Dallas Animal Services is reporting a rise in canine upper respiratory disease, including 15 confirmed cases of Canine Distemper Virus in dogs either currently or recently in its care.
According to Dallas Animal Services, to prevent the exposure of additional dogs, the organization is temporarily limiting canine intake to emergency cases only.
Non-emergent owner surrender requests will be connected to DAS partners at the Pet Support Hotline for other rehoming options. Residents can access this service by calling 311, Dallas Animal Services said.
DAS said staff have consulted with the pre-eminent expert in shelter canine upper respiratory illness, Dr. Cynda Crawford, Faculty with Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program within the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, and the team is working to implement her recommendations.
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DAS had previously begun quarantining all dogs showing possible distemper symptoms, implementing more extensive cleaning protocols, increasing personal protective equipment use, and expanding its adopter education regarding distemper and other common canine illnesses, officials said.
"The public needs to understand that this is not a dirty shelter problem," Crawford said. "Distemper can enter shelters like Dallas Animal Services that follow healthcare best practices, and they need community support and understanding to assist them as they work to resolve the situation."
Canine Distemper Virus, commonly referred to as distemper, is a contagious viral infection that can cause respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, ocular, and central nervous system symptoms in dogs that are unvaccinated or have weakened immune systems. According to DAS, distemper can be fatal, and those that survive could have lasting neurological impacts.
"The health of the animals in our shelter and North Texas is a top priority for DAS," MeLissa Webber, Interim Director of DAS, said. "While the suspected number of distemper cases at DAS is relatively low - representing only 2% of our dog population - we are taking this threat very seriously."
According to Dallas Animal Services, in addition to the small number of dogs showing potential distemper symptoms, DAS is housing nearly 350 adoptable dogs that have not displayed any signs of illness and are in urgent need of a loving home.
"We want to be transparent, but we also do not want to scare potential adopters and fosters," Webber said. "We are nearing capacity, and we desperately need animal lovers to help us ensure that our healthy dogs still receive the positive outcomes they deserve."
Distemper symptoms are similar to many milder respiratory infections, DAS said. It is common in the community and frequently transfers between dogs and wildlife, including raccoons, foxes, and skunks.
According to DAS, it can take up to 20 days after exposure for an animal to develop symptoms, and they may start shedding the virus and infecting other animals well before symptoms emerge.
"This has been an exceptionally bad year for distemper in Texas; so far, our program has worked with seven Texas shelters," Crawford said. "Dallas Animal Services has the right leadership and the right resources, and as one of the leading shelters in the state, I am confident they will be able to manage the cases in their shelter while also maximizing lifesaving."
DAS said those who have recently adopted a dog from DAS that begins showing signs of upper respiratory illness should isolate the dog from other canines and call their veterinarian immediately.
"With distemper, prevention is critical, which is why DAS vaccinates every dog for distemper within minutes of arriving at the shelter," Michael Burk, Medical Manager at DAS, said. "If your dog is current on its basic vaccinations, it should be highly protected from distemper exposure. If you are unsure of your dog's vaccination status, it is important that you contact your veterinarian."
There are a variety of combination vaccine formulas that include protection from distemper, with the most common being DHPP, DHLPP, and DAPPv.
According to DAS, If your dog is not current on their vaccinations, the organization recommends that you make an appointment with your veterinarian or a low-cost community clinic like those run by its partners at Spay Neuter Network, SPCA of Texas, and Texas Coalition for Animal Protection.
"It is critical that our community come out to help; it's the only way we can effectively address this issue and continue to save lives," Webber said. "If you have no dogs or only healthy, fully vaccinated dogs, we encourage you to come to DAS and sign up to foster or adopt one of the hundreds of amazing dogs in our general population today."
DAS said it will continue to offer fee-waived adoptions for all animals in its care this weekend, but dogs that have displayed symptoms that could indicate distemper are not available for adoption.
Potential adopters can also utilize the DAS Home to Home Program to adopt dogs directly from owners who can no longer care for them, still saving a life while avoiding the shelter entirely, DAS said.
Adopters and fosters can visit DAS in person at 1818 North Westmoreland Road, at the corner of Westmoreland and I-30.