What is Canine Distemper?
Canine distemper is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus (paramyxovirus) which attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of dogs. Although dogs are the most commonly affected, Canine Distemper is also seen in foxes, ferrets, mink and many other carnivores. These infected animals are often the cause of the spread of this disease to domesticated dogs.
At normal temperature the virus can remain active in infected tissue for several weeks, provided the infected source does not dry out, or become exposed to ultraviolet radiation (sun light). At below zero, the virus can remain active for several months. At temperatures of 32°C or greater, the Canine Distemper virus will be destroyed very quickly.
How can the Virus spread?
Canine Distemper is spread through bodily secretions (nasal fluid for example) The most common form of transmission is airborne. Dogs become infected by breathing in particles secreted by infected hosts. For several weeks after recovery, a dog will still carry the virus which can lead to further contamination if not properly quarantined.
What are the symptoms?
Upon contracting the virus, dogs often appear 'normal' for several days. The initial symptoms of the disease are runny nose, watery eyes and a sore throat. The dog's temperature will increase to approximately 103.5°F (39.7°C). Over the next couple of days the symptoms worsen with the tonsils becoming enlarged, and the dog developing diarrhea. After approximately four weeks of treatment the virus begins to affect the brain. The dog will start twitching which will gradually turn in to larger convulsions. The convulsions normally become so frequent and violent, that euthanasia is often carried out at this stage.
Are all dogs at risk?
Yes. Puppies younger than 4 months of age, and dogs who have not received vaccination, are at the greatest risk of infection. However, all dogs are susceptible to the virus. Canine Distemper was at one time the leading cause of deaths in domesticated dogs. Due to understanding of the virus and the ability to treat secondary symptoms, Canine Distemper only becomes a concern in isolated outbreaks.
What is the treatment for Canine Distemper?
At this time, there is no cure for the actual virus which causes Canine Distemper. Treatment mainly consists of controlling spread and severity of secondary ailments such as vomiting, diarrhea and fluid discharge. In the later stages of canine distemper, the use of anti-consultant drugs may help to control twitches and spasms. Constant nursing care is needed to make the dog as comfortable as possible.
Is there any way to prevent canine distemper?
Have your dog vaccinated!!! Pups should be vaccinated at 6 weeks of age, and re-vaccinated every 3-4 weeks until 16 months old. Adult dogs should be vaccinated every year. Like most disease, prevention is often the only viable solution. Be cautious of where you are taking your dog. Since the most common transmission of Canine Distemper is air born, dog parks, kennels, even grooming facilities can be ideal places for dogs to contract the virus. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, and other carnivores are often the catalysts for outbreak. For this reason ALWAYS be cautions of wild animals. Never let your dog have contact with an unknown animal.
This article only provides BASIC information about canine distemper, your veterinarian is always your best source of health information. Consult your veterinarian for more information about Canine Distemper and its prevention.
by Ron Swerdfiger
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