The number of canine distemper cases in Cape Town is expected to double in October, according to a senior nurse at the Animal Welfare Society (AWS), Marlene Hirsekorn. This has sparked panic among dogs owners despite a request from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture to remain calm.

Hirsekorn says the number of distemper cases continue to flood in despite more owners bringing their dogs in for vaccinations. “In September, we had 18 confirmed cases. Out of those, we were only able to save two dogs – the others were too far gone,” she said.

Although distemper cases are reported all year around, Hirsekorn notes that there are specific times of the year where the disease spikes. “We usually receive more reports in late winter, but this year, we began receiving reports in June already,” she said. “The month is only three days in and we already have one report.”

A distemper outbreak in Knysna led to a total of 271 dogs being euthanised between March and August this year.

Hirsekorn also noted that since the story broke last month, it resulted in a marked increase in dog vaccinations. An average of 20 dogs are vaccinated per day during the week, and between 30-40 are vaccinated per day on weekends.

“When we do have a sick dog come in, we keep them separated from the healthy animals. Distemper is highly contagious, and is spread through bodily fluids of dogs. We’ve noticed that many of the infected dogs come from areas that are densely populated and where dogs are allowed to roam the streets freely.”

The areas that have contributed the most distemper-infected dogs include, among others, Strandfontein, Kraaifontein, Mitechell’s Plain, Grassy Park, Retreat, Manenburg, Blackheath, Elsies River, Hanover Park, Gugulethu and Samora Machel.

Hirsekorn also predicts that September’s number of 18 cases may double in October.

Commenting on the devastating disease last month, spokesperson from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, Bianca Capazorio, said that the Department does not vaccinate against it. “We have seen media reports about cases on the Garden Route and also in the Cape Town metro. However, we do note that these have been recorded over quite a long period of time so there’s no need to panic,” she told IOL.

“The disease isn’t a controlled one – the Department of Agriculture doesn’t vaccinate against it. The Animal Diseases Act states that the owner is responsible for ensuring that their pet stays healthy, which includes ensuring that dogs have all their vaccinations,” Capazorio.

Dogs that have not been vaccinated and come into contact with other infected animals are at a high risk of contracting the disease.

The symptoms of distemper include:
– Diarrhea
– Continued fever
– Pneumonia (Characterised by laboured breathing and coughing)
– Depletion of white blood cells
– Vomiting
– Hardening of the pads of the feet
– Unusual tooth enamel
– Depression
Ataxia, an inability to coordinate the muscles
Hyperesthesia, a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, like touch and pain
– Myoclonus, disabling muscle spasms
– Paralysis, partial or complete
– Deterioration of mental abilities and motor skills
– Seizures affecting any part of the body. One type of head seizure that is unique to distemper is sometimes called “the chewing gum fit”
About distemper: 
Canine distemper is commonly seen in young puppies between three and six months of age but can occasionally be found in younger or older pets. While it is primarily a disease of dogs, it can also be seen in other animals, such ferrets, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks, and is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of the infected animal.

Pet owners are urged to have their dogs vaccinated, and in cases where the owner cannot afford to pay for the vaccination, it may be done for free.

ALSO READ: Distemper outbreak spreads to Cape Town

Picture: Pixabay

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.