TIFTON -- The Tifton-Tift County Animal Shelter will be reopen for business today after closing Monday when a dog adopted from the shelter over a month ago was suspected of having canine distemper. The dog was euthanized Monday and the test results for the virus confirmed the dog had distemper.

Sharon Mills, the shelter's director, said that she and other officials have contacted the Georgia Department of Agriculture (DOA) for instructions on how to properly handle the situation.

"I called to let them know we had the possibility of a distemper case in a dog adopted over a month ago," Mills said. "They said that we could reopen after we disinfected the shelter thoroughly. We will do that and be up and running Wednesday."

When Tift County Administrator Wayne Johnson announced to commissioners Monday that the shelter had to close, he mentioned the possibility that all the animals housed at the shelter may have to be euthanized.

"We didn't have to euthanize any more animals," Mills said. "We are able to put the animals back up for adoption."

Mills said that after talking with DOA representatives and local veterinarians, she felt confident that the distemper case was isolated. She said the dog that tested positive went to surgery for neutering on June 28 and developed distemper symptoms after that. Veterinarians said the virus has a five to 10 day incubation period.

"Since that month period and we haven't had anymore showing the symptoms, I have been advised everything is clear," Mills said.

Canine distemper symptoms include coughing, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nasal drainage and fever. In the later stages, neurological problems such as teeth rattling, tremors, convulsive seizures and loss of control of other body functions may be present.

Canine distemper, a rare viral infection with a high mortality rate, can be prevented with proper immunizations and is not a threat to humans or other animals local veterinarians said Tuesday.

Dr. David Bedell, an Extension Veterinarian Emeritus with 13 years experience in a diagnostic laboratory, said that canine distemper doesn't affect other animal species. The canine family -- which includes dogs, foxes, coyotes -- are affected.

"It can be spread rather quickly," Bedell said. "If a dog sneezes on his buddy, he can spread it. It will travel through the air."

Because of the effectiveness of vaccinations, the disease has been contained.

"Back 40, 50 years ago, distemper killed more dogs than automobiles," Bedell said.

Dr. Curtis Branch, III, a local veterinarian, said he can remember people talking about the virus before he started his practice in 1987.

"In the last 10 years, we average probably one case per year," Branch said.

Branch said the primary disease concerning animals is Parvo.

Branch said that "99 percent of dogs who have coughs don't necessarily have distemper." Coughs are treated with antibiotics and Vitamin C.

Branch recommends that puppies begin distemper immunizations at six weeks of age with a series of four vaccines administered three weeks apart after that. Dogs who aren't immunized that early can still receive a series.

Branch said the fatality rate for canine distemper is 50-90 percent.

"It is second only to rabies," Branch said. "When it gets to the neurological symptoms, a lot of those have to be put to sleep. If you can catch them and it doesn't progress to that state, a lot of them do fine."

Mills said the shelter's policy is to give puppies who come into the shelter who are under six months old a Parvo Crona Distemper vaccine.

"Dogs older than that, we vaccinate when the dog is placed for adoption," Mills said. "All animals need to have their vaccines yearly. We can't stress enough the importance of that."

Branch also stressed the importance of pet owners watching for symptoms and bringing pets in for annual booster shots.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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