Distemper outbreak threatens pets, vets urge vaccinations
Maricopa County this past week issued a warning about possible new strains of the highly contagious, often fatal distemper virus. The Yavapai County Humane Society has picked up the warning and issued its own health alert.
The disease seems to be showing up as usual in unvaccinated puppies, but it is also surfacing in older dogs that have sketchy vaccination histories. The release states that the new strains also appear to have an extended incubation period. Distemper is a whole body viral disease that is shed from saliva and elimination from affected animals and spread through inhalation. The county release states that once inhaled, the virus moves to the lymph nodes and reproduces, spreading to the blood and cell linings of the animal's body. Symptoms can include discharge from eyes and nose, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite, callusing of nose/foot pads, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures.
Humane Society Director Ed Boks said the local shelter has not seen any cases of the new strains of distemper, or of parvovirus this season, but the fact that it is surfacing in Maricopa County is cause for concern.
"The good news is that the core vaccines that people get now appear to be effective," he said.
Circle L Animal Hospital in Chino Valley Certified Vet Technician Serena Wijts said they have not seen any cases of distemper or parvovirus yet this season, but the hospital is urging people who have not boosted their dogs for more than a year with distemper/parvo vaccine to do so now.
"We contacted the manufacturer of the vaccines we use in hospital," Wijts said Friday in a statement from Circle L. "(In) discussing this issue with a doctor from Intervet, we found that the two new versions of distemper that have been found in Arizona are actually re-emerging versions of a wildlife strain found mostly in raccoons and foxes. Due to diligent vaccination protocols we were able to control these strains and we haven't seen or heard much of them since. Due to the fact that they are making another appearance we are following recommendations to booster any animal that has not had a distemper vaccine in the last year. There is also the option of doing distemper titers to ensure the proper immune response has been built in your pet. We will also be recommending any high risk animals (hunting dogs or rescue dogs) return to a yearly vaccination protocol until the current outbreak is controlled."
Dogs that have not been vaccinated are in danger not only of distemper, but as spring approaches, parvovirus. Parvo is another debilitating gastrointestinal disease that manifests in violent diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy. Without serious and costly medical intervention, it's usually a death sentence for puppies and older dogs.
The Humane Society urges pet owners to vaccinate their dogs, and use caution when going to communal areas such as dog parks. Generally, veterinarians recommend that puppies not go to public areas where there are a lot of other dogs until they have received their full series of puppy shots.
Wijts said Circle L is recommending that people avoid dog parks and areas frequented by foxes and raccoons until the current outbreak of distemper subsides.
Puppies are particularly susceptible to distemper and parvo, and should receive vaccinations beginning at 6-8 weeks. Circle L recommends a four-way distemper/hepatitis/parvo/parainfluenza combination shots at 6-8 weeks, and two more times 3-4 weeks apart. Three weeks after the last booster, the pup should receive its rabies shot and kennel cough vaccine if needed.
People should check with their own veterinarian for the protocol recommended for their pets.
Yavapai Humane Society is featuring a 40th anniversary special during February and March that includes any three items at the YHS Spay/Neuter & Wellness Clinic for $40. Items include microchip, rabies, DA2PPV, Bordatella, and FVRCP (cat) vaccinations (a $67 value).
The clinic is at 2989 Centerpointe East, Suite B, Prescott. Call 928-771-0547 for information.