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Thursday, September 29, 2022
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Local Canine Distemper Virus Cases on the Rise


Dog sitting in a shelter awaiting adoption. | Image by Dan Brandenburg

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According to a press release, the Canine Distemper Virus, which is an upper respiratory disease, is on the rise. Dallas Animal Services (DAS) has fifteen dogs who have been confirmed to have the virus.

The press release shares that distemper is a “contagious viral infection that can cause respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, ocular (eye), and central nervous system symptoms in dogs that are unvaccinated or have weakened immune systems.”

Distemper can be fatal and neurological issues could cause problems that persist for dogs that survive the virus.

This virus is quite common and can be transferred between wildlife and dogs. Examples of wildlife transmitters are skunks, foxes, coyotes, minks, wolves, and raccoons. Symptoms of distemper may not surface until twenty days after being exposed to the virus. This makes the virus easily spread before diagnosing a dog with distemper.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, Canine Distemper Virus is transmitted through the air, by coughing or sneezing and sharing the same food and water bowls. The symptoms of distemper are watery eyes, fever, runny nose, cough, lethargy, loss of appetite, and vomiting.

After the initial symptoms, the virus travels to the nervous system and can cause a tilted head, twitchy muscles, seizures, circling behavior, slobbering, chewing motion with the jaw, and paralysis (partial or complete). Distemper resembles what rabies would look like in wildlife.

On November 12th, DAS spoke with Dr. Cynda Crawford, who works at the University of Florida at the College of Veterinary Medicine. She is on the team of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program.

Crawford recommended that DAS should carry out more substantial cleaning protocols, provide adopters with more education on distemper, and to stock up on “personal protective equipment use,” the press release mentions.

The press release stated that DAS, before speaking to Dr. Crawford, has already put quarantining in place at their shelter for all dogs that are “showing possible distemper symptoms.”

Crawford said, “The public needs to understand that this is not a dirty shelter problem,” and continued with, “Distemper can enter shelters like Dallas Animal Services that follow healthcare best practices, and they need community support and understanding to assist them as they work to resolve the situation.”

Interim Director of DAS, MeLissa Webber stated, “The health of the animals in our shelter and North Texas is a top priority for DAS,” and added, “While the suspected number of distemper cases at DAS is relatively low, representing only 2% of our dog population, we are taking this threat very seriously.”

Beyond the dogs that are showing possible symptoms of the virus, there are about 350 dogs that are available for adoption that show no signs of any illness. They are patiently waiting for a forever home. It is urgent to get them out of the shelter and away from the threat of the virus.

Webber said, “We want to be transparent, but we also do not want to scare potential adopters and fosters,” and continued with, “We are nearing capacity, and we desperately need animal lovers to help us ensure that our healthy dogs still receive the positive outcomes they deserve.”

Dr. Crawford mentioned, “This has been an exceptionally bad year for distemper in Texas; so far, our program has worked with seven Texas shelters,” and continued with, “Dallas Animal Services has the right leadership and the right resources, and as one of the leading shelters in the state, I am confident they will be able to manage the cases in their shelter while also maximizing lifesaving.”

In the press release, DAS shared that if residents start to notice any symptoms of illness and recently adopted a dog from their shelter, to immediately call a veterinarian. They recommended separating the ill dog from other dogs in the household.

Medical Manager of DAS, Michael Burk stated, “With distemper, prevention is critical, which is why DAS vaccinates every dog for distemper within minutes of arriving at the shelter,” and added, “If your dog is current on its basic vaccinations, it should be highly protected from distemper exposure. If you are unsure of your dog’s vaccination status, it is important that you contact your veterinarian.”

DHPP, DHLPP, and DAPPv are common vaccines that contain protection from the Canine Distemper Virus. For information on low-cost animal clinics for vaccination appointments, contact SPCA of Texas, Texas Coalition for Animal Protection, or Spay Neuter Network.

Webber mentioned, “It is critical that our community come out to help; it’s the only way we can effectively address this issue and continue to save lives,” and added, “If you have no dogs or only healthy, fully vaccinated dogs, we encourage you to come to DAS and sign up to foster or adopt one of the hundreds of amazing dogs in our general population today.”

DAS also has a program called Home to Home, where potential adopters can “adopt dogs directly from owners who can no longer care for them, still saving a life while avoiding the shelter entirely,” the press release shared.

Currently, due to the Canine Distemper Virus cases at DAS, they are only accepting emergency cases for residents in need. If an individual needs to file a request to surrender a dog, DAS will direct those requests to partners they work together with. People can also call 311 to access a hotline that will answer questions and point them in the right direction.

For available pets from DAS, visit here.

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