Protecting Your Dog from Canine Distemper
Canine distemper is an extremely contagious and dangerous viral illness in dogs that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system. Distemper affects dogs, pet ferrets, and wildlife, such as raccoons, foxes, coyotes, wolves, and more.
Puppies under 4 months old and dogs who have not been vaccinated are at risk for contracting canine distemper. Transmission generally occurs through airborne exposure (droplets due to coughing or sneezing), or by sharing food, water bowls, or other items with an infected animal. Mother dogs can also pass the virus to their puppies via the placenta.
Know the Signs
Canine distemper symptoms generally start with the respiratory system before progressing to gastrointestinal and neurological problems:
- Respiratory—Cough, nasal and eye discharge, fever
- Gastrointestinal—Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, dehydration, weight loss
- Neurological—Tremors of the head, neck, or legs, stumbling, seizures, paralysis
- Physical changes—An overgrowth of the footpads can occur, as well as teeth abnormalities in dogs who recover from the disease.
There is no cure for distemper, and treatment is largely supportive, including IV fluid support and medications to control vomiting, diarrhea, secondary infections, and neurologic symptoms. Distemper is often fatal and surviving dogs tend to suffer from some form of permanent damage to the nervous system.
Prevention of Canine Distemper
Canine distemper is not a happy topic, but the good news is that this disease is entirely preventable. A series of vaccinations beginning when puppies are 6 to 8 weeks old, followed by regularly scheduled booster vaccinations throughout life, can protect your dog from the devastating effects of the disease.
Other ways to avoid coming into contact with canine distemper include:
- Keep puppies and unvaccinated dogs away from areas where dogs congregate, such as dog parks, obedience classes, and doggy day care.
- Adhere to your pet’s vaccination schedule as recommended by your veterinarian.
- Pet ferrets can contract and spread distemper and should be vaccinated using a USDA-approved ferret vaccine.
- Avoid contact with infected animals, and prevent contact with wildlife.