Beating strep zoo in an animal shelter: Yes, you can

One of the surviving dogs in Tucscon, Ariz.One of the most feared causes of canine respiratory disease in animal shelters is the bacterium Streptococcus zooepidemicus. That turned out to be the culprit when a dog who came into the Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, Ariz., was found dead in his kennel a little over two weeks ago. He had come in as part of a group of six dogs, all of whom had been exposed to the deadly pathogen.

“This is a truly terrifying dog disease,” said shelter director Kristen Auerbach. “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.”

Survival depends on rapid identification and treatment with antibiotics. Fortunately, Auerbach and Pima shelter veterinarian Dr. Jen Wilcox have been working with the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program for a year now, dealing with the issue of infectious disease in their dog population, including canine pneumonvirus and canine distemper.

“Because of their experience during the last year, they were able to rapidly identify and head off the spread of a potentially lethal bacterial infection in the dog population,” said Crawford.

In addition to immediate testing and treatment, Pima Animal Care Center reached out to their foster homes and placed the dogs in foster care in households that didn’t have other dogs while they were being treated. One of the other dogs developed the disease, but he and the other four all survived.

While Auerbach credits the UF program with averting disaster at the shelter, Dr. Crawford has a different view. “I don’t think our program can take much credit for it,” she said. “From working with Kristen and Jen for a year, I can tell you that they are the ones who accomplished the very prompt recognition of a potentially grueling problem. Based on the knowledge they’ve gained over the past year, they made very good decisions for diagnosing and resolving the strep zoo bacteria that had been introduced in the shelter. They had already done all the work, and really just contacted us to run their plans and results from their diagnostic tests by us.”

Dr. Crawford continued, “That’s the way it’s supposed to go. You provide assistance when needed, and hopefully through that assistance, more knowledge and confidence is instilled into the shelter leadership team including the veterinarians, and they take that forward and make some good decisions down the road when faced with disease challenges.

“They’ll in turn be able to help other shelters in need. They’ll pay it forward.”