Purdue News

September 27, 2005

Animals rescued from hurricane areas need health screenings, immunizations

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Volunteers have helped round up many animals stranded by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but Purdue University veterinarians caution that anyone fostering or adopting a rescued pet should make sure the animal has been thoroughly examined and vaccinated by a veterinarian.

Most of the hurricane-victimized animals are being rescued by professional animal welfare groups, numerous dog breed groups and well-meaning citizens. These groups check the animals for internal and external parasites, such as heartworm, fleas and ticks, and provide necessary immunizations. There are reports of some pets being transported across state lines without initial health screenings, according to a Purdue veterinarian.

"It's no more dangerous to adopt most of these rescued animals then to adopt any animal from a kennel or shelter," said Larry Glickman, Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine epidemiologist. "However, it's important that the animals be given a bath and checked thoroughly for internal and external parasites."

Cats and dogs need to have all of the recommended inoculations. For dogs, these include rabies, distemper, coronavirus, parainfluenza, Parvovirus, Bordetella and leptospirosis, and they should be dewormed, tested for heartworm infection and put on heartworm preventative, Glickman said. Some veterinarians also recommend that dogs be treated with doxycycline for a period of seven days in case they have been exposed to leptospirosis through flood water.

Heartworms and hookworms are more prevalent in the South, he said. West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases can't be passed directly from cats and dogs to humans, but there is a concern about rabies and leptospirosis. Some epidemiologists consider leptospirosis to be the most widespread disease in the world that pets and other domestic animals can transmit to people.

"These bacteria come from the urine of infected animals and then are transmitted to people and other animals from contaminated water," Glickman said. "Outbreaks of leptospirosis typically occur following widespread flooding"

Leptospirosis is the leading cause of acute kidney failure in dogs and also can damage the liver. Most animals and humans can recover from the disease if it is diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics, which also may help kill off tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease.

Glickman recommends that any animal rescued from hurricane areas be quarantined for at least seven days to look for signs of illness and that pets be neutered before being adopted.

Some parasites shed from the rescued animals could be a problem for children, said Janice Sojka, a Purdue equine veterinarian who also is coordinating foster homes in the greater Lafayette area for any Gulf Coast animals that may be brought in from the hurricane region. Parasites may be of particular concern in cases where the pets were not screened before being shipped north.

"We've had reports of some people running down, picking up animals and not taking them through a health screening before taking them across state lines," Sojka said. "The animals should have health certificates and, at the very least, a rabies certificate showing they have been vaccinated for that."

Groups coordinating animal rescue are quite organized, Sojka said. Louisiana State University alone has been able to reunite more than 350 pets with their owners. A number of other groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and American Veterinary Medical Association, are providing similar services. But rescuers are overwhelmed with animals and supplies.

"One side effect of the perception that there are no organized efforts is that people are just driving down thinking they are helping by picking up animals or bringing supplies," Sojka said. "The LSU vets tell us they have way more supplies than they need, but they can really use money, not food bowls or leashes."

A good thing that has resulted from the hurricane disasters is that more agencies are learning the importance of helping people stay with their pets during a crisis, Sojka said.

"There's always been a big disconnect with how people feel about their animals and the way they are treated during the official response in an emergency," she said. "We hope this changes because of what we've learned during the hurricanes."

As a result of the many people who were forced to evacuate without their pets during Hurricane Katrina, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would require state and local disaster preparedness plans eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to include provisions for care of household pets and service animals, Glickman said.

"Such legislation should greatly reduce the number of dogs and cats abandoned by owners during a mandatory evacuation," he said. "Based on lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, some provisions were made for those evacuating Texas in advance of Hurricane Rita to take pets with them on special buses, as long as they could be put in a carrier or portable kennel. Unfortunately, many large dogs could not be evacuated in this manner."

Writer: Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481, ssteeves@purdue.edu

Sources: Larry Glickman, (765) 494-6301, ltg@purdue.edu

Janice Sojka, (765) 494-8548, sojkaje@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes, forbes@purdue.edu
Agriculture News Page


Note to Journalists: Three Purdue University veterinary technicians are currently in Baton Rouge at Louisiana State University helping with animal rescue. They will be returning on Sunday (Oct. 2) from a one-week rotation in the volunteer position. Contact Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481, ssteeves@purdue.edu, for further information or to arrange an interview.


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