Utah dogs see rise in contagious ‘distemper virus’, officials concerned

Local News

(Courtesy of the Humane Society of Utah)

UTAH (ABC4) – Animal service officials are seeing a rise in new cases of a fatal virus in Utah dogs along the Wasatch Front.

The highly contagious virus, called the distemper virus, affects canines with various symptoms, according to the Humane Society of Utah (HSU) and Salt Lake County Animal Services. Distemper is often fatal and dogs who survive will suffer from permanent nervous system damage.

“Common signs of distemper in dogs include discharge from the eyes or nose, fever, coughing, lethargy, disorientation, tremors, and seizures,” says Dr. Timna Fischbein, medical director at the HSU. “There is no treatment for distemper, so preventing the disease by getting your dogs vaccinated is crucial.”

Airborne transmission is the most common infection source, with dogs inhaling particles from the sneeze or cough of an infected animal. Although all wildlife can be affected by the distemper virus, puppies and unvaccinated dogs hold the highest risk of infection.

“Many people add new puppies to their families during the holidays,” says Guinnevere Shuster, associate director of marketing and communications at HSU. “We want to remind people to be cautious and keep their new furry family members safe by getting them vaccinated.”

How can you keep your dog safe from infection?

Vaccinating your dogs is key. Puppies should receive three or more distemper vaccines around 2-4 months old. They should receive a booster one year later, then revaccinate every three years for life.

Protect puppies by keeping them away from unfamiliar dogs until they’ve completed their vaccinations. Keeping young pups away from areas with high dog traffic including dog parks, pet daycares, and boarding facilities is recommended.

Keep dogs away from wildlife. Distemper virus in wildlife closely resembles rabies and can be easily passed onto your dog.

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