Saturday, September 9, 2017

Canine Distemper (Distemper in Dogs) Now is the time NOT to Panic!

Just the thought of our beloved pets becoming sick is worrisome for pet parents. We want them to have the best life possible during the short amount of time that they are with us on Earth. The more that we learn about the things that can harm them, the better prepared we will be to protect them! Just hearing the name of Distemper and Parvo can make dog owner shudder and justifiably so!

What is distemper?

Canine distemper is a serious and viral illness in dogs that has no known cure. It is highly contagious and fatal in far too many cases. It affects a variety of body systems like gastrointestinal, respiratory, and central nervous systems. It also affects the eye's conjunctival membranes. Other wildlife species contract the virus as well, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes, and wolves. Another carrier of distemper is also a common household pet - the ferret.

Canine distemper virus (CDV or CD)

The canine distemper virus is what actually causes the illness distemper. Pet owners recoil at hearing distemper, simply because like cancer, there is no cure yet. Measles is the closest human disease related to distemper. In fact, the Morbillyirus virusclass (a measles relative) is where distemper originates. It is also related to the Phocine virus and the Rinderpest virus, which cause seal distemper and cattle distemper respectively.

How is distemper contracted?

The most common way that our dogs become infected with the canine distemper virus is by coming into direct contact with secretions containing virus particles in another infected animal. This usually happens just by breathing the same air. It is also possible for indirect transmission to occur but it is quite rare.

The virus needs a hospitable environment in which to thrive. If an infected animal were to sneeze on the couch, another pup could only become infected if they were to be exposed to the virus particles in a relatively quick period of time. After a dog has recovered, they are still able to shed the virus around them, even several weeks later.

Risk Factors for Canine Distemper

There are no genetic markers for canine distemper and it does not discriminate. Puppies are regularly vaccinated for distemper, but as with any other vaccination, it takes times to become fully effective. Pups under the age of four months and dogs who have never been vaccinated are the most at risk for contracting distemper. If it is possible for your dog to be exposed to wildlife or their excrement, they may also end up being at risk.

Canine distemper symptoms

Multiple body systems are affected when your pet has distemper. Among the most seriously affected are the spinal cord, the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract, and the brain. As you can see, canine distemper is a horrible disease. While some domestic pets will show only the mildest of symptoms, others will never recover.

Thanks to the prevalence of distemper vaccines, vets see fewer cases than ever before. However, there are localized outbreaks and single cases that do occur sporadically around the globe.

The following is a list of common symptoms that may be seen in a domestic dog with distemper:

  • Lethargy
  • Appetite loss
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Nasal and ocular discharge
  • Eye inflammation
  • Fever
  • Bacterial infections
  • Hardening of the nose tissue and footpads
  • Laboured breathing and / or coughing
  • Variable neurological symptoms, including paralysis or weakness, twitching muscles, heightened sensitivity to pain or touch, seizures, and uncoordinated movements

How to diagnose distemper

Both clinical signs and pet history are used to diagnose canine distemper. It may take a long time for any symptoms to become noticeable, and because they vary from one pet to another, final diagnosis can be hindered by the presence of secondary infections.

Certain other infections can mimic the signs of distemper as well, making the vet's job even harder. Thankfully, there are blood tests capable of detecting the distemper virus in your pet.

Canine distemper vaccine

The canine distemper vaccine is given by your vet as one of the core vaccines for optimal health. Normally it is a combination shot with the abbreviation "DHPPV." It includes a vaccine for canine adenovirus-2 and canine parvovirus infection. D = Distemper HP = Hepatitis PV= Parvovirus. Depending on the age of the pup, rabies and Bordetella (kennel cough) may also be given at this time.

The starting age for vaccination in puppies is around six weeks. They receive additional booster shots every two to four weeks until they have reached the age of four months. There is generally a repeat of the vaccinations after a year and then your vet will set a schedule appropriate to your pup's life cycles.

Distemper treatment

There is no cure for distemper. Treatment is all about managing the symptoms and secondary infections that pop up. The potential for a fatal outcome still exists, even with treatment. Your vet will create a plan for treatment based on the symptoms of your pup, but some common options are antibiotics, anticonvulsants, drugs to reduce vomiting, and IV fluids.

Can distemper pass from dogs to humans?

Even though canine distemper virus is so similar to the measles virus that inflicts humans, it is NOT possible for the disease to be transmitted from the family pooch to you (Not Zoonotic). One important distinction however, is that no illness or symptoms will be present in your body if you do catch it. In this regard, it is no threat to humans who contract it.
Unfortunately, you will be a carrier of the virus, making it possible for you to infect canines that cross your path. This can become a vicious cycle if your pet infects other humans as well. The best thing you can do to protect the safety of other pets and people, along with yourself, is to keep your dog isolated to help stop the spread of infection.
This side of the coin is not the one you want to be on. Your pup is part of your family, and as such, it is critical to do everything possible to help them grow up healthy. Visit your vet on a regular basis for vaccinations and yearly checkups. Prevention is always the best cure.


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