by Gigi McWhirter
Distemper is one the most contagious and serious diseases your dog can get, but it is preventable. It’s part of the core vaccines recommended by veterinarians.
Once contracted, distemper attacks several body systems resulting in widespread infection that is difficult to treat.
A dog can get the virus through direct contact or airborne exposure. When an infected animal coughs, sneezes or barks, droplets are released into the environment that can infect nearby animals and other surfaces, like water and food bowls.
The disease also can be transmitted through the placenta of an infected mother dog, making it essential to
have her fully vaccinated when planning to breed.
Coyotes, ferrets, raccoons, skunks, wolves, foxes and minx can get distemper. Even if your dog never encounters another dog, it can get distemper from wildlife.
Symptoms include fever, clear nasal discharge, milky eye discharge, lethargy, anorexia, coughing, vomiting and diarrhea.
It is typically a fast-moving and lethal virus. If a dog survives the first stages, he may then develop a thickening of the skin on either the nose or paws, which gives distemper the nickname, “hard pad disease.” This symptom causes the paw pads to harden, enlarge and become uncomfortable.
Secondary bacterial infections can cause GI symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea and respiratory issues such as trouble breathing, respiratory rate changes and pneumonia
Stage two symptoms attack the central nervous system. Signs include head tilt, circling, seizures, repetitive eye movements, muscle twitching, convulsions with chewing motions and increased salivation, and finally, death.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “distemper is often fatal and dogs that survive usually have irreparable nervous system damage.”
All dogs, especially unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 4 months, can catch the virus.
Veterinarians use a combination of clinical signs and diagnostic tests to confirm distemper. Because there is no cure, they will offer supportive care to try to prevent secondary infections and dehydration.
The good news is distemper is preventable:
- Make sure your puppy gets the full series of vaccinations recommended by your veterinarian.
- Keep distemper vaccines current throughout your dog’s life and avoid gaps in vaccinations.
- Keep your canine away from infected animals and wildlife.
- Vaccinate pet ferrets.
- Take extra care when socializing your unvaccinated dog or puppy in areas where other dogs hang out.
Always consult a veterinarian if you have any concerns.
Happy Tails to you!