UPDATE 9/11/2018: There are now six dogs that have tested positive for distemper.
Dallas' animal shelter has discovered dogs in its care that have tested positive for canine distemper. According to a release from the city, Dallas Animal Services (DAS) confirmed that five dogs in the shelter tested positive for the contagious virus.
The shelter is taking precautions to limit exposure to other animals within the shelter to prevent its spread of the virus. Canine distemper is a viral disease that affects the respiratory and nervous systems of dogs; it is not contagious to humans or cats.
According to vet.osu.edu, the virus is spread most frequently via eye and nasal discharge, as well as droplets spread by coughing. However, all excretions — including vomit, feces, and urine — can contain the virus.
Direct or close contact is the most common mode, but droplets can travel up to four feet from a sneeze or a cough. The virus can also travel on objects it touches, including people.
In more positive news, the distemper virus survives only a few hours at room temperature, and is neutralized by sunlight, drying out, and disinfectants.
DAS' policy is to vaccinate all dogs against distemper upon arrival. But distemper vaccinations can have a delayed effectiveness.
All five dogs who tested positive were vaccinated prior to showing symptoms. And there have been no reports of any recently adopted animals that have tested positive. DAS remains open for adoptions and fostering at this time.
According to DAS spokesperson Whitney Hanson, the first dog to test positive was in and out of the shelter prior to showing neurological symptoms, leaving DAS unsure if it was an isolated case contracted outside the facility.
"Our team immediately implemented extra precautions to prevent any potential disease spread and hypervigilant monitoring of the population's health," Hanson says. "We submitted an additional six cases for testing last week, all of which were dogs that showed either neurological symptoms or prolonged, antibiotic resistant upper respiratory symptoms. Last night at 5:45 pm we received word that three of those additional dogs tested positive; today we were notified of two additional positive tests."
The first dog arrived from the 75243 zip code and was adopted by a resident in the 75052 before being returned to the shelter. The other four dogs who tested positive originated in 75220, 75232, 75211, and 75212.
"Our CARE Team is walking the neighborhoods where these dogs were located prior to arriving at our shelter to educate citizens about the importance of pet vaccinations and upcoming low-cost vaccination opportunities," Hanson says.
Dallas Animal Services is meanwhile taking precautions that include halting playgroups, behavioral evaluations, and double kenneling non-related dogs. They're also isolating dogs suspected of exposure or illness, and working with rescue partners to pull puppies and immunocompromised dogs out of the shelter.
A distemper fact sheet is being given to all adopters along with a recommendation to keep other pets current on vaccinations and keep them separated for at least 14 days.
"We would like to remind the public that if their pet is not fully vaccinated, they should prevent its exposure to other animals including wildlife, and work to get them vaccinated as soon as possible," Hanson says. "If they are having trouble affording vaccinations, they should attend low-cost vaccine clinics at DAS — we have one on September 15 from 10 am-noon — or through our partners at Spay Neuter Network, SPCA of Texas, or Texas Coalition for Animal Protection."
DAS is the second shelter in the area to confront a positive reaction for distemper; Garland endured a large outbreak in August.
Distemper outbreaks are an indicator that dogs in the community aren't being vaccinated.