Canine distemper is very
serious and very contagious

Canine Distemper Virus

Canine Distemper, also known as the "hardpad disease", is a viral disease in dogs that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and the nervous systems. This disease also infects many wild animals including hyenas, weasels, raccoons, mink, civet cats and large zoo cats. The distemper virus is similar to the human measles virus.

It is also true that of the dogs that do become ill, about half will die. In most cases, the pets that die are usually older dogs or young puppies that have weak immune systems. The distemper virus suppresses the pets immune system and actually multiples within the dogs system as it spreads throughout the body.

This virus is highly contagious and is transmitted through the air as well as through bodily secretions. Distemper is spread as dogs breathe or cough on each other and through discharge from the eyes and nose and in all body secretions from infected animals. Contact with urine or fecal material of infected dogs can also result in infection.

Border collie

One good thing about distemper, this virus is easily killed by cleaning with household detergents unlike parvo virus that can exist in the environment unless killed with bleach or other strong chemicals.

What are the symptoms of distemper?

The most common signs of distemper are nasal and eye discharge, coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, depression, lack of appetite, and seizures but distemper virus can also affect many other systems in the body. Mildly affected dogs may only cough and be misdiagnosed. It is not uncommon for an infected dog to have a few but not all symptoms. Also, dogs suffering from distemper are usually listless and have poor appetites.

There is a latent period from the time the virus enters a dog's body until clinical symptoms appear - approximately 10 to 14 days. This virus may be spread for several weeks during and after the illness. Puppies that have already been infected may be vaccinated before clinical signs appear. If this were to happen the vaccination is not likely to prevent the disease when it is given AFTER infection has already occurred. If pneumonia, intestinal inflammation or other problems develop, recovery will take much longer.

Distemper has so many different symptoms that are all so varied that any sick puppy should be taken to a veterinarian for a definite diagnosis immediately. When puppies do recover they may have severe enamel damage and the nose and foot pads of the puppy may become thickened as well. For this reason prevention of canine distemper is the best way to deal with this disease.

What are the risks of canine distemper?

Don't be fooled - distemper is very serious, very contagious and can spread quickly through a kennel. A significant number of infected dogs may die. All dogs are susceptible to this disease, however, the very young and very old have the highest death rate which may be as high as 75%.

Even if a dog does not die from this disease, its health may be permanently impaired. Patients that recover from distemper may also suffer permanent damage to vision, the nervous system, seizures, behavioral changes, walking in circles and other ambulatory problems commonly develop. Puppies which recover can also have severely mottled teeth due to abnormalities of the developing enamel that occur as a result of this disease.

How is canine distemper treated and prevented?

To date there is no specific treatment for canine distemper. Some surviving dogs develop immunities to protect them from distemper the rest of their lives - this is not the case with young puppies however. Therapy is largely supportive consisting of intravenous fluids, anti-seizure medications and others. The safest protection of all by far is prevention by vaccination.

Excellent vaccines have been developed to prevent canine distemper that have minimal side effects.

Let me emphasize that many older dogs do not develop a life long immunity to distemper and for that reason these vaccinations should be given yearly for life.

Prevention of infection is far and away the best way to deal with canine distemper. Proper vaccination of puppies is absolutely necessary. Typically it is best to begin vaccinations for this disease at approximately 6 weeks of age and continue until 12 to 16 weeks of age at 3 to 4 week intervals.

The vaccine must be repeated several times due to interference from antibodies passed on to the puppy in its mother's milk. The first distemper vaccination is given to treat those puppies who are susceptible at this time while the follow-up vaccinations are given to provide protection to almost all puppies who receive vaccination.

Suggestions for preventing canine distemper.

Contact your veterinarian to help you determine the best time to begin a vaccination regime for your dog or puppy. Ask your veterinarian about a recommended vaccination schedule and stick to it. The safest protection of all is prevention by vaccination.

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"If your dog doesn't like someone you probably shouldn't either." - Unknown