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Canine Distemper Case Confirmed at Area Shelter

UTCVM Says Vaccination Prevents Highly Contagious Disease

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Last weekend a puppy at the Morristown Hamblen Humane Society (MHHS) exhibited symptoms of distemper. On Monday, the mother and rest of the litter were confirmed positive after MHHS director Pam Velder submitted samples to the virology laboratory at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. MHHS staff followed best practices by immediately testing symptomatic puppies and starting a risk assessment of all other dogs in the facility. This process is ongoing. The shelter continues to vaccinate all dogs against the canine distemper virus upon arrival at the shelter and two weeks later.  

In October 2021, UTCVM reported the first case of canine distemper virus at the shelter and noted increased numbers of symptomatic raccoons in the community. The virus circulates through wildlife approximately every 5 to 7 years, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website. During this time, dogs are at a much higher risk of contracting the disease and spreading it in neighborhoods and at the shelter.  

MHHS is working with the Shelter Medicine Service UTCVM to minimize the lives lost in this outbreak. Without an isolation area for exposed dogs, the shelter may limit the admission of dogs for at least a two-week period. This will be a rapidly changing situation; please call the facility at 423-581-1494 before taking dogs to the shelter or visiting. 

Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus and can be fatal. It can affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of dogs and ferrets as well as wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, coyotes and skunks. It is spread through all respiratory secretions and bodily waste. Pets interacting with wildlife or exposed to their waste are at risk of contracting the canine distemper virus.

While young animals are the most vulnerable, unvaccinated dogs of all ages are susceptible. Symptoms range from no visible signs of illness to mild respiratory issues such as a runny nose and eyes to severe respiratory symptoms, thickened footpads or nose skin, seizures, neurological deficits and decline. Animals can be contagious for months.

There is no cure for canine distemper infection. Treatment includes supportive care, but some dogs will not survive. “This disease is highly preventable when dogs are properly vaccinated by a veterinarian. The vaccine is very effective and is far less expensive than treating the disease or losing your pet to the virus. I highly recommend all dog and ferret owners make sure their pets’ distemper vaccination is up to date,” says Dr. Becky DeBolt, clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the veterinary college.

Dog owners should also use caution when socializing puppies or unvaccinated dogs where dogs congregate such as parks.

The UT College of Veterinary Medicine is part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

Media Contact

Sandra Harbison

CVM media relations