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Canine Distemper Cases Brings Caution from Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory Pathologist


December 14, 2010 — New pet owners should be careful about where they buy their next puppies.

That was the message from the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory (WSVL) and the Wyoming Livestock Board as their members wrapped up an investigation of canine distemper in newly purchased puppies.

The outbreak occurred between late August and early October and affected dogs in Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper and Douglas. Affected dogs were purchased in pet stores in Cheyenne and Casper.

"We confirmed distemper in 24 dogs, all purebred and purchased from pet stores," said Donal O'Toole, a pathologist with the WSLV and a professor in the Department of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Wyoming. "This was the largest outbreak of canine distemper I've seen in Wyoming in my 21 years at this laboratory."

Canine distemper is a highly contagious viral disease of dogs. Clinical signs are depression, respiratory distress, diarrhea and nervousness. Many infected dogs that develop clinical signs die or have to be euthanized.

Effective vaccines exist to prevent the disease.

"We should not be seeing distemper in dogs, period," said O'Toole. "As long as dogs are vaccinated at the right time with the appropriate vaccine, the chances of distemper are almost zero. It just didn't happen on this occasion."

Once WSVL veterinarians recognized the unusual outbreak of canine distemper, they contacted Wyoming's chief veterinarian, Jim Logan, with the Wyoming Livestock Board. The board has responsibility for companion animals and for livestock. Logan contacted his counterpart in Kansas. All of the infected pups originated from a large breeding facility in that state.

"We know the facility did sell puppies to at least one Wyoming pet store where cases came out of it," said Paul Grosdidier with the Kansas Animal Health Department. "Whether all the cases originated from Kansas, we are not absolutely sure."

Veterinarians with the Kansas inspection program are requiring the breeder to have all pups tested for distemper before sale, said O'Toole.

The cycle of infection in Wyoming continued for almost two months.

"No further cases have been seen since distemper was confirmed Oct. 8 in a Shih tzu pup from Douglas," said O'Toole.

The Kansas breeding facility was placed under quarantine. Veterinarians with the Kansas animal inspection program are working with the owners to improve biosecurity and vaccination protocols at the property, said O'Toole.

"Frankly, the best place to get a dog is from a small-scale private breeder or your local canine rescue," said O'Toole. "If it's a private breeder, it should be someone you know, someone willing to let you see their facilities and breeding animals. Although the great majority of pet store owners are conscientious and concerned about the health of animals purchased through their businesses, the background of pups purchased from such stores is often unclear."

A recent study by the USDA made numerous suggestions for better oversight of "problem breeders" of pups intended for sale through commercial channels such as pet stores or on the Internet, said O'Toole.

 The report, titled "Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care Program - Inspections of Problematic Dealers," is available online at http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33002-4-SF.pdf .

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