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‘An illness we’ve never seen:’ 2 dogs at WHS Ozaukee campus euthanized due to ‘Strep Zoo’

MILWAUKEE -- The Wisconsin Humane Society confirmed on Wednesday, Feb. 14 that two dogs at the Ozaukee campus were euthanized after they tested positive for Streptococcus equi subsp. Zooepidemicus, otherwise known as “Strep Zoo”. It's a rare condition never before seen at WHS. A number of changes have been made at WHS as a precaution, and officials say if your dog starts coughing up blood, vomiting or has labored breathing, you should get to a veterinarian right away.

Officials said one of the dogs had also been housed at the Milwaukee campus, but WHS has no evidence of exposure at their Racine, Green Bay, or Door County campuses. The animals apparently became visibly ill about a month ago.

"Coughing, sneezing, congestion, nasal discharge," Nancy Weiss, senior director of veterinarian services said.

"They were not responsive to our treatment and antibiotics and were getting worse," Angela Speed, WHS spokeswoman said.

Angela Speed

Speed said the dogs, a Pomeranian, 11, and a Shepard mix, 1, were euthanized due to their deteriorating health.

"There is no vaccine to prevent Strep Zoo. It is believed to be spread through airborne exposure, contact with bodily fluids and contaminated surfaces," Speed said.

WHS officials said they know of only one case roughly a decade ago, statewide.

WHS officials said if caught in the early stages, is usually treatable with antibiotics.  It is believed to be spread through airborne exposure, contact with bodily fluids and contaminated surfaces. While rare, there is theoretical evidence that the illness could be transmitted to a human.

Because it's contagious, WHS is taking extra precautions. Immediate actions include:

  • Further testing. Any dogs in-shelter with symptoms of respiratory illness will be tested. It is likely that WHS will not have those results until next Monday given the time it takes to run the tests.  The two sick dogs who tested positive will be euthanized and have further confirmatory testing. WHS is investigating the source of the illness.
  • Limiting intake. A key step in stopping the illness is minimizing its opportunity to spread to new, unexposed dogs.  WHS is temporarily ceasing surrender intake from the public and redirecting them to the Racine or Green Bay Campuses until further notice. WHS is also temporarily halting incoming transfers from other shelters.
  • Reaching out to infectious disease experts. WHS veterinary staff is consulting with infectious disease experts at University of Wisconsin and other programs, who have experience with Strep Zoo in shelter settings.
  • Monitoring cats. Given the strict separation of dog and cat populations at WHS, the transmission risk between these species is low. WHS is not taking any special actions for cats at this time, but will continue to monitor cats and re-assess, if necessary.

Strep Zoo is more likely to spread in shelter environments because of the volume and proximity of dogs to one another. But officials say if your dog is showing any symptoms of respiratory illness, it is advisable to seek out veterinary attention. There is no vaccine to prevent Strep Zoo.

Symptoms include: coughing, nasal discharge, vomiting, labored breathing, and coughing blood.

"This is not an outbreak and there is no need to be panicked for your dogs at home. We are, however, taking especially cautious and conservative approaches as it's an illness we've never seen before and it can be quite serious," Speed said.

If you have adopted a dog from either the Ozaukee or Milwaukee WHS campuses, you're asked to pay close attention to your dog's health. WHS officials will be reaching out to new pet parents.