CONROE, Texas – An Humble woman said she wants people to adopt pets from the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, but also to be aware of the risks of adopting a stray animal.
Lauren Underwood adopted her dog Luna from the shelter, which offers free adoptions, the week of Thanksgiving.
“She started showing symptoms when I brought her home. They said that would be normal when I brought her home. You know, you’re switching their food, (and) she had just got spayed,” said Underwood.
She said she brought Luna around her other dogs, not thinking anything of it, because she was warned Luna might not feel well since she was changing environments and had received vaccines and been spayed.
But days after her adoption Underwood said, Luna started coughing, had a runny nose and was found lying in her own vomit.
“I knew right then and there that it was not a good situation so I ended up calling in to work late and took her to emergency room vet clinic,” said Underwood.
Tests came back positive for several viruses, including distemper, coronavirus, parainfluenza and mycoplasma cynos.
The veterinarian also noted that distemper and parainfluenza could be affected by the dog’s recent vaccinations.
"I’ve been putting chicken broth in her food because it does have healing properties and she's taking Pedialyte with her water,” said Underwood.
The Montgomery County Animal Shelter said the majority of its animals are fine, but animal do sometimes get sick.
“We just really have to do our best with trying to prevent it, and that kind of goes along with educating the public why it’s important to make sure that your own animals are current on vaccinations and regular checks with their vets,” said Aaron Johnson, the director for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter.
He said the shelter doesn’t know a stray animal’s medical background, and even though they vaccinate and work to keep the facility clean, diseases still creep in.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation when someone adopts a dog and has to deal with severe health with that animal,” said Jordan Gentry, the chief veterinarian for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter. “A lot of what we see here are animals that become ill after they are adopted, so exposure may have occurred before arrival at the shelter or it may have occurred in the shelter environment but there’s a period from exposure to when they become ill that can vary.”
The shelter said it’s always striving to make sure the facilities are clean.
“For us, it’s a constant, ever-growing monitoring of how we’re cleaning and the thing we’re doing to try and make sure that we’re doing the most that we can to protect the animals that are in our area. That’s obviously one of our top priorities,” said Johnson.
He said the shelter gives adoptive parents packets to take home with them that explain the risks of adopting an animal from a shelter.
Underwood said she received that packet, but wants to make sure people are also being told verbally.
"I didn't know what to expect. It was my first adoption I had done form the shelter, so I just want to make sure everyone knows and I want to make sure the shelter knows that they reiterate more what to expect,” said Underwood.
The shelter has vets on staff so, if an adoptive pet does get sick within the first few weeks of leaving the shelter, adoptive parents can go to the shelter for help.
“When I spoke to the director, he was nice about it and said they would change the way people are told and make it more personalized, which I think should be done before you even leave the shelter,” said Underwood.
Luna is recovering, but has a way to go.
Underwood said one of her other dogs is now showing symptoms of an illness.
The shelter said if a dog does have an illness, the animal is isolated and treated with antibiotics.
What is distemper?
Gentry said distemper is a contagious and very serious disease caused by a viral pathogen.
It can spread very easily between dogs because it is airborne and can be transferred on objects, such as toys and bedding.
Distemper can cause problems for the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system and the nervous system. There is no cure for it, and it can be fatal.
“In some cases, animals will survive and they frequently have neurological problems that are then lifelong, and in most cases, it is fatal because in most cases the animals are humanely euthanized when a definitive diagnosis is made,” said Gentry.
Some of the symptoms of distemper include nasal discharge, a cough or other respiratory components, diarrhea, vomiting and/or anorexia.
Supportive care and antibiotics are used to treat the symptoms.
“Distemper virus is in our community. It’s in our environment. Raccoons, foxes, various mammal species carry it and routinely are found by animal control in this county and in Harris County, and that’s probably a population of animals where we see spillover of distemper onto our unvaccinated pets in our community,” said Gentry.
Why don’t shelters test the strays they take in?
“We get asked sometimes why we don’t test every animal for distemper, and it’s related to how we vaccinate,” said Gentry.
He said they use a vaccine that contains a strand of the live virus.
Gentry said because of that, vaccination can result in a false positive.
“In the first couple of weeks after vaccinating, showing a positive test result because the virus is there, but the test doesn’t have the sensitivity to tell apart the modified, live, nonpathogenic virus or the natural, actual infection,” said Gentry.
He said they see situations in which a person adopts a dog, and it becomes ill within the first week of care.
He said they have to rule out different variables.
"We try to address all these underlining things before we jump to distemper as the diagnosis because the point in time you’re seeing, it’s usually a respiratory infection that might be a distemper virus, but it could also be coronavirus or common viruses that we don’t vaccinate for,” said Gentry.
“Variables of the environment change. Often the diet change and stress levels can be increased just with the transition to a better environment than the shelter environment,” said Gentry. “But I like to tell all of our fosters and a lot of doctors that, that home environment has a lot more going for us than the shelter environment when it comes to crowding, disease exposure, stress level.”