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The Importance Of Regular Health Documentation For Animal Sanctuary Residents

An illustrated health report for Milo the cow.

Responsible operation of an animal sanctuary means providing the best care possible for your residents. One of the most effective tools in resident care is also one of the simplest: regular health documentation for every resident. Record keeping is essential in all aspects of a resident’s life at your sanctuary, but keeping a record of their health status is arguably the most critical. Neglecting to document the health of your residents could have serious implications for the individual, other residents at your sanctuary, and potentially your organization as a whole.

Each resident in your care should have their own collection of health records, including:

Stay Organized!

Each individual’s records should be kept organized and simple to comprehend so that anyone at your sanctuary who needs the information can quickly understand what’s going on. All resident records should also be backed up in some way so that this invaluable data is not lost in the event of an accident or mistake. For a quick list of what should go into these records, check out our record keeping article here!

Benefits of Documentation For Individual Residents

When you document the health of a resident, you give yourself more effective tools in order to provide the resident with better care.

With a paper trail, you can look back among regular health examinations for a resident to establish a baseline of their health that may be difficult to discern without a record. For instance, some goats or sheep may have a FAMACHA score that appears elevated past the norm, but this score may be typical for them as an individual and would not necessitate treatment.

Documentation can also show the progression of a health challenge and give you extra awareness of when it began. For instance, it’s common for residents to develop leg problems such as arthritis over time. A health record history that trends over time with observations starting at an apparent slight favoring of one leg over another to an outright avoidance of putting weight on that same leg is a valuable metric that can help you determine exactly what is going on with a resident, and give you crucial extra time to provide treatment before what seems like a minor problem becomes a health crisis.

Determine What’s Effective

When you record the status of a treatment, both in terms of what was provided and how it has affected a resident, you can determine whether a particular course of action is effective for an individual. Some health treatments react differently in different residents, and documentation gives you the perspective necessary to adjust (or potentially end) a treatment plan if it’s ineffective or causing side-effects over time for an individual.

Connect The Dots

If a resident suffered from an illness or an injury a long time ago and a new problem surfaces, you can review their health history to determine whether there’s a connection to the past. Some diseases may be more likely to pop up after other health issues have weakened a resident’s immune system. Other diseases may require modified treatments based on how a resident’s health was managed in the past. There’s also a chance of illnesses resurfacing but looking different than remembered. Having health records can help recall what might have worked historically for an individual, or at least what they might be presently dealing with.

Get Newcomers Up To Speed Quickly

If your sanctuary hires a new primary caregiver, or you decide to start working with a new veterinarian, regular health documentation can help them accurately and speedily get to know each of your residents, what makes them unique, and what their health challenges may be. Lacking this information could mean wasted time and resources, potentially missing out on important care needs that mustn’t be neglected for an individual, or missing a critical window of opportunity for early intervention in a health crisis.

Benefits of Documentation For All Of Your Residents

When you are effective in individual resident documentation, you can use this individual data to help make better decisions for your resident populations as a whole.

Create Effective Living Arrangements

Sanctuary residents are individuals, and each have their own individual personalities and needs. Documentation of resident health can help you determine who could appropriately live with one another, especially if you need to split up populations. For instance, a goat who is living with CAE may need to live with a more laid back population, or you may decide to have an entirely separate herd for CL-positive sheep. If you look back in records and find a resident has been historically confrontational towards herdmates, they may not be the best candidate to live with a more docile population. Using this data proactively can help you prevent bullying or injuries before they become a possibility.

Know What’s Around

Some diseases that can affect residents, such as Marek’s Disease in birds or foot rot in cows, can lie dormant in your sanctuary’s environment for quite a long time and potentially infect other residents long after the first affliction. If you have a record of an individual suffering from or passing away due to a specific illness, you’ll be better prepared for it in case it affects other residents, with the knowledge of what early warning signs could look like. You can then provide early intervention if a different resident appears to become afflicted as well, using the recorded knowledge gained from the previous time it showed up on sanctuary grounds. This documentation is especially useful if one of your residents suffered from a difficult to diagnose disease in the past; you can review old data to look for patterns and potential solutions rather than losing time starting from square one.

See Wider Patterns

Reviewing individual health records can help you track down problems that could affect an entire population at your sanctuary. For instance, it’s quite common for residents to develop vitamin or mineral deficiencies, either from nutritionally-inadequate hay or some environmental factor that inhibits vitamin absorption. Or, perhaps mud is becoming an issue at your sanctuary, but individual residents are only beginning to develop foot problems. By reviewing the individual symptoms associated with a problem, you can more quickly pinpoint what may be affecting others who may not be symptomatic yet and provide an effective solution to help everyone.

Benefits Of Documentation For Your Organization

Create More Effective Biosecurity Protocols

When you keep regular health records of individuals, you have a more effective picture of what biosecurity challenges may need to be managed at your sanctuary. If a human were to contract a zoonotic disease from one of your residents, especially a young visitor, it could threaten the continuance of your organization. By keeping track of and reviewing individual resident health patterns, you can determine how to best protect other residents and humans moving forward.

Provide Evidence Of Excellent Care

Because sanctuary residents sometimes come from unsafe or dangerous conditions, they may arrive at your sanctuary in very poor health. Documentation can prove to legal parties that you are truly doing right by your residents, going above and beyond to give them a good life (intake recording of a neglected animal should include documenting their body condition score on arrival and getting photo documentation of their recovery since arrival). Neglecting to have this kind of documentation can make it much more difficult to provide evidence of your organization’s high standards of care.

SOURCES:

How To Start A Farm Animal Sanctuary | Farm Sanctuary

Best Practices in Record Keeping | Animal Sheltering

Updated on August 4, 2020

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