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a rotweiller puppy receiving a vaccine

Vaccinating Pets is More Important Than Ever

Written by: Arizona Humane Society
The Valley is Seeing an Increase in Confirmed Cases of Canine Distemper.

AHS is asking for the public’s help in ensuring pets are vaccinated

The Arizona Humane Society is issuing a warning to pet owners as several cases of the Distemper virus have been confirmed throughout the Valley. Distemper is a highly-contagious, often fatal airborne virus that is spread amongst dogs via body excretions and inhalation. The disease reproduces in the lymph nodes before entering the blood stream and cell lining of the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal and central nervous system. AHS is urging the public to ensure dogs and puppies are up-to-date on vaccinations.

Signs of Distemper can mirror canine upper respiratory infections (URI) and can vary from dog to dog making a diagnosis very complicated; however, if symptoms are presented together, a diagnosis of Distemper is more likely. Although Distemper may be manageable in a few cases, currently there is no known cure.

However, Distemper is preventable as the Distemper vaccine is highly-effective. It is critical that pet owners vaccinate their pets beginning with booster shots for puppies every three to four weeks from six to 20 weeks of age, and then annually based on recommendations by their veterinarian throughout their lives.

AHS’ Marge Wright Veterinary Clinic offers vaccines for just $21 each and Friday appointments include a waived office fee. Appointments are required and can be made online.

AHS is currently isolating and caring for many dogs who have tested positive for Distemper and sadly, several dogs had to be humanely put to sleep due to advanced, neurological stages of the disease. In addition to working closely with experts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to further understand this strain of the disease, AHS is taking a variety of precautionary measures to protect the pets in its care.

What is distemper?

Distemper is an extremely contagious, airborne disease that is spread in body excretions and through inhalation and reproduces in the lymph nodes before entering the blood stream and cell lining of the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal and central nervous system.

How does distemper spread?

  • Direct contact
  • Aerosol – sneezing, coughing
    Bodily secretions
  • Fomites – hands, clothing, improperly cleaned equipment/leashes

What causes distemper?

Although distemper is a viral infection, Maricopa County’s very serious pet overpopulation problem does not help as there are a number of homeless animals who do not have their vaccinations until they arrive at Valley shelters which can make it very difficult to control.

What are the clinical signs of distemper?

  • Respiratory signs can include discharge from the eyes/nose and coughing (presents very similar to URI)
  • Gastrointestinal signs including vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fever, lethargy
  • Neurological signs include tremors, “bubble gum” chewing, seizures
  • Canine distemper virus is sometimes known as “hard pad disease” due to the callusing of nose/foot pads

Dogs can be shedding the virus without showing severe clinical signs and can continue to shed for weeks to months post infection.

Is distemper easy to diagnose?

Symptoms can vary from dog to dog; therefore diagnosis can be very complicated; however, if symptoms are presented together, diagnosis is quite accurate.

Is there a cure for distemper?

Although distemper may be manageable in a few cases, currently there is no known cure; therefore, the mortality rate is quite high.

Can an animal be tested for distemper?

There are diagnostic tests, but they have limitations based on the interpretation of the test. Test results also take a minimum of three days.

Will my house need to be decontaminated?

Unlike the Canine Parvovirus, the canine distemper virus does not typically survive long outside the body; however, the disinfecting of one’s home is still very necessary. Cleaning protocols for areas in contact with the illness include disinfecting backyards and certain areas of the home with a 1:32 concentration of bleach and water as well as deep cleaning all carpets. Extra care must be taken in cleaning bowls, toys and other objects that have come in contact with that pet.

Do AHS pets receive distemper vaccinations?

AHS vaccinates all animals upon intake into the shelter, but the community must be diligent and update their pet’s vaccinations as directed by their veterinarian.

Who is at highest risk for distemper?

Puppies under 6 months of age as well as older dogs with unconfirmed vaccination histories are at highest risk; therefore, it is very important that puppies receive their “puppy shots” and that owners of adult dogs remain diligent in vaccinating their pets throughout their lifetime based on their veterinarian’s guidelines. In addition, it is important that people are very careful when taking their pets to communal areas such as dog parks or areas where unknown dogs are present.

What is the vaccination cycle?

Puppies are to receive three distemper vaccinations every three – four weeks starting at 6 weeks of age until 16 weeks of age.

Older dogs typically receive distemper vaccinations annually; however, AHS treats every dog as if it was never vaccinated and vaccinates them more frequently. AHS’ dogs receive their first vaccination upon arrival at AHS and another distemper vaccination two – three weeks later.

Again, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s guidelines.

What can the community do to prevent distemper?

Vaccinate their pets! AHS offers low-cost vaccination clinics every Friday and also holds mobile vaccination clinics for people concerned with the costs associated with vaccinating their pets.

Where can I get my pet vaccinated?

AHS has two affordable veterinary clinics that offer low-cost vaccinations.

How much do AHS vaccines cost?

Vaccines cost just $21 each. On Fridays, AHS’ Marge Wright Veterinary Clinic, the office visit fee is waived (a $40 savings) for Vaccine Friday, an appointment only vaccine clinic for dogs and cats.

May 19, 2021