of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida and UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. It was made possible by the financial support of Maddie’s Fund, a national foundation established by Dave and Cheryl Duffield to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animal.

The Million Cat Challenge is a joint project of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program and the University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, two of the most widely-recognized shelter medicine programs in the world.

Both have been pioneers in research, education, and practical service benefitting shelters across North America. Faculty with these two programs have published dozens of articles in the scientific, professional, and lay literature related to all aspects of homeless cat management and care.

Million Cat Challenge

The Million Cat Challenge will be led by the directors of the shelter medicine programs, Dr. Julie Levy and Dr. Kate Hurley. The Challenge provides a venue to powerfully leverage their combined 50-plus years of career experience to help shelters help cats.

Between them, they bring a unique and complementary combination of practical and theoretical expertise spanning every aspect of community cat health, care, and management. They have co-authored major guidelines related to shelter animal health including spay/neuter, standards of care, vaccines, and retrovirus management.

Dr. Hurley and Dr. Levy regularly consult for shelters, cities, counties, elected officials, clinics, and community groups to put their research to practical use in a wide variety of environments. One of the benefits of working with agencies throughout North America is seeing firsthand the challenges shelters face and the innovations that are emerging to solve the problems of homeless cats. The academic principles of evidence-based outcome assessments have been used to identify the highest yield solutions to share with other shelters in the Million Cat Challenge.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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