Friday, March 14, 2014

Distemper Outbreak at a Shelter: A Dangerous Disease Which is a Threat to Dogs

Canine distemper is a deadly disease and is a real threat for your canine companions. I cannot emphasize enough the need to have your pets immunized against distemper and the other diseases we can protect them against.

  • DISTEMPER: Staff at Shelter forced to euthanize 30 dogs

  • Officials with the Oak Ridge Animal Shelter were forced to close the shelter last Thursday due to a canine distemper outbreak. Since then, the staff has had to euthanize 30 dogs and clean every surface — inside and outside — at the shelter with a bleach solution.
  • By Russel Langley/The Oak Ridger
    Posted Mar. 11, 2014 @ 11:19 am

    Officials with the Oak Ridge Animal Shelter were forced to close the shelter last Thursday due to a canine distemper outbreak. Since then, the staff has had to euthanize 30 dogs and clean every surface — inside and outside — at the shelter with a bleach solution.
    On Monday, The Oak Ridger sat down with Police Chief James Akagi and Capt. Robin Smith of the Oak Ridge Police Department to discuss the situation. The Police Department oversees the shelter for the city.
    The shelter will not re-open today as previously planned, they said, but instead it will be at least Thursday before it will be re-opened.
    “Tuesday and Wednesday will be the first chance the staff has had to concentrate on sanitation without dogs in the shelter,” Akagi said.
    The officers pointed out the symptoms of distemper: sneezing, coughing, depression, lack of appetite, and mucus from the nose and eyes. Vomiting and diarrhea can also be present.
    Akagi said there is no cure for distemper, but a dog can survive it.
    “(But) if he does survive there is a very high probability that he will have severe neurological damage,” the police chief said.
    According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website, canine distemper is a virus that attacks a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. It also attacks the conjunctival membranes in the dog’s eyes.
    The virus is passed from dog to dog through bodily fluids and is an airborne pathogen. Sneezing, coughing, and sharing food and water bowls can all lead to spread of the virus, according to the website.
    The best way to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the ASPCA website, along with the officers, is through vaccination. Puppies should get their first vaccinations at 6- to 8-weeks-old. They should be kept away from possibly infectious dogs and areas where the spread of a virus could be uncontrolled.
    If a dog is showing symptoms of distemper it is likely too late to vaccinate the dog. The vaccine requires 10 days to build up anti-bodies, Akagi said. He and Smith also said that the virus can incubate inside an animal for up to five weeks before symptoms show up.
    For that reason, Akagi had to make the decision to euthanize all 30 dogs in the shelter. Akagi said he hated giving that order and telling his staff at the shelter, who view the animals as their pets.
    Smith said that the shelter staff refused outside help with the euthanasia. He said they wanted to do it themselves and ensure the animals knew they were loved and cared for.
    “I have never been prouder of that staff doing a horrible job that needed to be done,” Akagi said.
    The catalyst for discovering the outbreak was a puppy that was adopted out of the shelter about three weeks ago. This puppy was diagnosed with distemper and died. As soon as the Police Department received word of the death, they closed the shelter last Thursday and began checking other animals. Smith said they immediately found two more dogs who had the virus.
    Before the decision was made to euthanize all the dogs, 10 dogs were showing symptoms of the disease.
    It is still unknown where the disease originated at the shelter. They suspect it came from an unvaccinated dog that was brought into the shelter, but where that dog came from — there is no way of knowing.
    “This is not like an investigation into a human outbreak where you can ask people where they went and what they did,” Akagi said.
    Coyotes, foxes, and raccoons can carry distemper and East Tennessee has all three. It is important that people keep food away from the exterior of their homes to not attract animals. Raccoons are a particular danger because, according to Smith, they can carry both canine and feline distemper.
    The best thing people can do about wild animals is to not put out food and water. It is not legal to discharge any type of weapon inside the city limits, Akagi said.
    “That includes firearms, pellet guns, BB guns, and bows,” Akagi said. If people are having trouble with wild animals, the chief advised they contact Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) as the Police Department has little to do with wildlife. The TWRA East Tennessee office can be contacted at 1-800-332-0900, according to its website.
    No cats in the shelter have been infected and there has been no reason to evacuate the cats, Akagi said.
    Despite the large number of dogs that had to be put down, it was only a small representation of the many animals that go through the shelter on an annual basis. Akagi estimated that about 2,000 cats and dogs go in and out of the shelter each year.
    Despite some people’s posts on social media such as Facebook, the officers said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has not been called to Oak Ridge.

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