Canine distemper is a highly-contagious, viral disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system which kills more than half of all dogs that are infected. Although vaccination programs have drastically reduced the incidence of Canine Distemper, it still occurs in domestic dogs as well as other carnivores, including raccoons, skunks and foxes. The dogs most at risk are puppies between three and six months of age as well as non-vaccinated older dogs.
Canine distemper is transmitted through bodily secretions, especially respiratory secretions. The primary way the virus travels is through the air and dogs in recovery will continue to shed the virus for several weeks after symptoms disappear. So it is very important to quarantine infected animals for the full length of time your veterinarian recommends.
Once a dog is exposed to Canine Distemper, the virus spreads rapidly through the lymph system, with lymphoid organs being infected within 2 to 5 days. By days 6 to 9, the virus has spread to the blood stream, then infects the lining of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital and central nervous systems.
Early symptoms of Canine Distemper include a fever, loss of appetite and eye inflammation. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more and more serious. Fever (103 to 106 F) usually peaks about 3 to 6 days after infection, then subsides for a few days then will peak again. Although symptoms vary, many dogs experience:
- Conjunctivitis (infection of the eye)
- Pneumonia (including coughing and labored breathing)
- Runny Nose Vomiting
Dogs almost always develop encephalomyelitis, which is inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. This combined with other neurological conditions is the main cause of death in a dog with distemper. Most often it is complications related to one of the following that causes death:
- Muscle incoordination (Ataxia)
- Hypersensitivity to touch, pain, etc.
- Deterioration of Mental and Motor Skills
Diagnosis of Canine Distemper is difficult because there is no one test that can determine if a dog is infected. Also, many of the symptoms of Canine Distemper mirror that of other diseases, such as bacterial pneumonia, gastroenteritis and epilepsy. Your veterinarian will use a variety of tests to determine if your dog does have Canine Distemper. Be sure to tell your vet if your dog has been exposed to wild life or other dogs that may be infected.
It is also important to protect yourself if you suspect your dog has Canine Distemper as it is possible for humans to contract an asymptomatic infection. However, being vaccinated against measles is protection against Canine Distemper Virus as well.
There is no cure for Canine Distemper, it can only be treated on a symptomatic basis. Depending on the symptoms, your vet will control any secondary infections that may arise such as conjunctivitis and pneumonia as well as any other necessary treatments to control symptoms.
The best way to prevent your dog from contracting Canine Distemper is to vaccinate annually. Vaccinations work well and can protect your dog as soon as 4 days after vaccination. One of the most effective vaccines against Canine Distemper is NeoVac DA2 from NeoTech, LLC. It is safe for puppies as young as 4 weeks of age.
If you have a dog that has died as the result of a Canine Distemper infection, the entire premises should be decontaminated, including objects and living areas with a disinfectant, such as Trifectant to prevent any further infection. Also, if you do decide to get another pet, you should wait at least a month before introducing a new puppy to prevent any further infection.