ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - Officials with Alachua County Animal Services (ACAS) and the Alachua County Humane Society (ACHS) are warning pet owners about an alarming trend related to proper veterinary care. The number of pre-existing illnesses in the animals brought to the shelter or the Humane Society is drastically climbing.
Dr. Randy Caligiuri, staff veterinarian for ACAS indicated a high rate of animals coming into the shelter that test negative for antibodies that would routinely be present after typical vaccinations. On the rise are incidents of pre-existing upper respiratory infections, kennel cough, distemper (in cats and dogs) and parvovirus. All of these maladies are extremely contagious, and are in many cases fatal for the infected animals (particularly in kittens and puppies).
According to Caligiuri, this trend has been a problem for some time but recently has gotten particularly high, and infected animals are spreading the disease to otherwise healthy animals. At one point in 2007, a University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine study by Dr. Cynda Crawford showed that as much as 60% of the animals coming into the shelter arrived with no vaccination protection against disease other than the mandatory booster shot each dog and cat receives upon intake. Caligiuri says he believes that figure is across-the-board higher right now.
"These animals may have already been exposed to these deadly diseases and are harboring them before they get here," Caligiuri explained. "They appear healthy at first but then the symptoms start showing up, and by that point, other animals in the shelter may have been exposed."
Intake vaccinations are given to each dog and cat when they arrive that are intended to provide protection against many of these deadly illnesses. Unfortunately, these vaccinations can take several days to become a part of the animal's immune system, which may be too late for some animals.
"The problem is that the previous owners of these animals have never taken their pets to the veterinarian to keep them current on their vaccinations," said David Flagler, Director of Alachua County Animal Services. "We need to remind pet owners that part of being a responsible owner is maintaining basic veterinary care - which includes keeping your pets' up to date on their vaccinations."
This increasing trend is not confined to Animal Services. The Alachua County Humane Society is also seeing a high incidence of pre-existing illness in the animals that arrive there. ACHS Director Kirk Eppenstein agrees with Flagler that the problem is rooted in responsible pet ownership.
"Because it's not legally required, a lot of people assume that it's ok to let these vaccinations slide," Eppenstein added. "But we're seeing the proof everyday that it really does matter, and the problem isn't going to go away until pet owners start taking this problem seriously."
As we get further into Hurricane season, maintaining your pets' shot records takes on even greater importance. For example, in the event of an evacuation, up-to-date vaccinations will be key in protecting your animal from disease should you have to board them at a shelter, and in many cases, pet-friendly evacuation shelters may require proof of vaccinations.
For more information about proper veterinary care and responsible pet ownership, please contact the Alachua County Humane Society at (352)373-5855 or Alachua County Animal Services at (352)264-6870.