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Kirkwood Animal Hospital

November 2021 Newsletter: Canine Distemper

dog with toy in mouth

As the goal of our newsletters is to help educate and keep your pets healthy, this month we wanted to share the source, symptoms and treatment for canine distemper — a potentially deadly condition.

What is Canine Distemper?

Simply put, canine distemper is a virus (paramyxovirus which is similar and related to measles) that attacks multiple systems within your dog — including the respiratorygastrointestinal and ultimately the nervous system. This virus is highly infectious and can be lethal to dogs. And to further complicate matters, distemper often weakens your dog’s immune system leaving them susceptible to infection and related complications.

To be clear, canine distemper is caused by a completely different virus responsible for feline distemper, which we will address in a subsequent newsletter.

How does a Dog get Canine Distemper?

Most often dogs contract the virus via airborne methods — meaning they are exposed by a dog or wild animal (such as a racoon, skunk, ferret, fox, wolf or coyote) that has the virus via a sneeze, cough, bark or close proximity breathing. This closeness enables the aerosolized droplets containing the virus to be distributed to your pet, and also indirectly by contaminating water bowls, food and nearby surfaces. Of course, your dog can also contract distemper through direct contact with an infected animal — via saliva, urine or blood. And newborn puppies can also contract distemper from their mother.

What Signs indicate a Dog may have Distemper?

Symptoms of distemper often commence with a watery, pus-like discharge from your dog’s eyes. Within several days this is typically followed by fevernasal discharge, a sense of lethargy¸ loss of appetite, and vomiting — and sometimes diarrhea. Interestingly, the virus can also cause the pads of your dog’s feet to harden. If your dog experiences any of these symptoms, we urge you to contact us immediately — and the sooner the better.

These conditions can allow bacterial infections to flourish, further weakening your pet.

And depending upon the severity of your dog’s condition, they may also experience neurological disorders including a peculiar head tiltwalking in circlesmuscle twitchesconvulsions, or partial or complete paralysis.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for distemper once your dog has contracted the disease — and a diagnosis can only be determined through clinical signs and diagnostic testing. The ultimate outcome will be up to the innate strengths of your dog in combination with supportive care including fluids and other medications based upon the dog’s particular condition. For some pets, the outcome can be fatal or leave lingering or permanent damage to the nervous system. Puppies under four months of age are highly susceptible to the disease until they are fully vaccinated

How Can I Protect My Dog?

Fortunately, there is an effective preventative solution to this disease: a vaccine. Be sure to have puppies fully vaccinated, and have your dog’s boosters administered as directed (typically every three years). Any lapse potentially exposes your dog to this preventable disease.

Furthermore, always keep your pets away from wildlife, strays and dogs that may exhibit any of the symptoms outlined above. Any dog suspected or diagnosed with distemper must be separated from others to prevent the spread of the disease. And while the virus does not live long on environmental surfaces, be sure to periodically clean your pet’s area and regularly wash their water and food bowls as well as their toys should any concerns arise.

And if traveling or boarding your pet, be sure they are fully vaccinated. Remember, without a vaccination for canine distemper, your dog does not stand much of a chance.

Wellness Requires Prevention

As the entire team at Kirkwood is dedicated to the wellnesslongevity and happiness of your pets, we look forward to seeing your pet on a regular basis to ensure they are healthy and the necessary preventative measures (such as vaccines) are regularly administered.