The BC SPCA’s South Peace Branch is warning local dog owners to ensure their pets are vaccinated against the canine distemper virus after four puppies surrendered to the shelter were found to have the highly contagious and often fatal disease. Despite the SPCA’s best efforts to save the six-week-old puppies, their condition declined rapidly and they had to be euthanized.
“It was devastating to see these poor puppies die of a preventable disease and we are very concerned that the virus is out there in the community and that unvaccinated pets are at risk,” says Wendy Davies, manager of the South Peace Branch. Davies noted that no other dogs at the shelter were affected. “When the puppies were dropped off at the shelter they had active ringworm lesions so they were immediately put into isolation. Thankfully this prevented them from coming into contact with any other animals at the shelter.”
She said about 12 days after the puppies came into care the first symptoms of distemper appeared, including upper respiratory infections, weight loss and lethargy.
BC SPCA chief animal health officer Dr. James Lawson said canine distemper was once the most common cause of canine death due to the highly contagious nature of the disease but is rarely seen today because of the protective vaccine that was developed in the 1950s.
“We strongly urge any dog guardians who have not already vaccinated their pets against distemper to do so immediately,” he said. “Once a dog has been infected with distemper, the mortality rate is about 50 per cent, depending on the strain of the virus and the dog’s immune system. Those who do recover can suffer debilitating neurological damage.”
He noted that the disease, which is spread by airborne droplets from the upper respiratory tract, is not contagious to humans, but domestic dogs, wild canines, raccoons and skunks are all at risk of infection.
Dog owners are urged to have their pet vaccinated and to seek immediate veterinary care if their dogs exhibit any of the following symptoms: Ocular or nasal discharge, sneezing, lethargy and bloodshot eyes.
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.