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Nassau SPCA warns of infection linked to contact with new sick puppies

Citing an uptick in reports of newly acquired dogs and puppies in need of veterinary care within days of being brought home, the Nassau County SPCA is urging new dog owners whose pets have become ill to report it immediately. 

Saying that a recent case saw an 18-year-old  boy become ill after a new puppy in the household was diagnosed with Campylobacter jejuni, a highly communicable infectious food poisoning disease often found in dogs, and sometimes more common in those acquired from under-regulated sources like puppy mills, the SPCA is strongly advising residents report any similar cases at sickpet.ncspca.us or call them at 516-THE-SPCA.

Other new trending illnesses include giardia, bronchopneumonia, diffuse lower airway disease and a host of other bacterial and viral infections, the SPCA said in a statement released Monday. The teen  who became ill was not identified by the SPCA.

Suffolk County SPCA Chief Roy Gross said there has not been a similar rash of recent cases in Suffolk, but said they have had similar situations in the past — most often, he said, involving dogs and puppies sourced through so-called puppy mills, often located out of state.

Just last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said an "outbreak of multi-drug resistant Campylobacter infections" was linked to pet stores and puppy mills and said the infections had sickened at least 30 people in 13 states who came into contact with infected puppies.Though there have been no reported deaths, the CDC said in a statement that four people had been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak.

Agency officials advised anyone getting a puppy or dog to "take it to a veterinarian for a health check-up." 

The Campylobacter bacteria can be spread through infected feces, the CDC said, as well as through contaminated food or water.

A spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health said the disease is fairly common and said the best advice is to practice good hygiene when handling pets. She also said the department was unaware of any rash of cases related specifically to newly purchased puppies or other animals.

Gross and Nassau SPCA Board President Gary Rogers have said consumers are best-served acquiring new pets through sanctioned and approved animal shelters, as opposed to local pet stores. "It's a ticking time bomb," Gross said of animals sourced through mills, adding: "These dogs have health issues in many cases and we see it over and over and over again … These puppy mills, the animals are raised by crop, with minimal care. Our first suggestion is to adopt."

The Nassau SPCA said that thousands of pets are imported into the county annually and that while the state requires a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection issued within 30 days prior to entry, many times there is no follow up once the animals arrive here — and that many are exposed to illness and disease while awaiting and during transport. "They are routinely shipped in close proximity in cargo vans with 60+ puppies, to various location in Nassau County on trips that can take days," the Nassau SPCA said.

Gross said that under state law if a dealer knowingly sells a sick animal it's a chargeable misdemeanor violation.

"But, how do you prove it?" he said.

Gross said that there was one situation, probably a decade ago now, where a buyer negotiated a discount from a store because the puppy in question was ill — and then brought that paperwork to the Suffolk SPCA, which then used it to write violations. The store in question has since closed, Gross said.

In addition to the contact info for Nassau residents to report illnesses in newly acquired pets, in Suffolk residents can contact the SPCA at 631-382-7722 or the Department of Consumer Affairs at 631-853-4615.

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