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Deadly Illness Closes Animal Shelter

sick dog at animal shelter in Highland City Florida

An Illness has forced the closure of central Florida animal shelter (Jan 18, 2018).

In previous blogs, we’ve talked about a number of different outbreaks of illnesses here in central Florida- most recently Canine Influenza, and an isolated Rabies outbreak. If you’ve watched the news recently, you may have seen coverage of an outbreak of another illness in Citrus County which has closed their animal shelter until further notice.

The shelter was closed due to the outbreak of Streptococcus Zooepidemicus (aka Zoo Strep). This is a scary illness, as it acts fast and can be fatal. As of the time of this post, two dogs at the shelter in Citrus County have died. This illness affects the respiratory system and in some cases can kill a dog before any clinical signs even begin to show.

This is not the first case of this illness in the United States, nor is it the first here in Florida. Nearly a decade ago, more than a dozen dogs died in Miami at a shelter from the same illness. Hundreds of dogs suffered the same illness and died in a crowded shelter in Nevada back in 2007.  Although outbreaks in the U.S. have been contained to shelter facilities, it doesn’t mean that pets outside of a shelter aren’t possibly at risk- despite the risk being low. The problem in this recent outbreak is that ‘patient zero’ (the source of the illness) has not been identified, and most likely won’t be. This pet may have been adopted, or passed the illness to other pets that are now in new, forever homes. Nobody knows for sure.

What makes this even worse, is this is a zoonotic disease. Zoonotic means that it can spread from animals to humans.  Although rare in humans (32 reported cases), it has been fatal in more than 20%  of those reported, mainly with those who have weakened immune systems.  All of these cases reportedly followed contact with infected horses (where the disease is more widespread), but there is no evidence that dogs cannot pass the disease along to humans.

Symptoms of the disease

The symptoms are few, but include a moist cough, anorexia (refusal to eat), depression and fever.  Sometimes the clinical signs do not appear until the pet is critical.

How can I protect myself and my pet?

The risk at the time of this blog being published remains small outside of Citrus County, but keep in mind that patient zero is still unknown. If this pet comes in contact with other dogs, it may spread the illness as it is highly contagious. Use your best judgement in allowing your dogs to interact with other unknown dogs.

You can protect yourself by frequently washing your hands if you handle animals (including horses) using antibacterial soaps.

We are saddened by the loss of these dogs in Citrus County, but applaud those at the shelter for quickly recognizing that there was a problem before it grew out of control. Please keep a watchful eye on your pets, and if you suspect any type of illness call your veterinarian right away.