Cook Co. pet owners warned of distemper epidemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Local pet owners are being warned about increases in cases of distemper and dog flu.

The department has seen an increase in cases of confirmed canine distemper virus found in raccoons tested after displaying abnormal neurologic signs.

"You may think your dog doesn't come in contact with a raccoon, but if you live in the city of Chicago. If you ever walk down an alley, I can guarantee you a raccoon has probably been in that alley, and your dog may be exposed," said said Dr. Robyn Barbiers, president, The Anti-Cruelty Society.

"This year, 56 percent of raccoons that have been necropsied have been positive for the canine distemper virus. This exceeds the 46 percent experienced in 2004, the last year of a distemper epidemic in pet dogs in Cook County," said Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control. "The canine distemper virus occurs in the raccoon and coyote population to varying degrees, and we believe that the numbers we have received so far this year warrant a precautionary warning."

The distemper virus affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system of dogs. Symptoms can include eye and nose discharge, sneezing, coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and seizures. Death can occur from secondary pneumonia or non-responsive seizure activity.

Pet owners should vaccinate their dogs and all dogs should be supervised while outside, even in a fenced-in yard, to prevent contact with wild animals, Alexander said.

"I fortunately have a great vet that helps keep me on track in terms of her shots - so she is always up to date," said Michelle Jasmin.

"They're expensive. But you don't want to lose a dog,"said dog owner Marcia Buchanan.

Cook County also warned dog owners again about canine flu. Sixteen cases were confirmed in Cook County in January.

A thorough cleaning was underway Friday at The Anti-Cruelty Society. The adoption room is empty because of a canine flu outbreak - 35 dogs are now quarantined.

Dog flu symptoms include: A honking cough, runny nose and fever. And it's contagious.

"If you suspect your dog is sick, call your vet first - don't just show up on the doorstep. You don't want to infect other dogs," Barbiers said.

Even dog walker Luke Schutz is being cautious.

"Just make sure you're washing your hands after every visit. Make sure you don't get a lot of fluids on you - and if you do, take care of it," Schutz said.

Last year, an outbreak of the canine flu in the area killed at least 11 dogs.

Your best bet is to call your vet. Figure out what vaccinations your dog may need. And be cautious. Social events - like going to the dog park - may be a risk if you don't know your dog's vaccination history - or other dogs' as well.
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