Distemper is found in places where exposed or infected dogs and puppies are in close quarters with other dogs or puppies. This disease affects domestic dogs and wild ones (fox, coyote).
Some call this “distemperment” and believe this causes a change in a pet’s behavior. In reality, this is a disease that starts with mucous discharge from eyes and nose, coughing, fever and develops into pneumonia. It starts in the respiratory system and then continues on to cause vomiting and diarrhea and eventually weakness in the legs, tremors, and even seizures. It may cause death or the neurological signs may become permanent. A dog may appear to be getting better or only have mild symptoms and then “suddenly” develop neurological signs. Callouses may develop on the pads or nose.
Canine Distemper virus is related to the human measles virus. The disease is spread most often through coughing, although it can be spread by urine and other body fluids. It has reached the lung lymph nodes in as little as 24 hours. Those pets who have a strong immune system can overcome the virus. Those with weaker immune systems can suffer from it affecting the brain as well.
Puppies whose mothers were vaccinated against distemper get some immunity from mother’s milk. It is still possible for them to contract the disease if vaccinations are not pursued. It is not completely certain when the mother’s provided immunity begins to wear off but it is thought around 16 weeks. This is why puppies receive a series of vaccines – to help build up the immunity they need as they mature since the exact time of wearing off of mother’s immunity is not known. Puppies with unknown or an incomplete vaccine series are at risk.
It is difficult to diagnose distemper. Positive test results may confirm the presence of distemper but negative test results do not mean it is not there. Treatment is based on what stage of disease the pet is currently experiencing. Supportive care and symptomatic treatment is given. The pet must develop an immune response to overcome the virus. A dog can shed the virus for 2-3 weeks while recovering.
The Good News: vaccinating your dog is effective in preventing the disease. The vaccine also protects against Adenovirus, Parvovirus, and Leptospirosis.
We can help you keep your dog healthy and protect him/her from viral disease! Contact us to make a vaccine appointment. If you are unsure about your pet’s vaccine history, call our office. We will be happy to answer any questions!