Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell

Shelter Dogs  

Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell


Wellness is defined as the maintenance of good health. Both physical health and behavioral (or emotional) health comprise wellness. A wellness program in animal shelters must address both physical and behavioral health.

Pet Wellness = Physical Health + Emotional (Behavioral) Health

Cats and dogs experience many stressors in animal shelters beginning at the moment of admission. Even under the best possible conditions, animal shelters are stressful by their very nature: incoming animals are confined and exposed to varying intensities of new and novel stimuli. When confined long-term, cats and dogs commonly experience anxiety and social isolation, and may receive inadequate mental stimulation and exercise, all of which can adversely affect their physical and behavioral health.

Emotional health directly impacts physical health in animals. When animals experience behavioral stress their immune systems become impaired, making them more susceptible to infectious diseases and harder for the animal to fight infections when they occur.

Basic physical health of cats and dogs should be systematically addressed through a wellness program. Protocols should include provisions for vaccination, disease recognition and response, parasite control, spay/neuter, identification, and proper nutrition and exercise.

It is important to recognize that behavioral health is equally as important as physical health. A behavioral wellness program starts with proactive strategies to decrease stress from the moment animals arrive at the shelter until the moment that their stay ends. From gentle handling techniques to humane housing units to behavioral enrichment programs, prevention is key when addressing behavioral health in the shelter. For more information on behavioral care in the shelter, click on the behavior & training link in the sidebar.

In addition to addressing the animals themselves, evaluating the shelter environment is also very important when developing a wellness program for an animal shelter. Proactive measures include implementation of protocols to maintain clean, sanitary environments that are not overcrowded where animals are segregated (by species and health status) and provided with regular daily schedules of care by well-trained, dedicated staff. Click on the following links from for further helpful information regarding shelter environment health: