The Oak Ridge Animal Shelter will remain closed two more days as workers battle an outbreak of deadly canine distemper.
On Wednesday, the Oak Ridge Police Department announced that two cases of canine distemper had been confirmed by an Oak Ridge veterinarian’s office and said a dog adopted in January may have contracted the often-fatal virus—although it wasn’t clear when or where.
The shelter was temporarily closed this past Thursday, and it was expected to re-open on Tuesday. But on Monday, Oak Ridge Police Department Lt. Robin Smith said it will now re-open this coming Thursday, giving the shelter staff more time to clean and disinfect. He said the staff is taking precautions to make sure they have totally eradicated the disease.
Smith said 30 dogs at the shelter had to be euthanized because of the virus. The staff had to assume that all the dogs at the shelter had been exposed, Smith said. He said some shelter dogs that showed symptoms were tested, and some results came back positive.
Smith said the shelter staff vaccinates all animals, but it takes about 10 days for the vaccine to do any good. Symptoms can sometimes take five weeks to show, he said, and it would have taken weeks to find out the effects.
With animals continuing to come in, “That’s not an option,” Smith said. “We wanted to stop the infection right away.”
Canine distemper affects a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems, as well as some eye membranes. Smith said it is almost always fatal. Dogs who survive can have neurological damage. There is no cure.
Smith said the past few days have been difficult for the shelter workers.
“It was very tough,” he said. “They bonded with those animals.”
A counselor was brought in to meet with the staff.
“We want to make sure that we take care of our employees,” Smith said.
It’s not clear where the distemper came from. The virus can be passed from dog to dog through sneezing, coughing, and sharing food and water bowls. Wild animals such as raccoons and foxes can also carry it.
Smith urged pet owners to make sure their pets are properly vaccinated, and he discouraged people from leaving animal food outside overnight.
No cats have tested positive for distemper. Cats and dogs cannot pass canine distemper to each other.
Early signs of canine distemper include sneezing, coughing, and discharge from the eyes and nose. Depression and/or loss of appetite are also symptoms.
The disease was all but eradicated about 40 years ago but is seeing resurgence, particularly in rural areas where dogs have not been vaccinated.
Smith said anyone who had adopted a dog that shows signs of distemper should call the shelter as soon as possible. During business hours, the shelter can be contacted at (865) 425-3423, or after hours through the Public Safety Communications Department at (865) 425-4399.
The Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville temporarily closed in September after two dogs tested positive for distemper. At the time, Jeff Ashin, Young-Williams Animal Center chief executive officer, said the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine is seeing a noted increase in the number of distemper cases, both locally and in other areas.
For more information on the prevention of distemper, visit the ASPCA website at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/distemper.