Distemper in dogs is a very contagious and serious illness in dogs. It has no known cure and is a viral illness.
It affects not only dogs but wildlife also, meaning your dog could be at a serious risk of infection. It is known to affect foxes, ferrets and other small rodent-like wild animals. The virus belongs to the morbillivirus family and is a close relative to measles in humans and the rinderpest virus in cattle.
Young puppies are most at risk to picking up distemper, along with older dogs. The virus is spread through the air and by indirect or direct contact. The initial attack is usually on a dog’s tonsils or lymph nodes.
As mentioned above your dog will first feel pain in their tonsils and lymph nodes. The virus, after a small period, will replicate itself before moving onto other areas of your pet. Next the virus will move to the urogenital, gastrointestinal, respiratory and nervous systems.
The initial stages of the disease includes a high fever, of over 39.7 degrees, reddened eyes and watery discharge from the dog’s eyes and nose. An infected dog will also be obviously lacking energy, tires and could even become anorexic.
Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and persistent coughing. The later stages of the virus will see other parts of the dog becoming badly affected, especially the nervous system. This may result in your dog suffering from seizures, paralysis, fits and fits of hysteria.
The virus can also cause the enlargement or thickening of your dog’s foot pads. Animals with weakened immune systems at the time of infection could die within two weeks of infection.
The disease can be picked up directly or indirectly. Any sort of contact with an infected animal can result in your dog becoming ill. The virus can also be picked up from the air, making it very dangerous indeed.
The disease can also be picked up from vaccines, which have been improperly attenuated. Animals with bacterial infections also have an increased chance of contracting the virus.
To diagnose distemper a range of biochemical tests are carried out, along with urine analysis of the dog. If a lower number of lymphocytes are found, it may mean your dog has the disease. A serology test can also be used to test for related antibodies to the disease.
Haired skin and mucous from nasal passages is another way to test for antibodies relating to the virus.
As mentioned there is no official cure for canine distemper. Treatment, therefore, is focused on reducing the symptoms. Intravenous fluids may be given to your pet, should it develop diarrhea or even worse anorexia.
Any discharge from the nasal passages, mouth or eyes must be cleaned away on a regular basis. Antibiotics will also be prescribed to help fight other secondary infections your animal may have picked up. Phenobarbitals and potassium bromide meanwhile are sometimes given to help control fits and seizures in animals.
There is currently no antiviral treatment available to fight the virus. A dog’s chances of survival is based on which strain of the virus it is infected by. Though there is no cure, recovery can be achieved through constant care and monitoring. Any dog who makes a full recovery, is not a carrier of the virus.