Canine Distemper - a viral menace

Health, last updated 06th, May 2015, Neha Manchanda

Canine Distemper

Distemper in dogs or canine distemper as it is commonly known, is a contagious viral illness. Distemper affects dogs and puppies and is also known to affect other wild life animals such as raccoons, wolves and foxes. Canine distemper affects a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems as well as the conjunctival membranes of the eye. 

What causes canine distemper?

Canine Distemper belongs to the Morbilivirus class of virus and is a combination of virus that causes measles in humans and seal distemper. The virus belongs to the paramyxoviridae family and may prove fatal for the dogs / puppies.

Who is prone to Canine distemper?

Canine distemper can affect dogs and puppies of all ages. However, young puppies who have not been vaccinated and older dogs who have not been immunized are more susceptible to canine distemper. A lot of cases of canine distemper have been noticed in rescue dogs or pups that have been bought from pet stores where the medical and vaccination histories are not available.
Puppies younger than 7 weeks and who are born to female dogs who were not vaccinated against the virus are also highly susceptible to canine distemper.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a serious illness. The virus generally affects the tonsils and the lymph nodes and then replicates itself. The virus spreads through the air by either direct contact or an indirect one i.e. contact with an infected animal. Once the virus is replicated, it attacks other body systems especially the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal and nervous systems.

Some of the initial symptoms of Canine Distemper are:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Mucus from the eyes and nose
  • High fever (>103.5F)
  • Sudden onset of lethargy
  • Severe vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent coughing

If not treated on time, the virus may affect the central nervous system and cause:

  • Fits / seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Attacks of hysteria
  • Hardening of paw pads

Dogs and puppies that are weak and have a weak immune system become even weaker and if proper care is not administered, the illness may prove fatal for them.

What is the treatment?

There is no cure for canine distemper and the treatment includes aggressively alleviating the symptoms as soon as the distemper is diagnosed. Veterinary doctors will use a serology and urinalysis test to diagnose Distemper. Treatment may include:

  • Intravenous supportive fluids
  • Antibiotics
  • Cleaning of the discharge.

How to prevent canine distemper?

The best way to prevent canine distemper is to make sure that routine vaccinations are carried out. Special care must be given to puppies and their vaccinations. 

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