Dog Diseases – Distemper

Dog Diseases – Distemper

Canine distemper is a deadly and highly fatal disease, with nearly 50% of the dogs that contract the disease dying. It is ranked as second to rabies. It is a multi-systemic viral disease that is found worldwide. It is caused by a Morbillivirus which is closely related to the virus that causes measles in humans. The virus is prevalent in 3-6 month old puppies and un-vaccinated dogs. The virus can be transmitted through contact with respiratory secretions, fecal material and urine of infected dogs. For instance, a dog’s sneeze can transmit the virus to other dogs by lodging in the nasal passages of the new dog and eventually spread throughout the body affecting the eyes, lungs, intestinal tract and possibly the nervous system.

Signs of the infection become evident only after 3-6 days from the date of infection. Indications of the virus are anorexia, fever, discharge from the nose and eyes, pneumonia, vomiting and diarrhea. The paw pads will thicken and become hard and scaly. By the seventh day, the dog will experience a fever of about 39 Centigrade or higher. They will show signs of depression and a loss of appetite. Within 2-3 weeks, the virus affects the nervous system and causes damage to the brain and spinal cord. Seizures starting with tremors of the jaws or snapping may progress to convulsions of the whole body. Aside from seizures, the dog may experience tremors, imbalance and limb weakness. These are signs which mean the dog is nearing death or the dog may be strong enough to endure and overcome the virus. However, the effects of imbalance, tremors and the like may remain with the dog during its lifetime.

Although indications of distemper start appearing, it is still hard to confirm a distemper diagnosis. The veterinarian has to see the whole picture, observe the symptoms, study the history, and understand the possible causes and other aspects to establish the presence of distemper. There are tests that can be taken to confirm the infection but a negative result does not necessarily mean that there is no distemper. In that regard, the tests may be inconclusive since the veterinarian cannot discount the possibility of distemper despite the negative results. Some of these tests are: distemper Inclusion bodies, distemper antibody levels, PCR testing, and cerebrospinal fluid antibody levels.

There is no direct medication to cure distemper. Recovery is a case of immunity. The dog has to build up its own immune response to the virus. We can provide support to the ailments but not to directly eliminate the virus. For instance, if the dog has pneumonia, we provide antibiotics. If the dog gets dehydrated, we apply intravenous fluids. Airway dilators are used as needed to help the dog breathe. We can only hope that with our support, the dog can build up its immune system and overcome the virus. Recovery can happen at any stage.

All the problems can be prevented by having a distemper vaccination. The “distemper shot” provides the immunization for dogs and is normally given when a puppy is 6-8 weeks old. It is applied regularly every 2 to 4 weeks until they become 4 months old. Subsequent vaccinations are given every 1 to 3 years. Don’t scrimp on these vaccinations. A dog’s life is at stake.

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