Canine distemper: symptoms and treatment

Canine Distemper: Symptoms and Treatment

Canine distemper, or hard pad disease, is one of the most common and deadliest contagious diseases among dogs. Distemper affects dogs´- digestive tract and respiratory system. In serious cases it can also affect the nervous system.

Distemper in dogs is caused by a virus from the Paramyxoviridae family, which is similar to human measles. Such virus also affects other canids such as the Australian wild dog (or dingo), coyotes, jackals, foxes and wolves. It can even affect mustelidae species such weasels, skunks and otters, and procyonidae like the coati, red panda or raccoon.

Canin distemper is a serious disease. It is not transmitted to humans but can seriously affect your dog and put its life at risk. In this AnimalWised article you will find out about canine ditemper virus´-s symptoms and treatment.

What is distemper?

Distemper is a virus also known as hard pad disease. It is a highly contagious disease that, apart from dogs, affects other animal species as well. It is a really serious illness for dogs. If you suspect that you dog has been infected, seeking immediate treatment must be your priority.

Distemper in dogs can be compared to a sort of measles, similar to what humans suffer in childhood. It mainly affects puppies, although it can also appear in elderly dogs, who will suffer more from distemper symptoms.

In theory, if we have followed the correct dog vaccination schedule, it is unlikely that our dog will suffer from canine distemper. There is currently a vaccine available to prevent canine distemper, but its effectiveness is not always 100%. Immunosuppressed dogs, for example, are more vulnerable to the transmission of this disease, even when vaccinated. Good nutrition, quality caring, and a stress-free life will certainly help your dog stay healthy and strong.

How can distemper be transmitted

Distemper occurs when a healthy animal comes into contact with viral particles in the air, present in aerosol form. Viral particels form because of the -previous or present- presence of a sick animal.

All dogs are at risk of contracting distemper. However, those who are most at risk are dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine distemper, and puppies who are less than four months old. Puppies who are breastfed can get protection through their mother`s milk (if their mother is vaccinated), but such protection is not 100% effective.

Canine distemper can also be transmitted in other ways such as through infected animal fluids or from the water and food they have consumed. The virus incubates for about 14 to 18 days in the dog´-s body, then symptoms will gradually begin to appear.

Basically, all dogs are vulnerable to the distemper virus, although those who are vaccinated will be less likely to contract the disease.

What are the symptoms of canine distemper

The first symptom of distemper is a watery or pussy discharge in the eyes. In later stages, fever, nasal secretion, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea can appear. In some cases a thickening of the paw pads occurs. In advanced stages of the disease the dog`s nervous system can be affected. In these cases seizures, spasm or paralysis (partial or complete) may occur.

Most dogs who get distemper die. Those who survive the disease often present behavioural disorders caused by the damage to the nervous system.

It can be difficult to detect canine distemper in its early stages because its symptoms are not always obvious. It could be that the dog looks a little tired and the owner links the state to excessive physical activity or hot weather. If you are in doubt, you should immediately take your dog to the vet.

In summary, the symptoms of canine distemper are:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • General depression
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Dry eye syndrome
  • Corneal Ulcer
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hardening of the paw pads
  • Skin rashes
  • Ataxia
  • Involuntary muscle movements
  • Seizures
  • Apoplexy

Treatment of canine distemper

When one or more symptoms have appeared, we must take the dog to the vet who will carry out relevant tests and diagnose our dog with canine distemper virus. Thereafter the treatment begins, always under the supervision of an expert. Remember that the sooner distemper is diagnosed the more likely it is that your dog will survive

If your dog is already infected, administering the vaccine will have no effect. You should know that there is no treatment that will eliminate the virus once the disease has appeared.

Currently the only treatment of distemper in dogs is to alleviate the symptoms, avoid dehydration and prevent secondary infections. Where appropriate the veterinarian may recommend euthanasia to avoid further suffering.

Usually the vet will recommend a treatment with antibiotics to fight infection, they will also prescribe vitamin supplements to relieve some of the symptoms of canine distemper and provide comfort to the animal. Helping the dog to drink water is a good way to keep it hydrated.

Preventing canine distemper

The only proven way to prevent distemper is to vaccinate the dog against the disease. The canine distemper vaccine, however, is not 100% effective. Vaccinated puppies can occasionally get sick. This can occur when the immunity offered through suckling prevents the vaccine from taking effect and leaves the puppies unprotected.

The canine distemper vaccine is given for the first time when the puppy is between 6 and 8 weeks old and then it will receive an annual booster. During pregnancy we must check how to administer vaccinations as the antibodies can be transmitted to the puppies during lactation. Remember not to take your dog outside of the home environment if it has not received vaccines as this will put its life at risk.

How to care for a dog with canine distemper

Canine distemper symptoms will affect dogs in different ways. We must therefore make sure that our dog feels comfortable, stable and loved. In addition, we can use these extra care measures, though we must always consult the vet beforehand:

  • Hydration: Ask your vet what are the most appropriate options. AnimalWised recommends plenty of water or homemade chicken broth (without salt or spices). If your pet does not want to drink, try helping it using a syringe without a needle.
  • Nutrition: As in the case of liquids, your dog may not want to eat due to canine distemper discomfort. Give it premium canned food as it is much more appetizing than regular food- your dog will also feel pampered and this will help its recovery. In addition, wet food will also provide hydration.
  • B complex vitamins: In the case of distemper in dogs, they will have a positive effect on the animal`s muscles.
  • Follow the advice given by your veterinarian: The canine distemper virus is difficult to cure, so remember it must be your priority to care for your dog and other pets that may live with you.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

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