Put into effect Tuesday, the Animal Shelter will operate under a 14-day quarantine for canines, a decision made after several puppies held in the shelter tested positive for canine distemper. During the two-week period, the shelter will not accept nor adopt dogs.
“We are being very proactive about disease control with regard to distemper given that a puppy tested positive for the virus after being in the general shelter population,” said assistant county manager Susan Holder, who serves as the acting director for the animal shelter facility. “Our self-imposed quarantine is out of an abundance of caution for transmission of the distemper virus into our county’s canine population.”
Canine distemper is a contagious, incurable, often-fatal viral disease of dogs and other wild carnivores, including raccoons, fox and coyotes, that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. Canine distemper occurs worldwide, and once was the leading cause of death in unvaccinated puppies.
Infected animals shed the virus in all body secretions and excretions, and transmission is primarily by contact with infectious secretions and excretions. The shedding of the virus typically ceases one to two weeks after recovery.
Young puppies between 3 and 6 months old would be most susceptible to infection and disease and are more likely to die than infected adults. Non-immunized older dogs are also highly susceptible, and such dogs having contact with other non-immunized dogs or wild carnivores have a greater risk of developing distemper.
One puppy died from the disease and another was euthanized, said Holder.
All normal protocols were followed regarding intake of these puppies, which calls for them to be in the shelter’s isolation area for their first three days of care. The distemper symptoms did not appear until after the puppies had then been transferred to the general shelter area, Holder noted.
“They were immediately moved back into isolation and tested,” she stated. “Unfortunately, the test was positive for the canine distemper virus. Since the puppies may have infected other animals in the general shelter area, we believe we must be proactive in quarantining our canines and monitoring them during the period of time that shedding of the virus may occur. Thus, we do not want to adopt out potentially infected animals nor introduce new, potentially adoptable, animals into contact with our quarantined animals.”
A number of animals quarantined was not immediately known, however Holder noted there are 77 pens at the Animal Shelter, which hold one animal each. Those pens are not close to full, she said.
The distemper virus breaks down in the environment and usually only survives a few hours, and no more than a few days, outside the host. It is readily destroyed by drying and by most disinfectants.
In addition to the two puppies who contracted distemper, there were six others that were also put down. Those canines had met the three-day intake requirement already, but still had severe health issues. They were not tested for distemper, but likely would not have survived or been adopted out.
“Given the nature of the animals which may come into the shelter, we already have strict cleaning protocols for disease control,” noted Holder. “However, after the virus was detected, we immediately took additional disinfection measures as recommended by our veterinarian.”
The shelter will accept and adopt out cats during the quarantine period as the canine distemper virus does not affect domestic cats.
Holder said she regretted the inconvenience to citizens, but wanted to encourage them to visit the shelter after the quarantine period is complete to adopt a new pet, which is the ultimate goal.
“That’s why we’re quarantining them,” she said. “We want them to be adoptable.”
Holder said she hoped the silver lining on an unfortunate situation would come with more vigilance on behalf of all pet owners.
“I think this just underscores the need to get pets vaccinated,” she said. “If nothing else, it is imperative that good, responsible pet owners vaccinate their pets.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 121, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.