Lufkin veterinarian sees increase in canine distemper cases

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Veterinarians in East Texas are seeing an increased amount of dogs coming into exams with canine distemper.

"Very, very high fever and bad respiratory signs," said Lufkin and Nacogdoches vet, Wendy Blunt.

These are the symptoms that Blunt said she remembers seeing that week, while examining two puppies.

She said she recognized it as the beginning signs of canine distemper, which has a survival rate of twenty percent.

"They begin to have very bad neurological symptoms like twitches and seizures and things that are very severe," Blunt said. "Once that happens, it's usually irreversible."

The animals Blunt saw had not been vaccinated for distemper. Blunt said that this is usually a fatal decision.

"They didn't think they were at risk and didn't think they needed vaccines because they never leave the yard," Blunt said. "However, they are carried by wildlife and that's probably how they got infected."

Wildlife professionals like Dr. Mike Nance at the Ellen Trout Zoo say that raccoons, coyotes, and even skunks often carry distemper.

"If you keep food dishes that you may leave out, if you keep all of that kind of food sources picked up every night, so there's nothing for those raccoons to eat," Nance said. "Then, they'll go somewhere else."

Should a dog recover from the virus, it can still infect other animals for two to three months.

"Because it's so highly contagious it can be spread through the air or by touch, direct contact or even indirect contact," Blunt said. "If the animal or coughs on an object or another animal comes into contact, within a few hours they can become infected."

Animal shelter, like Houston's, are often forced to shut down, but Blunt doesn't place blame there.

"Obviously, the virus did not originate in the animal shelter," Blunt said. "The shelter receives animals from the community. So, the virus starts out in the community. So, it's not the shelter's problem, though it will be reflected in the shelter because animals are concentrated there."

Angelina County animal shelters currently have no confirmed cases of distemper.

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