Tough economic times may be taking a toll on pet owners, but a failure to vaccinate dogs can be deadly.
According to area veterinarians, several cases of distemper have been confirmed recently in area dogs.
“I’ve had about four cases in the last month,” said Dr. Bill Elliott. “I see parvo[virus] on a daily basis, but I’ve not seen any canine distemper in quite awhile. Probably three or four years.”
Canine distemper is commonly found in domestic animals, such as dogs and ferrets, but the potentially fatal viral disease can also be found in wild animals. A close relative of measles and rinderpest, canine distemper is a single-stranded negative RNA virus of the paramyxovirus family that causes a systemic infection in the host animal. Newborn puppies are especially susceptible.
“[Symptoms to look for in your dog include] coughing, lung congestion, high fever,” said Elliott. “I had hard pad [or thickening of the footpad] in one dog and that’s a classic sign of canine distemper,” said Elliott. “Dry eye – called keratoconjunctivitis, which is the lack of tear production, and seizures are also indicators. They’ve all ended up with seizures, and that’s been the final straw, pretty much.”
The first dog reported to have the air-communicable condition was discovered living on Murrell Road near the Elks Lodge, said Humane Society of Cherokee County volunteer Lou Hays.
“It did die,” said Hays. “It’s usually fatal. I think a lot of people may not be vaccinating for distemper to save money and getting the rabies shot only. I would encourage everybody to be sure and include distemper in the vaccinations.”
Vaccinations for newborns can start as early as the fourth week of life, said Timbers Veterinary Clinic’s Dr. Steve Ullom.
“We usually start vaccinating puppies when they’re six to seven weeks old,” said Ullom. “Then, we try to go every three to four weeks, and at four months we give them their last treatment. Then, it’s just once a year.”
Ullom and Elliott both said the likely source of the recent outbreak is an unvaccinated dog.
“Most likely it’s an unvaccinated puppy or an adult that’s not been vaccinated for several years,” said Ullom. “There are more puppies this time of year, and that means there are more individual [dogs] out there that are susceptible to it.”
The Tahlequah Animal Shelter hasn’t picked up any dogs showing symptoms of distemper, but over the last three to four weeks Animal Control Officer Glyn Ryals has come in contact with infected wildlife.
“We haven’t had any dogs turn up with distemper here, but I picked up four or five racoons that looked like they had distemper and probably two or three skunks that appeared to have symptoms,” said Ryals.
“The racoons kind of looked like a dog when their eyes are matted and their nose is snotty, mucous is running. And they get where they can’t see well. We haven’t had any problems in the last few years, but it runs in cycles.”
Canine distemper spreads through aerosol droplets and through contact with infected bodily fluids, including nasal and ocular secretions, feces, and urine six to 22 days after exposure. Animals can also contract the condition through contaminated food and water.
Nearly three weeks may pass between infection and disease contact, but a fever may be observed three to six days post-infection.
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