All About the Risks of Canine Distemper to Dogs

Canine Distemper Dog

Canine distemper is a serious viral disease that can absolutely be fatal. In the past, it used to kill off entire packs of dogs. It affects the nervous system as well as other parts of the body and bears a close similarity to the measles virus in humans. 

Although quite rare these days, thanks to highly effective vaccinations, it still poses a threat in certain circumstances and is highly contagious. Sneezing and coughing can spread the virus between dogs over very short distances. 

Read on for everything you need to know about canine distemper.

What is Canine Distemper in Dogs?

Along with the nervous system, canine distemper affects the respiratory, and gastrointestinal organs of dogs. As with parvo in dogs, unvaccinated dogs and puppies as well as those that haven’t fully completed their vaccinations are most at risk.

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Distemper doesn’t only affect dogs. Infected wild animals like wolves, ferrets, and foxes can also get sick and pass on the virus to dogs. The best way to stop distemper in dogs is through a core vaccination series administered by a vet.

What Are the Symptoms of Canine Distemper?

Dogs with canine distemper often display a yellowy-green-colored eye discharge in the first instance. This gets followed up with other symptoms that include:

Some dogs may only seem to be suffering from a minor cold with eye and nasal discharge. It’s also not unheard of for others to initially display no issues at all. As the disease takes hold, other symptoms can include:

  • Tremors, seizures, and paralysis
  • Chewing motions 
  • Crusting of the footpads and nasal area
  • Very severe diarrhea and vomiting

Some strains of the virus can lead to abnormal thickening and enlargement of the foot pads and occasionally the nose as well. This is why you may hear canine distemper called hard pad or footpad disease.

Many other diseases and conditions can cause diarrhea and vomiting. Others may lead to similar respiratory and neurological symptoms. 

However, it’s important to remember that there are very few diseases that can cause all these kinds of problems at the same time. If you see several of the symptoms simultaneously, you should take it very seriously indeed and treat it as an emergency.

How to Treat Distemper in Dogs and Puppies

While there is no specific cure for distemper, treatment is made up of supportive care that will depend on a dog’s symptoms. Typical treatments include:

Gastrointestinal Support 

The plan will be to curtail severe diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration. A vet may use intravenous fluid therapy, anti-vomiting medications as well as antibiotics to protect against secondary, opportunistic bacterial infections.

Respiratory Support for Severe Pneumonia

Lots of dogs with canine distemper will struggle to breathe properly and suffer from severe bouts of coughing. These symptoms can be life-threatening. It may be necessary to administer oxygen therapy along with antibiotics, and a period of hospitalization.

Neurological Support for Seizures

Seizures can last a few minutes. That can cause irreversible brain damage and death. Dogs who suffer seizures are likely to need hospitalization as well as anti-seizure medications.

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Do Dogs Ever Recover From Distemper?

Although it’s possible for dogs to survive distemper, they may develop challenging nervous system problems for the rest of their lives. Adult dogs have a better chance of survival compared with puppies.

Distemper can lead to muscle twitches and chronic seizures. Neurologic symptoms may only start to display themselves several weeks or even months after a dog became infected with distemper.

Dogs with distemper are usually contagious for at least 2 weeks. It is vital that they stay totally isolated from other animals. Dogs with neurological issues can be infectious for several months.

There is no evidence that humans can become infected with canine distemper. It’s worth remembering that ferrets can be at risk of being infected with the canine distemper virus. They should get vaccinated to prevent infection. 

How Do I Prevent My Dog From Getting Infected?

The good news is there are highly effective vaccines that protect dogs from this often deadly disease. Puppies get protection when they receive other routine vaccines at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. 

Adult dogs should get extra distemper boosters every 1-3  years. This will depend on which vaccine gets used. Your vet will help you decide how often your dog needs to get the booster vaccine.

Are There Any Side Effects From the Distemper Vaccine?

Vaccines stimulate the immune system for effective protection against all sorts of diseases. The majority of dogs get no side effects from vaccination. Some dogs can feel a bit sore around the part of the body where they received the injection. They may also experience a mild fever.

In rare instances, allergic reactions such as facial swelling, diarrhea, vomiting, or even collapse can happen. If you have concerns talk to a vet about the benefits and risks associated with vaccines. 

How Common is Distemper?

Although you may see instances of canine distemper almost anywhere in the world, the use of vaccines means it is far less common than it was a few decades ago. You’ll find it more often in places with lower-than-usual vaccination rates and where there are roaming packs of stray dogs. 

The virus can continue living in recovered carrier dogs and wildlife. It is vital we carry on vaccinating our dogs to stop canine distemper from returning as a big killer of dogs.

Talk to a Vet if You Have Concerns About Canine Distemper

If you think your dog or even a stray dog you’ve seen may have contracted canine distemper, you should contact a vet.

Some symptoms are similar to those that other conditions present but it is always wise to get expert advice if you are unsure about canine distemper or footpad disease.
We have a team of highly-qualified vets available to give you help and advice. Book a timeslot with one of the team today.

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