Distemper outbreak halts dog intake, adoptions

All dogs at the Alachua County Animal Resources and Care (ARC) are now in quarantine for at least four weeks due to a distemper outbreak.

The ARC announced on Friday that staff has documented at least two dogs infected with the canine distemper virus and will need to monitor all dogs at the shelter for infection.

“A proactive response plan has been developed to maximize lifesaving and minimize further spread of the virus,” according to a statement from Alachua County reported on its Facebook page.

The shelter is closed for dog adoptions and is not accepting owner surrendered dogs through Jan. 31.

As of Dec. 31, there are 91 dogs listed on the ARC’s dog adoption page.

“Unowned dogs and dogs that are a risk to public safety that must be brought into the shelter are being housed in a separate area from the quarantined population,” according to the county statement.

The ARC reported that the situation indicates that canine distemper virus is circulating in the community. The virus is carried by local wildlife, including raccoons, foxes, skunks and coyotes. That coupled with a large population of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated dogs that have exposure to wildlife, or areas frequented by wildlife, causes strays and dogs allowed to run at large to contract the virus and bring it with them to the shelter.

In accordance with ARC standard operating procedures, each animal is vaccinated upon admission to the facility. But if the animal has not previously been vaccinated, it can take up to two weeks before any significant immunity to such viruses is achieved.

Research suggests that puppies under 6 months old are at the greatest risk and will have the lowest chance of survival if infected, but unvaccinated dogs of any age are in danger. The best course of action is to allow your veterinarian to administer an annual vaccination protocol, beginning at six weeks of age for puppies, that will include protection against distemper.

Cats are not at risk for infection by canine distemper virus, and the shelter will remain open for cat adoptions.

ARC asks anyone who picks up stray dogs to immediately notify the ARC staff so they can document it, check against their lost reports, and arrange for it to be scanned for a microchip.

If you can foster a stray for a few days or more until its owner(s) can be found, let ARC know at 352-264-6870. 

In its announcement ARC said it would provide updates as more information becomes available.

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