Cape Town. 120112. The dog that attacked Meeka is now being kept at the SPCA in Grassy Park. Meeka Riley, 2, was attacked by a dog on Clifton beach. Reporter Nontando Mposo. Picture Courtney Africa

Cape Town - Canine distemper spreading through the southern suburbs has forced the SPCA to quarantine its animal hospital and appeal to all dog owners to vaccinate their pooches.

The contagious disease affects a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems, as well as the conjunctival membranes of the eyes. If left untreated, it can be fatal - especially in dogs with poor immune systems.

“Unvaccinated dogs with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk,” Allan Perrins, the head of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, said.

“Despite our best efforts, we have lost several stray dogs to the killer disease,” he added.

Perrins said dogs “from Constantia to Capricorn Park” had been affected.

Obvious symptoms included shedding of fur, a thick mucus discharge from the eyes and nose, fever, lethargy and sudden vomiting or diarrhoea.

In later stages of the disease, the brain and spinal cord were attacked, and the dog might suffer seizures, paralysis and fits of hysteria.

It could take days before any symptoms were shown, as the virus had a two-week incubation period.

Some dogs could even be carriers of the virus without becoming ill themselves.

The SPCA has quarantined its Gorfinkel Animal Hospital for the next four weeks to stem the spread of the disease. No owners can take their animals there for treatment or sterilisation until the quarantine is lifted, and other cases will be referred to unaffected animal welfare facilities.

The SPCA clinic had been dealing with about 40 cases of canine distemper, and “the number seems to be on the increase”, Perrins said.

But the disease was completely preventable with up-to-date vaccinations, including an annual booster shot.

Owners who walked their dogs in public areas should take particular care in vaccinating their pets.

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Cape Argus