“As we are seeing an uptick of this disease strike shelters nationwide, we are acting out of an abundance of caution to help stop the spread of this disease,” David Fisher, associate director of the county’s Department of Animal Services, said in a release. “The best place for a dog to be at this time is in a home being watched carefully by their owner.”
Linda Lowe, public information officer for the county’s Department of the Environment, said that as of Friday, tests had ruled out parvo, a very contagious viral disease that usually causes acute gastrointestinal illness in puppies, and canine influenza. She said officials had not yet determined what was causing the illness.
Lowe didn’t specify how many dogs are affected by the closure or what kind of symptoms they’re showing. She said more data should be available next week.
The announcement of Prince George’s County’s animal shelter pausing dog adoptions comes after the American Veterinary Medical Foundation said last month that veterinarians in multiple states have seen cases of canine infectious respiratory disease complex. The number of cases nationwide is unknown, the AVMF said, but officials in Colorado, New Hampshire and Oregon are collaborating with state and federal veterinary diagnostic laboratories to find the root cause of the illness.
Prince George’s County will focus on stopping the spread. The illness, the agency said, hasn’t spread from dogs to any other animals in the facility.
Shelter heads in the District, Montgomery County and Fairfax County said they are not seeing cases of unknown illness in their shelter dogs. However, the news out of Prince George’s County has placed nearby shelters on alert, said Reasa Currier, director of the Fairfax County Department of Animal Sheltering.
Currier noted that there has been an increase in upper respiratory illnesses in the region and said that her shelter hit a peak of infection around last summer and early fall when about 50 to 75 percent of its dogs had some type of mild upper respiratory-type symptoms. At least 70 to 80 dogs were in the shelter’s care at that time, she added.
Currier said officials believe both canine influenza and canine upper respiratory disease complex were to blame, and that the illnesses were spread when dogs that were infectious, but not symptomatic, entered the shelter.
She said the shelter was able to recover from the outbreak through individualized treatment plans for dogs and enhanced infectious-disease protocols for staff.
Many of the dogs in the shelter’s care had mild symptoms that cleared rather quickly, removing the need to close the shelter to the public or halting adoptions, Currier noted.
“We’re watching the news in Prince George’s County and it’s disheartening to see … it’s very difficult for organizations to manage these outbreaks,” Currier said, adding that infectious respiratory diseases and canine influenza can be very infectious. “These respiratory diseases are spread through direct dog-to-dog contact. They’re also spread [through] droplets created by coughing or sneezing.”
There’s no danger to humans with these illnesses, Currier said, but pet parents can take precaution by avoiding communal water bowls and toys and washing hands if they touch other dogs.
The best action owners in communities can take will be to make sure their furry friend is up to date on its vaccinations as well, she said.
Prince George’s Animals Services Facility and Adoption Center advise pet owners to limit visits to dog parks, doggy day cares, groomers and other public places where dogs interact with each other.