Shelters in multiple states have been forced to temporarily suspend dog adoptions after outbreaks of a dangerous bacteria called Streptococcus zooepidemicus, commonly known as “strep zoo”.
Winnebago County Animal Services Halts Adoptions
Earlier this week, Winnebago County Animal Services (WCAS) in Illinois announced it was suspending dog adoptions after several dogs tested positive for a “potentially severe” bacterial infection.
While the shelter did not initially name the bacteria, follow up reports indicate they have identified it as strep zoo. The bacterial infection has flu-like symptoms but can lead to severe illness or death if left untreated. It is unclear how many dogs were infected at WCAS.
The suspension of adoptions is expected to last at least 10 days according to WCAS Director Brett Frazier.
Prince George’s County Confirms Strep Zoo Outbreak
A larger strep zoo outbreak occurred earlier this month at the Prince George’s County Animal Services Facility in Maryland. The shelter closed on January 11 after numerous dogs developed kennel cough symptoms.
Testing later confirmed strep zoo was spreading through the shelter. Over 30 dogs are believed to have been infected.
The Prince George’s facility reopened yesterday after a 10 day closure. New sanitation procedures have been implemented to prevent further spread of the bacteria.
What is Strep Zoo?
Streptococcus zooepidemicus is a bacteria typically found in horses. However, it can spread to dogs and cats through contact with nasal discharge from infected animals.
In dogs, symptoms usually include:
- Runny nose
- Eye discharge
If left untreated, strep zoo can lead to pneumonia, blood infections or even death.
How Does Strep Zoo Spread in Shelters?
Shelters and kennels can provide ideal conditions for strep zoo to spread rapidly between dogs. Prolonged close contact and shared items like food bowls, toys and bedding facilitate transmission.
Stressed shelter dogs may also have weaker immune systems, making them more vulnerable to infection.
Once a dog develops symptoms, strep zoo can be spread through barking, sneezing or coughing. Just a few infected dogs can quickly spark an outbreak impacting most dogs in a facility.
Prevention and Treatment
To prevent infections, shelters should isolate any new dogs before introducing them to the general population. Good sanitation and limited sharing of items is also critical.
If dogs do become infected, antibiotics like penicillin are extremely effective when administered promptly. Supportive care like rest, fluids and cough suppressants may also be provided.
Most dogs make a full recovery within several weeks if treated. However, some studies suggest strep zoo can recur or have longer term impacts even after apparent recovery.
Concern Over Future Outbreaks
While the shelters in Illinois and Maryland have reopened, there is concern these may not be isolated incidents.
Strep zoo outbreaks seem to be occurring more frequently over the last few years. This could be due to a more contagious or pathogenic strain of the bacteria evolving.
Some experts warn strep zoo could become endemic in animal shelters, causing repeated closures and adoption issues. More research is needed to determine if mutations or other factors are making the bacteria better adapted for spreading between dogs.
For now, shelters nationwide will likely be on high alert for any signs of infection. Temporary suspension of adoptions may become a common precautionary measure in the months and years ahead.
Impact on Adoptions and Overcrowding
When shelters halt adoptions, even for short periods, it can have significant impacts on overcrowding and euthanasia rates.
|Avg Weekly Adoptions
|Winnebago County AS
|Prince George’s County AS
With shelters already at or above capacity, two months of canceled adoptions could be devastating. If suspensions last longer or more facilities are affected, the results could be even more extreme.
Some shelters are urging people to consider fostering dogs until the outbreaks subside. However, this requires extensive coordination and screening of potential homes.
Long-Term Solutions Needed
Simply reopening shelters after strep zoo outbreaks subsides is not a permanent solution. Without changes to prevent spread, reinfection of dogs seems likely.
More widespread vaccination against kennel cough infections could help lower risk. Improved isolation protocols and sanitation measures are also essential.
Building larger modern facilities with better ventilation and quarantine capabilities would provide the most benefit. However, costs for new builds are often prohibitive.
As animal populations rise and diseases mutate, proactive investments into infrastructure may prove critical for avoiding crises down the road. For now, shelters will continue responding day-by-day and trying to save as many lives as possible against the odds.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.