A highly infectious viral disease of dogs, canine distemper attacks the lungs, brain and spinal cord. It occurs worldwide wherever there are dogs, with a death rate of 80 percent in puppies and 50 percent in adults. The virus is airborne and also spreads between dogs by contact with contaminated food and water bowls, as well as urine and feces. Fox, wolves, raccoons and mink also carry distemper (feline distemper is not related). Vaccination provides effective protection and is normally given initially as part of the puppy series of shots followed by a yearly booster.
* Initially the signs resemble a bad cold with a fever. Temperatures range from 103F to 105F (normal rectal temperature is 101.5F).
* Runny eyes and noses with thick yellowish-green pus develop next, followed by coughing, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss.
* In the final stages the nervous system is attacked. This may take up to a month to become apparent. Muscle twitching, paralysis, convulsions and death may result.
WHAT YOUR VET CAN DO
* Immediate treatment is your dog’s best chance for survival. Since no specific cure exists, supportive care is critical. Unvaccinated puppies are most susceptible and most die regardless of treatment.
* Fluids to correct dehydration are given through a catheter inserted into a vein until vomiting and diarrhea have stopped. After that, offering small amounts of liquids by mouth is indicated. Lukewarm broth or honey water (one tablespoon of honey in one cup of water) taste good and are effective.
* When oral liquids are tolerated, gradually begin to add solid food back into the diet. Start with small amounts of pureed chicken or beef every four to six hours, then increase the size of the feedings and decrease the time interval between them until your dog is back on his normal diet.
* The footpads can become thickened and develop cracks as a result of this virus; which is why Distemper is also called “Hard Pad Disease”. The most serious consequences of Distemper result from the effect of the virus on the brain. Epileptic fits, with twitching of the eyes and head and champing of the jaws, can occur along with paralysis. When this occurs, the prognosis is grave and recovery is rare.
* Prevention is the key. All dogs should be vaccinated for Distemper.