Shelter Medicine: Canine Distemper Virus: Anatomy of an Outbreak
One shelter’s experience getting rid of a microscopic enemy
The Veterinary Perspective: Miranda Spindel
As the director of veterinary outreach at the ASPCA, much of my work involves answering questions and consulting with humane organizations across the country about infectious disease control. Recently, I’ve been receiving an increasing number of questions about canine distemper virus (CDV), particularly from groups involved in transporting animals from regions where adoption may be unlikely to areas where resources and homes are more abundant.
Organizations involved in transporting do risk bringing infectious diseases like CDV into the receiving shelter along with friendly and adoptable dogs. But in most cases, the risks associated with transport can be mitigated with some commonsense measures, and are far outweighed by the potential to save lives.
Although many veterinarians and animal care workers think CDV is rare, it’s actually still present in many communities, often persisting in wildlife populations. Raccoons, foxes, skunks, and coyotes can circulate and transmit distemper to dogs. CDV can easily enter a shelter, is difficult to distinguish from other canine respiratory diseases, can be tricky to diagnose, and may slowly wreak havoc in a shelter’s dog population. Shelters need to be aware of the clinical signs of CDV and know steps to take to confirm cases and stop transmission.