Overview of Canine Distemper Virus
Canine distemper is a highly contagious disease caused by canine distemper virus (CDV). It may affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurologic systems in the body. It is generally transmitted through contact with mucous and watery secretions discharged from the eyes and noses of infected dogs. However, it can also be transmitted by contact with urine and other bodily fluids of infected dogs, so your dog may become infected without coming into contact with an infected dog. Air currents and inanimate objects can also carry the virus.
Distemper was a common infection in dogs many years ago, but the incidence has been significantly decreased through widespread vaccination of dogs. Canine distemper is now most commonly seen in young, unvaccinated or immune-compromised dogs. More than 50 percent of dogs that contract the disease die from it. Even if a dog doesn’t die, canine distemper can cause irreparable damage to the nervous system, leaving the dog with partial or total paralysis or seizures.
Canine distemper can strike any dog of any breed or any sex, although it is most common in young dogs.
What To Watch For
While some affected individuals have only a few mild clinical signs, others may exhibit more severe signs. The first noticeable signs might be discharge from the eyes and nose, mild cough, and mild lethargy. Other common signs are:
Diagnosis of Canine Distemper Virus
Diagnosis is often difficult, since there is no one reliable test for the disease. Diagnosis is usually suspected from the history and clinical signs. Your veterinarian may also recommend the following tests:
Treatment of Canine Distemper
There is no treatment available that kills the virus once it infects the dog. The disease is often progressive despite therapy. Therapy is supportive and aims to strengthen and nourish the body, allowing the dog time to fight off the infection themselves. Dogs with distemper may need to be hospitalized and must be kept in isolation, so as not to infect other dogs. Therapy usually includes:
Home Care and Prevention
At home, administer all medications, and return for follow-up examinations as directed by your veterinarian.
It is important to disinfect contaminated areas by cleaning food and water bowls and other contaminated items with a mixture of one cup of chlorine bleach to a gallon of water.
Fortunately, canine distemper is preventable. Puppies should receive a series of vaccinations beginning when they are six to eight weeks old and repeated at three to four week intervals until a high state of immunity is achieved, usually around 16 to 20 weeks of age. Vaccines are then usually repeated on annual basis for several more years to maintain the dog’s immunity to the virus.
Until your puppy is vaccinated, keep him away from areas where he may be exposed to the virus, like parks or kennels. Keep him away from other dogs that may not have been vaccinated.
In-depth Information on Distemper Virus in Dogs
Canine distemper virus (CDV) causes a highly contagious disease of dogs and also affects other species such as the fox, coyote, wolf, ferret, skunk, and raccoon. The incidence of disease is greatest in young dogs three to six months of age. Young dogs are most susceptible because the protection against distemper that is passed on from mother to newborn has decreased or disappeared by 9 to12 weeks of age.
Distemper is caused by a virus similar to the one that causes measles in people. It is transmitted through the air via droplets originating from many bodily fluids of an infected animal. Because the virus does not affect people or cats, there is no concern for dogs transmitting it to these species.
Different stages of the disease are associated with various clinical signs, usually involving some combination of the respiratory and/or gastrointestinal tract signs in the early stages, and the nervous system several weeks later. Not all stages occur in all dogs. Distemper is much less common than it was years ago, prior to the introduction of the distemper vaccination. The prognosis for dogs with distemper ranges from good to guarded. Some patients recover; some patients recover but have additional manifestations of the disease later in life; some dogs die from the disease or have such severe persistent signs that they must be euthanized.
Several diseases and disorders can appear similar to canine distemper.
The respiratory form of canine distemper must be differentiated from the following:
The gastrointestinal (GI) form of canine distemper must be differentiated from the following:
The central nervous system (CNS) form of canine distemper must be differentiated from the following:
In-depth Information on Diagnosis of Canine Distemper
Certain diagnostic tests must be performed for a definitive diagnosis of canine distemper and to exclude other disease processes that may cause similar symptoms. A complete history (vaccination status, travel pattern, environment, etc.), description of clinical signs, and thorough physical examination are all important to obtaining a diagnosis.
There are certain characteristic changes that may be apparent on the physical examination that lead to a presumptive diagnosis of canine distemper. These include the following:
The following tests are recommended to confirm a diagnosis:
Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to exclude or diagnose concurrent conditions. These tests are not always necessary in every case; however, they may be of benefit in certain individuals and are selected on a case-by-case basis. These include the following:
In-depth Information on Therapy
Dogs with distemper may need to be hospitalized and must always be kept in isolation to prevent infection of other dogs. Therapy is mainly supportive and symptomatic, as there are no antiviral drugs that are effective against distemper. Because there are several clinical manifestations of distemper, there is no single treatment plan that can be recommended for all dogs. The pet owner whose dog has distemper should also understand that even with the best of care, up to 50 percent of dogs infected with canine distemper succumb to the disease.
Follow-up Care for Dogs with Distemper Virus
Optimal treatment for your dogs requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not rapidly improve.