FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Nearly four-dozen dogs have been euthanized at the Fort Worth shelter because of a distemper outbreak.

One dog tested positive for the highly contagious illness and was put in an isolation ward. Dr. Michael Morris explained that the decision was then made to put down 45 dogs to halt the illness.

“When we take that kind of action what we’re trying to do is stop… ya know, we know we’ve got an active infection in this particular area and we’re gonna hopefully stop it right there,” he said.

While unvaccinated puppies between 6 and 12 weeks of age are the most susceptible to the disease, distemper is an airborne, highly contagious disease.

“It’s a virus that causes upper respiratory disease, but it also affects a number of areas of the body,” Dr. Morris said. “It can lead to death. It’s a very serious condition.”

While the Fort Worth shelter took the action of euthanization there is still no assurance the facility if free is the distemper.

“I don’t think we can ever make that assumption; that a shelter is distemper free,” Dr. Morris explained. “There’s no way that any shelter… you just can’t say that.”

Dogs entering the Fort Worth shelter are routinely vaccinated against distemper and veterinarians said that euthanizing the animals was a, “last-ditch, extremely difficult decision to make,” and that it was done to hopefully keep other animals healthy.

Dr. Morris said, “We just had to take the action in our isolation ward to euthanize those animals… to try to prevent it from spreading to other dogs.”

Dogs brought into the Fort Worth shelter are routinely vaccinated against distemper, but Dr. Morris points out the vaccine is not 100 percent effective.

Distemper is not a threat to humans or even cats. The viral illness is mostly seen in dogs and pet ferrets. In the wild, the disease also foxes, raccoons, skunks and wolves.

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