Alachua County Animal Services is mourning the loss of six dogs after an infectious outbreak.
The dogs, infected with canine distemper, were euthanized to minimize the spread of the virus. The shelter’s dog kennels are currently under quarantine and being monitored for infection for at least two weeks, according to an Alachua County press release.
Dr. Richard Sammy, a local veterinarian at Suburban Animal Hospital, said the virus results in upper respiratory infections and pneumonia and can progress to vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Neurological signs, including dementia and unconsciousness, can appear as the infection becomes more severe.
Distemper is primarily found in young and unvaccinated dogs, Sammy said. In a shelter environment, a viral infection like distemper tends to go through multiple animals in a short amount of time.
Because the disease is a virus, the treatment is adapted to each animal’s needs, Sammy said. Treatment can include antibiotics, fluid support and medications for seizures.
“[Distemper] is quite serious, and it’s highly contagious, but it is also entirely preventable if you vaccinate your animals,” Sammy said.
Ed Williams, the director of animal services, said every dog coming into the shelter gets vaccinated — but vaccines are not a cure. It can take up to two weeks to develop any significant immunity to the disease.
According to the county press release, canine distemper is carried and transmitted by wildlife, such as raccoons, foxes, skunks and coyotes. Unvaccinated or undervaccinated stray dogs are primarily the ones carrying the disease, Williams said.
The Alachua County Animal Services shelter has asked the public to not bring any dogs to the shelter until the risk of infection has passed. Local animal welfare organizations in the community, including the Alachua County Humane Society, Puppy Hill Farm or Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue, are a better alternative, Williams said.
This sudden outbreak of the disease has put dog adoptions on hold, but the shelter’s cat adoption program remains open.
A free sterilization program for male dogs weighing more than 40 pounds has been postponed until June, Williams said. Before the outbreak, the program was scheduled to start on May 16.
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine is conducting the distemper testing and absorbing the costs of the outbreak, Williams said.
Williams urges everyone in the community to make sure their dogs are vaccinated properly.
“Good, responsible dog owners that want to do something about this should call their veterinarian and make sure that their dog has adequate protection against this virus through vaccination,” he said.