Over the past three weeks, 20 dogs in the Hamburg area have been euthanased by worried Ndlambe SPCA inspectors.
State vet Dr Chamu Makuleke said yesterday he would visit the area with a team today to investigate if there was an outbreak.
Although distemper is common in rural areas and nearby Peddie has seen a reported two to three cases a week over the past year, Makuleke said the figures coming from Hamburg in recent weeks were high for one area.
Symptoms include lack of appetite, lethargy, crusty eyes, green mucous in the nose, high temperature, trembling lower jaw, impaired respiration and disorientation.
Makuleke said efforts would be made to get vaccines for the dogs not yet infected. The disease is not harmful to humans.
Despite being outside the jurisdiction of the Port Alfredbased Ndlambe SPCA, chairwoman Sandy Birch yesterday said they had stepped in to prevent it spreading across the Sunshine Coast.
“It is a huge worry. We need to do all we can to prevent it spreading.”
Birch said the cash-strapped SPCA had intervened, despite the high costs and impact on their daily work, as they were closest to Hamburg.
She says as many as 200 dogs could be infected. Owners are, however, reluctant to euthanase and a campaign has been started to convince them it is the only way to prevent the disease spreading. Although dogs can be vaccinated against distemper, it is expensive to cure and if achieved the animal becomes a carrier for life.
“The only way to treat it is to euthanase. It also is very difficult to contain and the costs are high. We do not have funds.”
Hamburg’s Mandy de Jong, who has been working to contain the outbreak, said a distemper fundraising initiative had been set up at Hamburg Hounds to vaccinate dogs.
The canine outreach was started two years ago by teenager Kristin Mace to contribute to Ndlambe SPCA’s costs to come and treat, vaccinate and spay dogs.
“The objectives of Hamburg Hounds is to encourage, assist, support and educate people on the basic primary care for their dogs and to take responsibility for them,” De Jong said.
She became involved three weeks ago when a desperate Atwell Ndlondlo arrived with two sick dogs.
She said telling an owner why his dog had to be euthanased was a struggle.
“They walk away with their dogs. They do not want to put their dogs to sleep.”