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Monkeypox Outbreaks Cause for Concern in Animal Shelters

In late May, several people who had been in contact with pet prairie dogs got sick with a rare African viral disease called monkeypox. Preliminary investigations found that the pet prairie dogs came from an exotic pet distributor in Illinois; while in that distributor’s care, they had been housed with infected Gambian giant pouched rats imported from Ghana. It was the first known outbreak of the disease ever to occur in the Western Hemisphere and serves as a grave and clear reminder of the dangers of keeping wild animals as pets.

The disease is occasionally fatal in its native Africa; better health care in the United States should substantially minimize the potential for fatalities. At press time, 37 U.S. cases had been confirmed.

Shelters that handle any of the currently affected species—which include rabbits, prairie dogs, and Gambian giant pouched rats—need to take extra health-screening precautions with these and other animals entering their facilities. Rats and mice can also contract the disease. Symptoms of illness include swollen lymph glands, ocular and nasal discharge, coughing, hair loss—sometimes accompanied by scabs similar to mosquito bites—and listlessness. While these symptoms are common in stray animals, shelters should be particularly concerned if they appear in rodents. While no cats or dogs are known to have been infected, extra care should be taken in evaluating the health of all animals, as the full spectrum of animals that may be susceptible is not yet known.

The CDC recommends specific quarantine protocols for organizations holding suspect animals, but most shelters do not have the resources to provide the suggested levels of quarantine. The HSUS recommends that shelters avoid housing animals suspected of infection. If your shelter is presented with or receives information about any animal suspected of infection with monkeypox, you or the animal’s owner should contact the state or local health department for instructions on how to proceed.

For more information about animal shelters' responses to monkeypox, review The HSUS's Recommendations for Shelters Dealing with Monkeypox. For more general information about the disease, go to


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