Getting the Scoop on Cat Poop: Enteropathogen prevalence

The Research Questions

  • What enteropathogens are present in unowned cats?  (An enteropathogen is an organism that causes disease in the intestinal tract.)
  • How does the prevalence of enteropathogens vary in cats across four different cat management models?
  • What are potential risk factors for specific agents?


Diarrhea is a nonspecific clinical sign for a multitude of medical conditions. Infectious causes of diarrhea are of particular importance in populations with increased risk of transmission, as may be the case in animal sheltering programs. Distinguishing between infectious and non-infectious causes of diarrhea can be challenging in the management of unowned animals, because a number of factors play a role in clinical signs of disease as well as the risk of disease transmission:

  • Stress
  • Dietary change
  • Immune compromise

Diagnosis and management is further complicated since not all infected animals may be symptomatic.  In addition, several enteropathogens (such as Toxoplasma gondii, Cryptosporidium spp., Giardia spp., Salmonella spp., and several intestinal parasites) have the potential to cause human infections.

This project will help us understand which pathogens are present in shelter populations and will enable shelter veterinarians to create informed treatment plans and prevention strategies in order to:

  • Reduce infections
  • Improve animal welfare
  • Protect the animal population
  • Protect the public

We also hope to understand the dynamics of the relationship between animal management models and infectious agents in order to help with decision making in the evaluation or creation of shelter programs and protocols.  The four management models investigated are:

  • Short-term shelters (singly housed cats)
  • Long-term sanctuaries (group-housed cats)
  • Foster care networks (cats in private foster homes not associated with other models)
  • Trap-Neuter-Return program participants (cats submitted for spay or neuter surgery)

This project is being conducted by Dr. Laura Andersen and is made possible by the generous support of Maddie’s Fund® and IDEXX Reference Laboratories.