Here's the thing: Most in-the-know pet folk understand that canine distemper is a bad, bad viral disease of dogs. But the average dog owner doesn't necessarily know. All they do know — if their pet is lucky — is that whichever "shots" their vet deems necessary are the ones they will get. And if vet medicine isn't something they can afford, or know to seek, then that's just too damn bad for the dog.

These past two years have been economically trying, to say the least. Which is why fewer pets have been getting the routine vet visits they deserve. It's an issue, for sure, this decrease in overall pet visits reported among U.S. pet owners. A recent study rolled out by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI) confirmed and quantified it.

Yet, while the numbers of visits to the vet are down, veterinary expenses in general have remained stable. This can mean only one thing: fewer pet visits for preventative care — vaccinations included — lead to more expensive vet visits in the end.

So, yes, if you don't get your dog vaccinated s/he'll be more likely to come down with a scary infection in the future. Luckily, most adult pets manage to power through viral infections like distemper and parvo — that is, assuming they get treatment when they become sick. It's the pups, mostly, that suffer the very worst infections. These are the patients who die; sometimes, no matter what we do.

In shelter environments this issue is even more acute. It happens when unvaccinated dogs with subclinical (not very obvious) distemper virus infections are surrendered, found or corralled. In these cases it's almost impossible to know that these dogs are sick and that quarantining is necessary. Ultimately, that means ill dogs are impounded with the rest so that their disease get passed around to the weakest (i.e., the youngest).

That's what's been happening at the Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS) shelter (my local shelter) and at shelters all over the U.S. The influx of unvaccinated dogs means sickness runs rampant for all. It's how diseases work; it’s the epidemiological way of things.

Keeping shelter dogs free of distemper virus has become an increasingly difficult task. So much so that it's getting tougher to adopt animals out. We may soon see a moratorium on adoptions, and we all know what that means …

To help combat the spread of the disease, MDAS is planning a day of free drive-thru distemper-parvo vaccinations. To be sure, it's a great thing to do, but it won't help those who are ailing at the moment. Indeed, the only thing to help the sickies may be the least palatable choice available: widespread euthanasia.

This is not to say I won't lend a hand on vaccination day. After all, I'm big on offering basics like free vaccines. I mean, it's the innocent who suffer, so why not?

Unfortunately, it's probably a little too late. The effect of two years of widespread non-compliance is clearly taking its toll. Freebie vaccination days will help. but they're only Band-aids if they're one-off events.

To keep diseases well under control via vaccination we'll have to do better than that. The vaccine inducements will have to come fast and furiously in the thick of an economic crisis. That is if we're to keep from getting run over by the massive snowball we know will be headed our way if we just sit on our hands and watch the snow fall.

P.S. - But that's not all. Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a big problem in other canine scenarios, too. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on CDV in even less hospitable settings.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Dog Meets Snowball by bsgraupner