Canine distemper case contained; vaccinations urged in county

Published 3:57 pm Friday, October 15, 2010

The Greenville Animal Shelter is operating according to its normal schedule following concerns about a potential outbreak of the canine distemper virus at the facility.

Dr. Josh Gardner of Clay Hill Animal Clinic in Greenville said an animal had been diagnosed with distemper that had never actually been inside the city shelter.

“However, a number of animals from the same location had been taken into the shelter and they had been exposed to this sick animal. And it doesn’t take much exposure at all for the virus to spread,” said Gardner.

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With even just the slight possibility of a highly contagious canine virus that is both incurable and often fatal sweeping through the shelter, you don’t want to take any chances, he said.

“They quarantined the animals, not taking in or adopting out animals,” Gardner said.

“They used the cat room as an isolation ward, as there was not any danger to the cats of protracting this virus. All the animals were vaccinated and everyone was watched, the puppies especially, because they are always more susceptible to these illnesses. We’ve done all that we could do.”

Gardner said the odds of any animal now in the shelter contracting the virus was very, very low-less than 1 percent.

While canine distemper, once the leading cause of death in unvaccinated puppies, is relatively rare these days due to wide-spread vaccination, Gardner wants to remind pet owners it is still a highly contagious and serious viral disease. Vaccinations are the only sure way to prevent it spreading to dogs.

“This is actually the first case I’ve seen of it. I haven’t been a veterinarian long, but I’ve worked with animals on a regular basis for 15 years, and you don’t see it a lot. And you certainly don’t want to see it in your pets,” Gardner said.

Early symptoms of canine distemper include fever of 103 to 106 degrees, which usually peaks three to six days after infection; eye and nose discharge; depression and loss of appetite. Many dogs also experience gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms, including diarrhea, pneumonia and vomiting. Death often comes after the virus attacks the central nervous system.

Diagnosis can be difficult and is based on the dog’s vaccination history, clinical symptoms and laboratory tests. With no known cure, treatment for affected dogs is supportive, including antibiotics, antidiarrheals, anticonvulsants, and maintaining a clean, warm, draft-free environment for the animals.

An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure when it comes to the virus, Gardner said.

“Vaccination works well even with animals who have already been exposed, if it’s given within four days of exposure. And most of your parvo vaccines today have a distemper vaccination included. If you care about your animals, please, get them vaccinated. You virtually eliminate the risks of them contracting illnesses like this.”