How to recognize, treat, and prevent distemper in dogs.
Distemper in dogs is a highly contagious and usually fatal disease transmitted through the air, or by contact with the body secretions of an infected dog.
It affects a wide range of organs including the skin, brain, eyes, intestinal and respiratory systems. Dogs of any age can be infected, but puppies under 6 months old are at greatest risk.
Distemper in Dogs: Warning Signs
The most common signs of distemper are nasal and eye discharge, coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, intermittent fever, and seizures.
Dogs that are mildly affected may only develop a cough and are often misdiagnosed as having kennel cough. If the infection is more severe, the dog may develop pneumonia.
Puppies that recover from distemper often have severe tooth enamel damage, and a thickening of the nose and foot pads.
Distemper in Dogs: Risks
Distemper is a serious disease which spreads rapidly and has a very high mortality rate in unvaccinated dogs.
Dogs of all ages are susceptible, but puppies and old dogs are particularly at risk, with mortality rates as high as 75%. It is erroneously believed that all older dogs have a natural immunity to the disease. This is untrue, some dogs do develop immunity, but not all.
Dogs that do survive a bout of distemper may be left with serious health issues, including damage to the nervous system, impaired vision, and damage to tooth enamel.
Distemper in Dogs: Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
If your dog shows any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is important that you get him to a vet immediately.
The vet will need to do a number of tests to determine whether the virus is present. These test may be performed on samples of urine, cerebrospinal fluid, or blood. The vet may also need to do a skin biopsy.
There is no specific treatment for canine distemper, so therapy is largely supportive, consisting of fluids administered intravenously to prevent dehydration. Anti-seizure medications may be used if neurologic signs develop.
All dogs must be vaccinated against distemper, and the distemper vaccine is one of the core drugs making up the 5 in 1 shot. Puppy receive this at 6, 9, and 12 weeks, The shot is then given as a booster annually.
Distemper in dogs is highly contagious, so any dog diagnosed with the disease must immediately be quarantined.