Distemper not an issue at Parkersburg shelter

PARKERSBURG – Recent problems with distemper at the Kanawha-Charleston Animal Shelter have not been seen in Parkersburg, said Mary Ann Hollis, executive director of the Humane Society of Parkersburg.

“We have not had any recently,” she said. “We haven’t had any canine cases and we had one case of feline distemper about two years ago.”

Hollis said there have been no widespread cases of distemper in her four years at the shelter and she had no knowledge of cases before her tenure.

“The feline distemper was two years ago and it was in a kitten that had been vaccinated,” she said. “That could have been from a bad vaccine batch.”

Hollis said it is policy at the HSOP to give any strays shots against various diseases to prevent outbreaks like the one in Kanawha County.

“We go through two gallons of bleach each day,” she said. “It’s the cheapest and best way to disinfect.”

Distemper is rare, she said, but the shelter does see cases of parvovirus. She said those cases are sent to a veterinarian for isolation.

Hollis said workers at the shelter take all the precautions to keep the spread of a virus in check.

“We make sure everyone is constantly washing their hands, and make sure the cages are kept clean,” she said.

Hollis said the distemper is spread like the common cold in humans.

“It is airborne like the common cold and that is what makes it so dangerous,” she said. “It’s not like parvo that comes from contact with fecal matter.”

To complicate matters distemper is different for dogs and cats.

“Feline distemper in similar in symptoms to canine parvo,” she said.

Hollis said distemper is almost always fatal.

“There is no ‘magic bullet’ treatment for this,” she said. “There is no medicine, just medical support care and hope they can pull through it. It is more lethal in kittens than in adult cats. Nothing gets rid of it.”

In Charleston the shelter closed for two weeks. An outbreak of distemper was discovered among the shelter’s 96 dogs on Dec. 19.

Members of the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association initially thought all 96 animals might have to be euthanized to stop the spread of the disease, but voted in an emergency meeting to adopt out as many animals as possible.

They were able to place 47 dogs on Dec. 20 and 21, but 18 had to be euthanized.

However, a few of the dogs that were adopted out also got sick with either distemper or parvovirus and had to be euthanized.

Officials are not sure how many were affected since they were taken to different area veterinarians and not all of the owners told shelter officials the animals had to be put to sleep.