Get puppies vaccinated to prevent distemper

Homeless and abandoned animals that roam freely are more susceptible to infection.

The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) in Sunnydale is swamped by pet owners looking for help for their unvaccinated puppies infected with canine distemper virus, according to the organisation’s head veterinarian Dr Tania Heuer.

According to Dr Heuer, canine distemper is a highly contagious airborne virus that mainly affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological systems. Symptoms include fever and diarrhoea and the virus spreads to the brain resulting in death.

Because there is no cure for the disease, and based on its high contagiousness, the SPCA recommends euthanising dogs that are diagnosed with it, she says.

“Distemper and canine parvovirus are two of the most infectious diseases to dogs. We have a huge responsibility to prevent the spread of the disease in our communities, and a high euthanasia rate in cases where a dog tests positive for the virus. The most important thing for any pet owner is to make sure their pets are fully vaccinated. Distemper is avoidable if puppies are vaccinated early.”

Puppies require one vaccination at six weeks, another again at nine weeks, and then preferably a third vaccine at 12 weeks (three months) while adult dogs only require two vaccines one month apart.

Tears vaccinates as many as 350 vulnerable pets per month and provides sterilisations and the first vaccine for free to its welfare clients living in Masiphumelele, Capricorn, Ocean View, and Red Hill.

Tears also has a mobile clinic service seven days a week. It collects animals from these four communities and takes them to the Tears Veterinary Hospital for treatment, before returning them.

Despite this, says Dr Heuer, many welfare pet owners neglect to vaccinate their puppies or get them their booster vaccines as required.

“Many pet owners continue to have an anti-vaccination and anti-sterilisation mentality. We cannot force owner responsibility on anyone.”

Head of fund-raising at Tears, Lara Van Rensburg, says it costs R63 000 to vaccinate 350 animals and Tears is in desperate need of funds to support its veterinary outreach programme.

Homeless and abandoned animals that are more susceptible to infection roam freely, which, combined with the overcrowded conditions in these poor communities, means the spread of the virus is an ongoing challenge, she says.

“Pet owners who neglect to vaccinate their animals realise the dangers of not vaccinating, too late. The incubation period of the virus is between three and six days, and by the time symptoms appear after exposure, it’s too late.”

To make a donation to the Tears Veterinary Outreach Fund visit or email

Residents waiting to get their dogs vaccinated at Tears’ mobile clinic.
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