Streptococcus zooepidemicus, known more commonly as strep zoo, is one of the most fearful respiratory diseases that can strike a shelter dog. How did the dogs at the Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, AZ, escape it? Thanks to the swift response of the shelter medicine team and loving foster homes!
“This is a truly terrifying dog disease,” shelter director Kristen Auerbach said. “Infected shelter dogs are often found in the morning, lying deceased in a pool of red after they ‘bleed out’ from their lungs. Often these dogs appear healthy just hours before dying. In the past, entire shelter populations have been culled because of Strep zoo.”
That was the nightmare scenario Auerbach and Pima shelter veterinarian Dr. Jen Wilcox faced when they found a recently-admitted dog dead in his kennel on a morning last month.
He had come in with five other dogs from a rural area where they’d been housed with a donkey. Wilcox suspected Strep zoo, and test results confirmed its presence. “We knew the other five dogs had been exposed to the same donkey; donkeys can be carriers of Strep zoo,” Auerbach said. “Even I pondered euthanizing them so they would not expose the rest of our dogs.”
But luckily, that’s not what happened. “We got on the phone with shelter medicine guru Dr. Cynda Crawford at the Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, and came up with a plan. We decided to seek emergency ‘only dog’ foster homes for our other exposed dogs. Within a day, all of them were in loving foster homes.”
One of the dogs did go on to develop the disease, but is being treated and is expected to recover. Treatment is the rapid administration of a course of antibiotics.
“You don’t need to euthanize dogs exposed to strep zoo,” said Dr. Crawford. “This is a bacterial infection that can be treated and cured with the proper antibiotic. They did the preoper testing, started the dogs on an antibiotic that was confirmed to be the right one to use based on test results.
“This disease does not require euthanasia of identified infected dogs, or dogs exposed to other infected dogs. You can start all the dogs on the antibiotic of choice to eliminate the infection in dogs who are infected, and prevent infection in those who were exposed.”
Dr. Crawford said Auerbach and Dr. Wilcox made the right decision to save the day for the dogs in the shelter. “Kudos to the foster homes that stepped up and were willing to keep the infected dogs while they completed their antibiotic treatment,” she said. “Kristen is very good at using fostering to save lives, both for dogs without any medical problems and those with medical problems. She has done amazing things in one year through innovative lifesaving programs such as expansion of fostering.
“Kristen and Dr. Wilcox make a great team, with great knowledge that they use well. If they feel unsure or have questions, they will reach out for assistance. You can’t ask for better than that.”
Said Auerbach, “I’m incredibly proud of our team of vets and shelter staff who acted quickly and rationally to develop a shelter-wide treatment plan, isolate exposed dogs in foster homes and monitor the population closely, all while staying fully operational,” Auerbach said. “All the dogs who initially tested positive all came back today with negative tests. which means we are officially clear of Strep zoo! No more deaths among these dogs feels like a real accomplishment, thanks to Maddie and foster care!”
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