Canine distemper is the name of a virus that can cause severe illness in dogs. The virus can also infect wildlife carnivore species, including foxes, mink, and racoons.
Signs of distemper can include respiratory, digestive, and neurological problems. Initially, infections tend to start with issues in the gastrointestinal tract, such as vomiting and diarrhea. As the disease progresses, dogs develop respiratory issues, including cough, nasal discharge, sneezing, and trouble breathing. These signs are then followed by severe neurological signs, involving weakness, disorientation, and seizures.
Distemper is highly contagious and most commonly impacts dogs that haven’t had their full vaccine series, which often means puppies, though adult dogs or senior dogs with a poor vaccination history can also be at risk. Prevention is primarily through vaccination, and treatment is supportive, though many dogs that get the illness will succumb to the disease, in spite of care.
In many countries, due to core vaccination campaigns, canine distemper has become very uncommon. However, it is still seen, and is always a cause for concern when encountered. Distemper is often fatal; however, patients that survive the disease can have lifelong neurological issues, in spite of recovering from the initial infection.
Read on to find out ways that distemper can be addressed!
Signs of Canine Distemper
Coughing, fever, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, inappetence, or anorexia are all possible initial signs of the illness, but are not limited to distemper. If you see any of these signs and have concerns, contact your vet immediately!
As mentioned earlier, in the later stages of the infection, neurological signs can be seen, including weakness, tremors, twitching, and seizures. Unfortunately, distemper is often fatal.
Similar Illnesses to Canine Distemper
Digestive issues, such as gastroenteritis or foreign bodies, may look similar to the initial stages of canine distemper. Again, if you have concerns about your dog, don’t hesitate to contact your vet as soon as you notice any issues. It is always better to be safe, rather than sorry!
Since distemper vaccination is a core part of a dogs’ vaccine series, dogs generally should be vaccinated for this illness. Therefore, those most at risk are dogs that have not been vaccinated.
Unvaccinated adult dogs or puppies that are not fully vaccinated should avoid other places where unvaccinated dogs might be (e.g., playgrounds, dog parks, etc.) to avoid contracting the virus.
Treatment is generally supportive, which means that there isn’t a specific treatment. Rather, specific clinical signs are treated in your pet. For example, if your dog is dehydrated, your vet might administer fluids via an intravenous (IV) catheter.
Generally speaking, all dogs will require hospitalization if they are infected with distemper virus, as it requires high levels of nursing care, intense observation, multiple supportive medications, as well as frequent lab checks to monitor and correct imbalances that the virus can cause.
And remember—don’t ever give your dog or cat human medications, as they can actually be poisonous to pets!
The words “canine distemper” are words that no dog owner ever wants to run across! The best chance you can give your dog against it is by following your vet’s vaccination plan and not missing any dose. In the unfortunate event that your pup doesn’t seem right, speak to your vet immediately so that intervention can be started as soon as possible.