If there one canine disease which strikes fear into the minds of pet owners it is canine distemper. It is a serious condition which spreads rapidly through infected individuals and can affect many internal functions. If left untreated canine distemper can be fatal and even dogs who survive can be left with life-long ongoing symptoms.
Causes of Canine Distemper
Canine distemper is caused by a virus from the family paramyxovirus. It is considered closely-related to the human measles virus but can cause far more damage in dogs.
There are a number of ways in which canine distemper may be transmitted from one animal to another. The first of these is through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected individual; urine, saliva or blood are all possible transmission sources.
A second way in which infection may arise is by inhaling the virus after an infected individual has sneezed or coughed.
Note that distemper can infect a range of different species; not just dogs. Examples can include ferrets and, in some countries, animals such as raccoons and wolves. Transmission from other species is therefore possible, though unvaccinated stray dogs that become infected then mix with domestic pets are arguably one of the primary vectors.
Unlike some other viruses canine distemper does not survive long in the environment and can be killed by many household cleaning products.
Canine Distemper Symptoms
The virus which causes the symptoms we know as canine distemper can affect a wide range of bodily systems. Early symptoms of canine distemper can include “cold-like” features; coughing, sneezing, running eyes and nasal discharge for example.
More advanced cases may display a loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea.
The most worrying symptoms of canine distemper are neurological signs. These can exhibit in the form of muscle tremors, seizures and, eventually, death.
One characteristic symptom of distemper is a thickening and hardening of the tissue on the nose and the paws. For this reason canine distemper is sometimes known as “hard pad disease”. Even in dogs that survive the primary infection this excess tissue may survive and can be an indication of former infection.
Note that dogs that survive the infection may also display long-term signs and it is not uncommon for the victim to be put down due to the pain and discomfort they may experience.
Canine Distemper Treatment
There is no known cure for canine distemper. Veterinary treatment usually relies on treating individual symptoms and using antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. It for this reason that prevention is considered the most accurate way of eradicating and protecting your dog from distemper.
Canine Distemper Prevention
Effective vaccines exist to protect dogs from canine distemper. As puppies seem particularly susceptible to the disease it is normal to commence immunization early on in the pup’s life though a number of repeated vaccinations will be required before full immunity has been achieved.
It is therefore critical to follow the procedure as recommended by your vet in order to protect your dog from this potentially fatal disease.
This is especially important if you plan to take your pet abroad. While canine distemper outbreaks in the UK might be unusual this isn’t necessarily the same case abroad. The USA and Finland are two countries where distemper seems far more prevalent.
If taking your dog abroad contact your vet or a pet travel agent to ask about suitable protection for your dog from this nasty virus.