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Home Bella Woof What Is Distemper in Dogs?

What Is Distemper in Dogs?

by Bella Woof

Canine distemper is a serious viral infection in dogs caused by paramyxovirus. As a viral disease, it is often fatal, and even dogs who survive may have lifelong damage. The canine distemper virus is very contagious.

The virus commonly attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems in dogs of all ages and spreads via sneezing and through shared food and water bowls. Wildlife, from foxes to coyotes to raccoons and skunks may suffer from and spread this virus.

An effective distemper vaccine is normally part of the DHPP shot that includes distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and the parvovirus.

Symptoms of Distemper in Dogs

Symptoms of distemper in dogs are usually respiratory, but the first thing most dog owners notice is an eye discharge, which can range from watery to purulent. As the distemper virus progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite (secondary to a fever)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

As it progresses, the virus tends to move to the nervous system. Affected dogs may circle, have a head tilt and muscle tremors, and most progress to seizures and/or paralysis.

Many infected dogs drool and show strange compulsive chewing motions that can make some owners concerned about rabies. Many dogs shed the virus for prolonged periods.

Distemper Recovery for Dogs

Treatment for distemper is largely supportive, addressing the symptoms, since this is a viral disease. Antibiotics may be needed for secondary bacterial infections. Dogs who survive may be marked by permanent neurologic damage. This can range from a head tilt to seizures. Another sign of previous infection can be a keratotic buildup on the paws, which is known as “hard pad.”

Preventing Distemper

This horrible can be avoided. The distemper vaccine is remarkably effective. Puppies require a series of vaccines to compensate for the interference of maternal antibodies with the development of normal immunity. Currently most vaccines are licensed for use every three years after the initial booster at one year. Some owners will choose to do yearly titers in place of booster vaccines.

Even if your dog is vaccinated, it is best to avoid training classes, day cares, boarding kennels, and dog parks that do not require proof of distemper immunity (via titers or current vaccination).

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