File photo: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)

The Western Cape Agriculture Department has urged pet owners to remain calm about the canine distemper outbreak that has spread along the Garden Route, with cases being reported in Cape Town. 

Commenting on the highly contagious disease, which has claimed the lives of close to 300 dogs in Knysna, department spokesperson Bianca Capazorio told the SABC on Thursday: “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. 

"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.”

The Cape Times reported this week that Cape Town has been identified as a hot spot.

The Animal Welfare Society of South Africa (AWS) in Philippi, which encompasses the entire Cape Metro with a focus on the Cape Flats, said it has noticed a “worrying” spike in the number of cases reported. Symptoms include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

“We are seeing between 10 and 20 cases per week which is significant. The apparent spike in the number of cases may be due to owner ignorance regarding the need to follow a proper vaccination regime.

“Given the number of cases seen, the entire Cape Metro can be considered a hot spot,” said AWS spokesperson Allan Perrins.

Perrins said AWS has seen cases where the prognosis is regrettably hopeless and they were left with no choice but to euthanise the dog to end its suffering and to prevent new infections.

“In a few instances, we have been able to offer supportive care. Being highly contagious, such cases are managed on an outpatient basis and the owner educated regarding the risk and spread of the virus.

“In domestic dogs, while the acute generalised form of distemper has a high mortality rate, disease duration and severity depends largely on the dog’s age and immune status and virulence of the infecting strain of the virus.”

Dogs that are not vaccinated and come into any kind of contact with an infected animal carry a particularly high risk of contracting this deadly disease. 

Perrins urged pet owners to vaccinate and, in deserving cases where an owner really cannot afford the vaccine, it may vaccinate for free.