At Least 13 Dogs Impacted by Deadly Disease
Staffers at Riverside County’s largest animal shelter are responding to an outbreak of a bacterial infection that can be deadly for dogs – and Animal Services’ director is seeking the public’s immediate help.
Streptococcus zooepidemicus – a bacterial respiratory infection commonly abbreviated as Strep zoo (pronounced “Zo”) – is circulating among dogs at the county’s shelter in Jurupa Valley, the first known cases in this facility’s history. Since Jan. 1, at least 13 dogs showed signs of severe pneumonia and four dogs died in their kennel runs. Of these cases, lab results confirmed five of the dogs were positive for strep zoo. Three cases are pending lab results.
A fifth fatality occurred at the home of an adopter earlier this month before the other suspected cases appeared. A staff veterinarian performed a necropsy and the lab results confirmed strep zoo as the cause of death.
Riverside County Animal Services Director Erin Gettis said she knows that other shelters are also dealing with strep zoo and said she is hopeful the public can provide much needed assistance.
“We are seeking emergency foster placements for at least 100 healthy, adoptable dogs,” Gettis said. “This will not only protect these dogs from getting sick but will allow the shelter to medically isolate dogs that may have been exposed to a sick dog.”
Foster candidates should not have dogs at home to ensure the disease does not impact people’s pets, Gettis said.
Strep zoo is often found in horses and other livestock and, ultimately, spread to dogs where it may cause hemorrhagic pneumonia. Livestock are generally unfazed from the disease. There isn’t a vaccine for strep zoo. Dogs are most commonly infected via direct contact with infected dogs but may also be exposed through airborne droplets or through contact with contaminated surfaces.
The dogs at the Western Riverside County/City Animal Shelter in Jurupa Valley suffering from what was suspected to be strep zoo were euthanized. Other dogs that were showing signs of illnesses were subsequently euthanized.
“Some of our rescue partner organizations and advocates are likely noticing a higher euthanasia number in recent weeks, compared with normal operations,” Gettis said. “This is because we are at shelter capacity and dogs are getting very sick. Some dogs have unfortunately caught strep zoo, and others are being impacted by less severe illnesses. This is why we’ve made this urgent plea for help.”
Since Jan. 1, through Jan. 19, shelter staff in Jurupa Valley have cared for almost more than 800 dogs. Adopters saved 331 dogs, 263 dogs were redeemed by their owners and another 238 dogs were transferred to county rescue partners. During that same time frame, a higher-than-usual number of dogs were euthanized.
Another way residents can assist the shelter is to avoid surrendering their own dog to the shelter, if possible, Gettis said. Also, if a person finds a stray dog, it’s recommended that the good Samaritan try to hold on to the dog as long as possible while making attempts to find the rightful owner.
Strep zoo has not been identified in Riverside County outside of the Jurupa Valley shelter and owners with dogs at home should not need to worry about strep zoo, Riverside County Animal Services Chief Veterinarian Dr. Sara Strongin said.
“Dogs at home should be fine where such a disease is extremely rare,” Dr. Strongin said. “If someone has recently adopted from our shelter in Jurupa Valley, it’s advised the owner should monitor for signs of respiratory illness and should promptly seek veterinary care if symptoms emerge.”
Strongin said the disease is most dangerous in animal shelters where animals are held in close confinement and have high levels of stress.
“These factors thereby reduce the ability of the immune system of our shelter dogs to fight off the disease,” Dr. Strongin said. “We implemented mitigation efforts immediately after the first signs of what appeared to be an outbreak. That included limiting the movement of dogs from kennel to kennel.”
Although domesticated dogs living in homes are at low risk, Dr. Strongin encouraged dog owners to keep their pets vaccinations current.
The challenge, Gettis and Dr. Strongin said, was that the shelter was bursting at the seams with more than 450 dogs when this disease first introduced itself.
“Our immediate goal is to get assistance from the public to reduce the shelter population and to prevent any additional deaths,” Gettis said.