Canine distemper is back in the news

By: Bill Smith - Contributing columnist

News that the animal shelter in Houston has closed for a week because of an outbreak of distemper brings this subject back up.

Typically, distemper is more common in the winter for domestic canines, but who knows whether it’s still winter or not depending upon the region of the country you are in. Saw a wanted poster in Pennsylvania for Punxsutawney Phil because of the extended winter.

Speaking of groundhogs, the decision by the school board to extend the debate in committee as to whether or not corporal punishment should be discontinued like all but one school district in the state is a great way to imitate Phil. Might be bad timing with an election coming up and people running on platforms and achievements rather than name recognition, which is unique for Robeson County.

Anyway, I digress.

Canine distemper is a virus that affects a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems, and the conjunctive membranes of the eye. So the symptoms are sneezing, coughing and a thick mucous coming from the eyes and nose. Additional symptoms would be fever, lethargy, sudden vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Dogs contract it from each other through saliva, urine, blood, sharing food and water bowls, and sneezing and coughing — the latter two of which make it airborne. Puppies and young dogs are most susceptible. There is a vaccination against it, which is recommended so see your vet. There is no medication specifically for it and without early intervention, death is often the result.

Given what I have said, where would you expect to find the most cases?

Typically they are the rescue groups, pet stores and animal shelter — those who has the most dogs. Typically, animals are checked upon arrival and each morning for elevated temperatures and mucous in the eyes and nose. Shelter attendants will note if animals appear peculiar or lethargic and the animal will be moved for observation.

Although there is a shot available, it takes five days to create any protection and 14 days for full coverage, which is outside the normal length of stay for many animals. When a shelter averages nearly 100 animals a week coming through, it is only a matter of time before one is brought in with the disease. If it gets too rampant, the shelter will be closed, depopulated and cleaned over an extended time before reopening. Thus that is where Houston is now, where we have been in the past and, maybe, will be again one unfortunate day .

Bill Smith

Contributing columnist

Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.

Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.