What Is Distemper?
Distemper is a viral disease that can affect all of the canine respiratory and central nervous systems. The virus attacks the linings of organs and tissues, causing fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Canine distemper is typically fatal. Puppies often die within six days of infection; however, some dogs survive with treatment. Affected puppies are contagious for up to six weeks.
Mode of Transmission
Canine distemper is highly contagious, spread by the air, water, feces and contaminated objects. The virus can survive in an environment for up to one year. Dogs contract canine distemper through inhalation or ingestion of fluids from infected animals. Although rare, dogs can develop canine distemper from a bite. Puppies sometimes contract canine distemper via the mother’s milk while nursing, but this is very rare.
Symptoms of Distemper in Dogs
The initial symptoms of canine distemper include fever, respiratory problems and watery eyes with a sticky discharge. The immune system attacks the lungs and brain as it tries to fight off the infection; resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, lack of coordination and paralysis. Animals may also experience seizures and hallucinations. Infected dogs die within 7-10 days after exposure. Dogs that recover may have permanent damage to the brain, eyes or respiratory system.
Diagnosis of Distemper in Dogs
Veterinarians diagnose canine distemper by taking fluid samples from the dog’s eye and lung. A blood sample will also reveal antibodies related to canine distemper virus. The presence of these antibodies indicates an active infection. Veterinarians also conduct a polymerase chain reaction test to detect the presence of distemper virus in your pet.
Treatment and Prevention of Distemper in Dogs
There is no cure for canine distemper, but veterinarians can treat individual symptoms to make the animal more comfortable. Veterinarians may administer fluids, antibiotics, anticonvulsant medication and pain relievers as needed to combat specific symptoms such as dehydration or respiratory problems. Veterinarians may also prescribe medications to improve digestion.
Most dogs do not survive once symptoms occur, so veterinarians usually recommend euthanasia rather than treatment. Immunization is the best way to prevent canine distemper, but many puppies are too young for vaccination. Pregnant dogs cannot be vaccinated due to potential risks to their unborn puppies; these dogs need to avoid contact with other dogs and areas that may be contaminated.
How to Prevent Distemper
Vaccines for canine distemper are effective at preventing infection. Your veterinarian can advise you on the appropriate vaccination schedule for your puppy, but generally dogs should receive a booster shot every year. Keep vaccinations up to date to provide lifelong immunity against canine distemper to your dog. Vaccination is especially important if your dog may interact with other dogs or is in a high-risk area.
Avoid areas that may be contaminated with canine distemper, such as dog parks and animal shelters . Keep your dog away from wild animals such as raccoons and skunks. Ensure your pet is current on his vaccinations; if you are concerned about the risk of infection, consider having your pet spayed or neutered.
Regular grooming and veterinary visits will ensure your dog’s immune system remains healthy, allowing him to fight off infection more effectively. Provide a safe environment for your animal, avoiding places with open water that may be contaminated with the virus.