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Vets urge vaccines crucial in pet protection

Dr. Caitlin Rinker, of Novak Rinker Veterinary Clinic, administers a distemper vaccine to Bear on Monday afternoon in the Ottawa office while Josh Busche, a veterinary technician, holds him on the table.
Dr. Caitlin Rinker, of Novak Rinker Veterinary Clinic, administers a distemper vaccine to Bear on Monday afternoon in the Ottawa office while Josh Busche, a veterinary technician, holds him on the table.

Veterinarians treat animals for a variety of diseases including distemper, which is a rare viral infection.

That is why it’s unusual Streator Animal Control Officer Amy Ragusa has identified a recent spike in the disease. Ragusa said she’s seen a number of raccoons and one pet dog with the disease.

But, luckily, those that are up on the vaccinations have little to worry about.

“That’s the only thing I’ve been preaching,” Ragusa said. “Get your dogs up to date on their shots. It’s cheap to get it now rather than make them healthy after they get it.”

Dr. Caitlin Rinker, veterinarian at the Novak-Rinker Veterinary Clinic, said the vaccines dogs receive regularly include protection against distemper, which leads to a lower number of cases.

“Luckily, we don’t see a lot of distemper,” Rinker said.

Dr. Sue Schmitt, veterinarian at Countryside Animal Clinic, also said the disease has become rare in the area and doesn’t recall the last time she’s treated a dog with distemper.

Schmitt said the viral disease affects upper respiratory and neurological functions. Common symptoms include watery and crusty eyes, eyes with discharge, running noses with severe symptoms involving animals that walk in circles repeatedly or seizures.

She added the disease usually works its way through the body, but in severe cases can lead to death.

“That’s why we vaccinate,” Schmitt said. “There is a vaccine and there has been for years and years.”

Schmitt said a few cats were treated a couple years ago, but the infection is a different strain in cats and leads to severe respiratory symptoms.

Rinker added those without vaccines are advised to keep their animals away from other dogs and dog parks. The disease is generally transmitted through inhalation and close contact with other animals, such as raccoons and skunks, could lead to infection.

Distemper is not contagious to humans, but Ragusa said it's important humans do not come into contact with wild animals in general.

She said there are laws against feeding animals. While someone may believe they are helping the animal, that animal may also help itself to a bite of that person's hand which could lead to other human infections.

"If you're around an animal that is sick or injured you don't want to mess around. That's how bites happen," Ragusa said.

Rinker said there’s no definitive cure for distemper in animals, but symptoms such as a cough can be treated as well as watching the animal’s fluid balance while treating any potential neurological signs.

Neither veterinary clinic has seen any animals lately that have shown signs of distemper, but they said it’s a good time to ensure pets are up to date on their vaccines.

The regularly scheduled vaccines give animals protection that is lacking when the natural protection their mother gives them at birth fades away.

In fact, Schmitt credits it to be the reason why diseases such as this are not more common.

“We’ve got good protection now and people are on good protection programs,” Schmitt said. “So we don’t see it now like we used to.”

  • If a sick or injured animal is spotted, call the Streator Police Department at 815-844-0911 and ask for the animal control officer.

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