What is Canine Distemper?
Due to canine distemper being so highly contagious it is often found in shelters, where there are large numbers of unvaccinated dogs and puppies. The virus is spread via any excretions from your dog or other dogs up to 20 feet away. Because it has similar symptoms to your typical kennel cough you may confuse your dog’s symptoms and not realize the importance of immediate action.
Your dog may begin to have a runny nose and eyes, however because the virus can impact his respiratory system, stomach, and nervous system the symptoms vary greatly. It is important to note that dogs 3-6 months are most susceptible, but the virus can be caught by dogs of any age and at times even a dog who has been vaccinated.
Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that causes problems with your dog’s respiration, digestion and nervous systems. This virus is very dangerous as it can be confused with “kennel cough” and therefore not treated as seriously as it should be.
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Symptoms of Canine Distemper in Dogs
Since symptoms impact 3 areas of the body, it is important to know what you are looking for and how this virus manifests itself in your dog. There are also other symptoms to look for that are more specific to distemper such as issues with your dog’s eyes.
- Nasal discharge
- Pus-like discharge from eyes
- Reduced appetite
- Circling behavior
- Head tilt
- Muscle twitches
- Jaw chewing
- Paralysis (partial or complete)
- Inflammation of the eye
- Sudden blindness
Causes of Canine Distemper in Dogs
The cause of the spread of distemper in dogs is the virus which is highly contagious and is easily passed between canines. This includes canines that have been previously vaccinated and who can now contract the disease.
- Airborne droplets
- Unvaccinated dogs
- Highly contagious paramyxovirus
- Shelters with animals in close proximity
Diagnosis of Canine Distemper in Dogs
In order to diagnosis your dog the veterinarian will want to run some tests and will need a full history and physical of your dog. Diagnosing of distemper can be somewhat difficult as it is similar to other systemic disorders in dogs. Your veterinary caregiver will ask about where your dog has been and if he has been around other dogs who could possibly have been sick. She may also ask about where the dog came from if you recently adopted or bought him.
Some of the tests your veterinarian may want to run include blood tests, checking your dog’s secretions (respiratory secretions, feces, and urine.) Blood marrow testing can be done as well to test your dog for distemper. Due to the symptoms sometimes appearing late in the acquisition of the disease, they may appear different than an initial infection.
Having a timeline ready for your veterinarian of when the symptoms began is also going to be beneficial. It is a good idea also to record specific symptoms your dog is experiencing as it could help your veterinarian to determine if the symptoms fall into the specific categories of distemper.
Treatment of Canine Distemper in Dogs
There is unfortunately no cure for distemper and the biggest goal is to prevent it to begin with. Your veterinarian will encourage you to get your puppy vaccinated within the first 4-6 weeks of their life and continue vaccinating up until he is 14-16 weeks old. After your dog has his initial vaccination, boosters can be done every 3 years.
If your puppy survives distemper he will be immune for at least 20 months and possibly for life. The treatment options that are available include keeping your dog healthy once he has been exposed. This includes ensuring they are remaining hydrated and avoiding further infections once they are already vulnerable.
Antibiotics can be used to help your dog get better. There is no one-size fits all treatment option for distemper and the best bet for a full recovery comes prior to any neurological symptoms presenting.
Preventive measures are your best bet, and first and foremost are vaccinations initially. After that it is important to keep pets healthy by getting dogs vaccinated, isolating infected dogs from the general population and proper cleaning of all areas possibly contaminated.
Once a dog begins to develop neurological symptoms their odds of a recovering full are not good and the neurological symptoms can develop up to 3 months after infection. Dogs that are only impacted in the respiratory system and stomach have a good recovery, however they may remain at a higher risk for continued respiratory problems.
Recovery of Canine Distemper in Dogs
Due to the possible ongoing consequences of distemper, it will be important to continue bringing your dog to his veterinarian for regular checkups. Symptoms for neurological issues can present up to 3 months after exposure and may worsen over time, so it is also important to keep an eye out for any changes.
Your dog may have life-long issues related to his distemper and therefore may need ongoing care for respiratory problems and other issues. The best way to avoid any further issues is to be cautious when socializing your puppy so that he isn’t exposed again.
Canine Distemper Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have Boston terrier puppy who I believe is nine weeks old he has been doing fine I’ve only had him for four days he’s usually very playful in a very active puppy but last night he started having some strange symptoms his nose was running like a tab and it began to bubble because there was so much it was clear at first and then I noticed sort of a yellow discharge afterwords and then his Eye started running and it had sort of a yellow discharge too. He also began to drool a lot in his drawer became frothy. From what I can see today His nose seems to be only running from one side and the eye on that same side has a little yellow discharge. I took him to an emergency vet and she said it could be anything from upper respiratory to distemper. He was also shaking pretty bad last night and I noticed from the first day that we got him that typically when he would sleep he would shake/ shiver. I would also like to add that today he is back to his playful self and his nose is running less. The vet last night gave him an antibiotic and he didn’t have a fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Could you please tell me your thoughts because I am worried that distemper is something I will be able to afford to treat.
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My 9 week old maltipoo puppy that weighs about 1.75 - 2.15 pounds, Blue eyes, cream colored hair male has what we and the vet believe is distemper without me knowing from the beginning of purchasing him from a possible breeder/ past owner. He has just barely started seizures but not continuous just one last night. He has beginning signs of pneumonia. Also has fluid in the stomache along with had discomfort. We got him a subcutaneous shot for dehydration antibiotics along with pain killer. And is somewhat more responsive now. After his first seizure he was very unresponsive. He had labored breathing and coughing also looked confused or just not there. He does seem to go in and out of these symptoms the more the pain relief wares off. What is the likely hood of him surviving if i try to go further with treatment? If possible in a percentage range he is taking pretty well to the treatment the vet gave him.
I urge for an answer asap i have a youthenasia appointment ready for him in less than 8 hrs. I would really like to know if i should go along with youthenasia.
Distemper has a mortality rate of around 80% in puppies which decreases to 50% in older unvaccinated dogs. Each case is individual and any decision should be made with your Veterinarian as they will have a better picture of their overall response to treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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