In recent months, shelters and veterinary professionals across the country have been faced with various outbreaks of the contagious canine virus called distemper. Areas in Toronto, Florida, and North Carolina have found themselves with handfuls of ill animals needing quarantine and medical attention.
Particularly frightening is the outbreak in Toronto that garnered a heap of attention just a few weeks ago, where skunks and raccoons were dying in droves. The outbreak was first detected in May 2009 by Toronto Animal Services, reported The Toronto Star, and pet parents were warned to keep their pets close.
“If you see a raccoon lying on a sidewalk in the middle of the day, call Toronto Animal Services – and keep your dog on a tight leash,” wrote Raveena Aulakh for The Star.
Distemper is a debilitating disease and is similar to measles, says Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. Though it can become fatal in wildlife such as skunks and raccoons, as is the case in Toronto, it can also be transmitted to dogs and cats, who have a higher rate of survival. Eletta Purdy of Toronto Animal Services warned Toronto residents that they should make sure their pets are vaccinated.
“It’s not transferable to humans but there is definitely a high risk to unvaccinated cats and dogs,” Purdy told The Star.
According to Mar Vista, distemper symptoms include gooey eyes, nose discharge, fever, poor appetite, coughing (that can turn into pneumonia), vomiting, diarrhea, and callusing of the nose and foot pads. In its advanced stages, when the virus has reached the brain, distemper can reveal itself in the form of seizures, tremors, imbalance, and weak limbs. Dogs and cats are more likely to recover from distemper, but some of the damage done during illness can be permanent.
Because of the nature of this virus, Toronto residents aren’t the only pet parents needing to look over their pet’s vaccinations to make sure distemper’s on the list. Distemper outbreaks have occurred in many different cities, in some cases causing much controversy.
In Horry County, South Carolina, a distemper outbreak forced workers at the Horry County Humane Society to euthanize nearly 100 dogs, reported WMBF News. The outbreak raised suspicions of the practices in that particular shelter, and Horry County requested an audit, which has yet to be turned in by the Horry County Humane Society and is still in dispute.
In Cumberland County, North Carolina, a shelter official was dismissed after neglecting to communicate to the animal services director the nature of a distemper outbreak at their shelter, reported the Fayetteville Observer. Animal advocates were up in arms over the unnecessary deaths of so many animals, who may have otherwise survived if not for the lack of communication.
In fact, Toronto residents had similar qualms about Toronto Animal Services. Residents, reported the United Press International (UPI), told the Star that the department’s failure to issue “public advisories warning of the threat to dogs” would put many pets at risk. Since the virus is contractible via all bodily fluids, merely sniffing or licking contaminated surfaces could lead to a dog catching distemper. Without advisories, pet parents who are unaware of the virus’ implications may unintentionally expose their pets to the disease.
Across the coast in Orange County, Florida, WDBO Local News reported on a distemper outbreak at Orange County Animal Services where the shelter was shut down because of seven confirmed cases of distemper. Vanessa Bouffard, a representative for Orange County Animal Services, said that shutting down the shelter is for the safety of residents and their pets.
“This is to make sure that their animals are going to be safe, and that they don’t bring them to our shelter where they could possibly be exposed to the distemper virus,” she told WDBO Local News. They’ve placed the shelter on high alert.
UPI reported that veterinarians in Toronto have posted notices in their clinics asking pet parents to make sure their dog or cat is vaccinated for distemper. Pet parents across the country should most likely do the same when appropriate. Please consult with your veterinarian about whether or not your pet should receive the distemper vaccine.
Has your dog survived canine distemper, or was your dog a victim? Tell us your story in the comments below.