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Canine Distemper

BloomingPaws Vet Clinic would like to share some facts on the health and care of dogs infected with Canine Distemper.

Canine Distemper is an acute, highly contagious, and often fatal disease caused by an RNA virus.

Facts about Canine Distemper

  • It affects a wide variety of animal families, including domestic and wild species of dogs, coyotes, foxes, pandas, wolves, ferrets, skunks, raccoons, and large cats—though not domestic cats.
  • It can cause disease in several body systems, including gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts and the spinal cord and brain.
  • Young dogs and puppies are more susceptible.
  • It is found worldwide.
  • It is related to the measles virus.

Transmission of Canine Distemper

  • It is airborne: it is transmitted following exposure to an infected animal when it sneezes or coughs.
  • It is also in droplets that may be on surfaces (i.e. food bowls). Distemper does not survive long in the outside environment. It will survive only a few hours at room temperature and a few weeks in cooler shady places.
  • From time of infection to first clinical signs is 3-7 days.

Clinical Symptoms of Canine Distemper

  • It depends on where the virus attacks, but most commonly neurologic and upper respiratory symptoms are the most commonly affected.
  • There will be a fever about 3-6 days after infection that may not be noticed; a second peak occurs several days later which is usually associated with nose and eye discharge, depression, and anorexia.
  • Respiratory:
    • Nasal discharge
    • Pharyngitis — inflammation of the throat
    • Bronchopneumonia — a type of pneumonia
    • Dyspnea — shortness of breath
  • Digestive:
    • Abdominal pain
    • Anorexia
    • Vomiting
    • Dehydration
    • Bloody, foul smelling, or loose stool
  • Eyes:
    • Conjunctivitis
    • Swollen eyes
    • Pus-like discharge from eyes
    • Inflammation of retina and optic nerve (may lead to blindness)
  • Neurologic:
    • Restlessness
    • Chewing movements, excessive salivation
    • Jerky muscle movements
    • Seizures and other neurologic disorders
  • Skin:
    • Appearance of rash, blisters, and pustules
    • Skin on footpads and nose become hard and thick
  • Movement:
    • Lameness

Diagnosis of Canine Distemper

  • Usually based on vaccine history and clinical signs
  • Baseline lab work—CBC (Complete Blood Count), chemistry, urinalysis
  • If distemper is suspected, there is a variety of laboratory testing that can help confirm distemper.

Treatment of Canine Distemper

  • There is no cure for distemper.
  • Treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms and providing supportive care.
  • Isolation from other dogs is necessary.
  • There is the possibility of reoccurrence of neurological symptoms 2-3 months after recovery from initial disease.
  • Ultimately, the mortality rate for dogs with canine distemper is about 50%.

Prevention of Canine Distemper

  • There is a vaccine that does prevent infection and disease. This vaccine is a part of the puppy series. A booster is then given yearly to every three years thereafter.
  • Recovered dogs are not carriers.

Though not common in Bloomington, IN or Monroe County (thanks to current vaccine guidelines), Canine Distemper is still occasionally diagnosed in unvaccinated or under-vaccinated puppies and dogs.