In hospitals, infection control practices are taken very seriously, especially by the Infection Control practitioners. I know because I was a member of the "bad bugs" police for 20 years in acute care hospitals. We isolated patients with certain diseases or history when they were admitted, and wore gowns and gloves to care for certain populations.
We all know it is not too practical to use the same stringent infection control guidelines at home. At the same time our furry buddies need to be protected from each other at certain times, especially in a multi-animal populations when you are not sure of the vaccination status of any of the animals in the group.
Cat-centric households who take in rescues must be especially careful when introducing new animals, even when they don’t appear to be ill. I have a petite gray tabby, Poppy, and a hyper little Poodle named Jasper. If I bring in a stray, even for a few days, I have to protect everyone. Here’s how I do it.
1. Movement control: Everyone in his or her place
So what to do with that sweet stray you rescued that acted like you raised her from the moment you found her? The darling cheek-rubs you already, winds around your legs and talks long and loud. It obviously belonged to someone and was well taken care of. The weather is getting colder, it’s dark outside, and little miss loudmouth needs to be inside, with other kitties, warm and cozy.
Rather than introducing everyone immediately, or even feeding them in sight of each other, bring the new animal directly into a room with a solid door and private litter box. A lack of carpeting for easy cleaning and access to water is a definite must.
Avoid the sniffs and nose bumps for a few days and make a vet trip with the new family member or foster baby to eliminate any worries about disease or lack of appropriate vaccinations.
2. Environmental hygiene: Control those bugs
What is the most effective method of infection control in a hospital setting? Hand hygiene. Wash your hands after touching a patient or equipment; wash your hands before touching the next one.
It’s the same with animals. Meticulous hand washing will help protect you and your charges from contamination from the environment, animals shedding viruses or bacteria, as well as humans from any zoonotic (contagious to people) infections. This is especially important after handling cat litter or open wounds, but cats can catch "bugs" from each other just by sniffing and licking your hand after you’ve petted them.
Always remember to hand wash after contact with high-touch areas (areas where the cat is the most often or that you touch after handing the kitty in question). For people, it’s the bathroom, sink, light switches, and door handles. If you’re touching the kitty, wash after touching door knobs, exam surface, sink, litter box area, food and water bowls, and toys.
3. Barriers: gloves and gowns
We’ve all seen movies with scary men in hazmat suits (remember when they came for ET?), but I’m not talking about that, or suggesting you suit up in gown, gloves and a mask like you stepped out of an acute care isolation room. However, old long-sleeved shirts make a perfect barrier between the animal and your clothing. Thrift stores are a great source for them if you don’t have any spare at home.
If you feel you need gloves to handle a specific animal, kitchen rubber gloves can be disinfected and inexpensive gloves can be found at beauty supply or restaurant supply stores. But again, good hand hygiene with soap is the perfect prevention. You don’t need to go nuts with anti-microbial soaps. Many experts feel that over use of those soaps, besides the expense, can encourage bacterial resistance. Alcohol hand rub is a good substitute if you don’t have access to water.
4. Cleaning and disinfection
One of the safest and best disinfectants is a 1:10 dilute bleach solution. It’s also super cheap.
Bleach will kill almost all bacteria and viruses, human or animal. Regular cleaning will keep the environment spic and span for you and the other animals. Use it in a plant mister to spray your hands, or pour an inch worth into a disposable cookie sheet for disinfecting the soles of your shoes. Simply step in the pan and step out onto paper towels, to prevent carrying "bugs" out of the quarantine room.
5. Stress control: Keeping animals calm
Why is stress an infection control issue? "Stress depresses the the kitty immune system," says Amy Shojai, CABC, a pet expert and author of two dozen pet care books. "Stress makes cats more susceptible to illness, so kitties get sick quicker and take longer to recover."
Also, a stressed cat is scared and prone to aggression or hiding, which makes him difficult to handle. The cat might injure you, try to escape from the isolation area, or spray and contaminate the area. If the cat reacts to stress by not eating, any current infections can be more difficult to heal.
Try to provide a hiding place in a quiet environment and even consider a pheromone such as Feliway products to add a calming atmosphere to the isolation area. Take care when introducing the other household residents, or keep them well away.
Controlling infections in your animal population and protecting them from new family members can be simple. Using common sense is the most important element of any program to provide a happy, healthy, disease-free household.
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