DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — After confirming 15 cases of Canine distemper virus, Dallas Animal Services (DAS) is limiting its intake of dogs to emergency cases only.

Non-emergent owner surrender requests will be connected to the Pet Support Hotline for other rehoming options, officials said. Residents can access the hotline by calling 311.

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Since the case confirmations, DAS staff has consulted with Dr. Cynda Crawford, an expert in shelter canine upper respiratory illness, and are “currently working to implement her recommendations.”

Officials said DAS has begun quarantining all dogs showing possible symptoms, implementing more extensive cleaning protocols, increasing personal protective equipment use and expanding its adopter education regarding distemper and other common canine illnesses.

“The public needs to understand that this is not a dirty shelter problem,” Crawford said. “Distemper can enter shelters like Dallas Animal Services that follow healthcare best practices, and they need community support and understanding to assist them as they work to resolve the situation.”

Canine distemper virus is a contagious viral infection that can cause respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, ocular and central nervous system symptoms in dogs that are unvaccinated or have weakened immune systems. Officials said distemper can be fatal, and those that survive could have lasting neurological impacts.

“The health of the animals in our shelter and North Texas is a top priority for DAS,” said MeLissa Webber, Interim Director of DAS. “While the suspected number of distemper cases at DAS is relatively low – representing only 2% of our dog population – we are taking this threat very seriously.”

Officials said DAS is housing nearly 350 adoptable dogs that have not displayed any signs of illness and are in urgent need of homes.

“We want to be transparent, but we also do not want to scare potential adopters and fosters,” Webber said. “We are nearing capacity, and we desperately need animal lovers to help us ensure that our healthy dogs still receive the positive outcomes they deserve.”

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It can take up to 20 days after exposure for an animal to develop symptoms; meanwhile, they may start shedding the virus and infecting other animals well before symptoms emerge.

“This has been an exceptionally bad year for distemper in Texas; so far, our program has worked with seven Texas shelters,” Crawford said. “Dallas Animal Services has the right leadership and the right resources, and as one of the leading shelters in the state, I am confident they will be able to manage the cases in their shelter while also maximizing lifesaving.”

Officials said if you have recently adopted a dog from DAS that is showing signs of upper respiratory illness, please isolate them from other canines and call your veterinarian immediately.

“With distemper, prevention is critical, which is why DAS vaccinates every dog for distemper within minutes of arriving at the shelter,” said Michael Burk, the medical manager at DAS. “If your dog is current on its basic vaccinations, it should be highly protected from distemper exposure. If you are unsure of your dog’s vaccination status, it is important that you contact your veterinarian.”

There are a variety of combination vaccine formulas that include protection from distemper, with the most common being DHPP, DHLPP and DAPPv. If your dog is not current on their vaccinations, DAS recommends making an appointment with your veterinarian or a low-cost community clinic.

“It is critical that our community come out to help; it’s the only way we can effectively address this issue and continue to save lives,” Webber said. “If you have no dogs or only healthy, fully vaccinated dogs, we encourage you to come to DAS and sign up to foster or adopt one of the hundreds of amazing dogs in our general population today.”

DAS said it will continue to offer fee-waived adoptions for all animals in its care this weekend; however, dogs that have displayed symptoms that could indicate distemper are not available for adoption.

Potential adopters can also utilize DAS’ Home to Home Program to adopt dogs directly from owners who can no longer care for them.

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Information on available pets can be found here and pets available through DAS’ Home to Home Program are listed here.

CBSDFW.com Staff