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Canine Distemper

“Canine distemper virus is closely related to the measles virus found in humans.”

Canine distemper virus is a highly contagious often fatal disease of dogs, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and ferrets. In the past canine distemper was once thought to be linked to Multiple Sclerosis in humans but research has eventually rejected that theory. Canine distemper is spread from dog to dog through all types of body excretions but is most commonly transferred through respiratory secretions.

Canine distemper virus is closely related to the measles virus found in humans. In fact there was a time when puppies were vaccinated for distemper with the measles virus. However vaccinations designed specifically for distemper are common and those vaccinations have dramatically decreased the incidence rate. Distemper is still present in today’s society but is now viewed as sporadic instead of common.

Related Article: Regular Vaccination Safeguards Canine Health >>

What are the signs and symptoms?

Canine distemper is difficult to diagnose because the initial symptoms are similar to many other diseases such as kennel cough. Actually many dogs are mistakenly treated for kennel cough; however it soon becomes apparent that the initial diagnosis was incorrect because the treatment is ineffective. Sophisticated laboratory testing can be used to identify distemper but usually diagnosis is made by a veterinarian in a clinical setting.

Fever, upper respiratory distress, lack of appetite, lethargy, depression, vomiting, or diarrhea can be present in a dog infected with canine distemper. The dog may exhibit some but not all of the symptoms and may do so sporadically in the early stages of illness. In the later stages of the disease the nervous system is affected and the dog may develop chorea (nervous tics from the infection). Sadly enough these nervous conditions can be permanent from the damage caused by the virus. Another symptom of canine distemper is “hard pad disease” where the tissue of the nose and pads becomes extremely dehydrated and hardened. In some dogs blindness may occur as a result of distemper.

What dogs are more susceptible?

Young puppies are more susceptible to infection and the disease than older dogs are. Also the risk of death resulting from distemper is higher in puppies. Older dogs that are not vaccinated and those that are in close contact with wildlife are at greater risk for the disease. Lastly dogs that are housed in close contact with other animals such as rescue dogs shelter animals and kennel puppies are more likely to contract the disease than household pets.

How is distemper treated?

Dogs that are ill and diagnosed as infected with canine distemper virus should be isolated. Treatment for affected dogs is limited to supportive care fluids when indicated and antibiotics to help with secondary infection.

Treatment can be difficult. Puppies do not have a good prognosis as the mortality rate is alarmingly high. Supportive care is necessary meaning replacing fluids that are lost during the illness as well as providing a clean warm environment. Only available when prescribed by your veterinarian an intravenous drip of 0.9% saline solution provides fluids and maintains an open vein for the administration of medication. For your convenience we carry the IV drip sets for your intravenous therapy needs.

The antibiotic Doxycycline is another prescription treatment available. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be an option to reduce inflammation as well as control pain and fever. An immune-modulator such as Prozyme can be given as the dog recovers to help stimulate the immune system.

If distemper has progressed to the final stages without treatment neurological damage may be evident. Unfortunately neurological signs are extremely difficult to treat and in many cases euthanasia is elected.

How can it be prevented?

As with most viral diseases in dogs prevention is available in a variety of vaccines that are very effective and cost-efficient. Vaccinations have been safely administered to dogs since their debut in the 1950s. Distemper is usually given in combination with other viruses that cause disease in dogs. We offer a wide selection of vaccinations including Duramune, Vanguard, Canine Spectra 7,or Canine Spectra 8, Galaxy, Performer Seven, Progard, Recombitek, and Solojec.

Lastly common disinfectants can be used in keeping your pet’s environment free of the virus. At Lambert Vet Supply we suggest the use of Disintegrator or Maxima to clean, deodorize and kill the distemper virus on contact.