The Humane Society for Southwest Washington confirmed Tuesday that three of its dogs recently caught canine distemper, a rare and potentially deadly viral infection.
The Humane Society credits quick planning for preventing the virus from spreading to more animals. However, shelter officials urged those who have recently adopted dogs to be aware of possible symptoms, which include a runny nose and eyes, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The shelter first became aware of the distemper cases on April 13, when a medical examination of a deceased dog showed that the animal had the virus, according to a news release. The Humane Society later confirmed two other cases. One dog has been quarantined, and the other has been sent to stay with a foster family.
Shelter spokeswoman Denise Barr said the disease is rare.
“We have never seen this many cases of canine distemper in the eight years that this current leadership has been here,” she said by email Tuesday.
The shelter closed dog adoptions for two days to clean and sanitize its facilities, and reopened on April 16. High-risk dogs were separated from those exhibiting possible symptoms, and puppies were sent to foster care where they’ll stay for four to six weeks, according to the release.
The shelter has already reached out to families who brought dogs home from the shelter between March 1 and April 13 to ensure the pets are healthy, according to the release.
Early symptoms of distemper mimic kennel cough, with discharge from the nose and eyes. Further symptoms affect the gastrointestinal system, and eventually the nervous and neurological systems, which can be fatal. The disease can be treated, however.
Though canine distemper is not transmittable to humans or other pets, it is highly contagious, according to the release. The virus can be spread by direct contact with body fluids and by respiratory exposure. People can also spread the disease on their hands, feet or shoes. The virus is highly unstable, however, and can be killed on contact by a disinfectant.
All dogs currently available for adoption have been tested for immunity to distemper, and it’s unlikely that they’ll get sick if exposed to the virus, according to the release.
However, pet owners should be aware of the risk and make sure their dogs are properly vaccinated against the disease, according to the release. The Humane Society vaccinates all dogs when they enter the shelter, and offers free veterinary exams as a part of the adoption fee.