One of the biggest decisions that you’ll make running an animal shelter is determining the diet for your animals. In the early years of this profession, diet was less of an issue because holding times were much shorter; by the time that an animal had adjusted to his or her shelter diet, the animal had reached the end of his or her holding time.
Now, with few animals coming into shelters, shelters have minimum hold times that exceeded our maximum hold times in the past. Many States have adopted holding times that exceed 10 days. With the longer holding times, it was not uncommon that a pet owner would surrender their pet to the shelter as a stray when going on vacation. The impound fee and boarding for the animal upon their return was cheaper than boarding their pet at a kennel or with their veterinarian. Granted it was a stupid thing to do, but this way, their animal got free vaccinations.
In the early years , pet food companies worked with animal shelters in an effort to gain a greater market share. Purina instituted a program that provided adoptions kits that included pet food samples, owner’s guide, and coupons. For many, many years I used Purina’s mainstream line of products for the animals that I cared for. I’ve had a loyalty to them for a long time.
Diarrhea is the first indicator that you have purchased a bad diet. The problem is that animals have a very delicate digestive system and they’ll experience diarrhea when switching to a new diet. So, animal shelters should expect loose bowel movements during the first few days. If you continue to experience diarrhea after a few days, it might be time to look at what you are feeding your animals. I have made many bad decisions as to food purchases; so, when you are facing budget constrains, the food should not be an item that you compromise on.
Many shelters are turning to designer food labels and with the hold times exceeding months, that may not be a bad idea. Hills and Purina are two of the companies that provide shelter feeding programs. Each time I attempted to enter into a contract with Hills, I was faced with a requirement in their contract that required that I only feed their product to my animals unless THEY approved the change in diet. I could not EVER agree to them making every decision when I felt another product was in the best interest of an anima that I was caring for. I got very excited when I learned of Purina’s shelter program and then learned that they were only pushing their designer labels and not their regular line. The designer labels are still a budget obstacle for most animal shelters… especially when trying to explain those costs to a city/county commission.
In many places, I found that it was just easier to shop locally for my pet food; however, keep in mind that stores take a dim view with you wipeout their entire pet food section. It is a good idea to work with the store to oversee your deliveries and you can pickup the food on the loading bay than wheeling multiple carts through their store.
Many shelters are donated pet food. Most of the time the food is an open package that the pet didn’t like. The constant change of diet from donated pet food is hard on an animal’s stomach. Most of the time, I have set aside donated food to give to rescues or people in need. I have always believed that I need to provide a consistent diet to my animals.
The first shelter I ran was in Pullman Washington. I was fortunate that I had access to Washington State University and would frequently get the left over food that they used for nutrition studies. I also participated in Alpo adoption events in which the participating shelters were rewarded in pet food. I had a wonderful lady who sent me monthly amounts of cat food. The reason that I bring this up is that there is always a way to feed your animals; the trick is to let folks know what you need; be specific about your needs.