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Warning about disease

Vet reports cases of canine distemper

April 11, 2012
Steve Schulwitz - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

Several local dogs have contracted canine distemper and have become very ill, or in some cases, died. The disease, which is highly contagious, is caused by a virus that damages the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems in the animal.

Although it is easily spread from canine to canine, domestic cats and humans are not susceptible to the disease. Dr. Daniele Knight of Switzer Veterinary Clinic in Alpena said making sure your dog has its vaccine shots up to date is key in being sure your pet doesn't contract canine distemper.

"Seeing this disease has been a rarity in my experience, and it is often overlooked by the public and even some professionals," Knight said. "We have seen a handful of cases over the last three weeks, and I just want to remind everyone to stay current on your dog's vaccines."

Article Photos

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Rolland Luebben of Alpena spends some quality time with his pair of dachshunds, Peanut and Ruby, Wednesday. Dog owners are reminded to keep their pets current on vaccinations, as there have been several cases of canine distemper in the area.

Knight said the disease will attack younger dogs or dogs that haven't be vaccinated. She said the animals will suffer from a fever, eye and nose discharge, coughing, vomiting, seizures and paralysis. She said once the animal has contracted the disease, there is little that can be done to treat it and no way to cure it at this point.

"The treatment is difficult, and a cure has not been found," Knight said. "That is why preventive measures, such as having your dog vaccinated, are so important. It is really the only way to prevent it."

Natalie Francis, Huron Humane Society manager, said the shelter hasn't had any of its dogs diagnosed with the disease recently, but said great care is taken to be sure all animals it houses are vaccinated and monitored before being put into areas where other dogs live.

"We have a separate intake room, and the dogs are given their shots and housed for five to seven days before they are even put up for adoption," Francis said. "That allows us to observe them and make sure there aren't any signs of disease or any other issues with it."

Contraction of the virus occurs by direct contact with an infected animal, by inhaling animal secretions, or by coming in contact with objects that have secretions on them, such as a dog's favorite ball, or even its owner's hands. Knight said the disease can't be transmitted to a human, but care should be taken to prevent spreading it unknowingly. She said wild animals such as fox, coyotes, skunks and raccoons also can carry or contract the virus.

"Canine distemper is not contagious to humans, but it can be carried on the clothing or hands of people," Knight said. "People need to practice good hygiene when handling or being near a dog so you don't inadvertently spread it to other animals."

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5689.



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