What is Canine Distemper? Is your pet at risk?

What is distemper?

Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease of domestic dogs and other animals such as ferrets, skunks and raccoons. It is a contagious, incurable, often fatal, multisystemic viral disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. Distemper is caused by the canine distemper virus (CDV).


How is the disease spread?

The disease is spread mainly by direct contact.  Coughing and sneezing can spread the virus over short distances.  A  susceptible dog that comes in contact with another symptomatic dog or wildlife could be at risk of contacting the virus.


What are the clinical signs?

As with all infectious diseases, clinical signs can vary. The main clinical signs are diarrhea, vomiting, a thick yellow discharge from the eyes and nose, cough and eventually seizures and neurological signs. Dogs that recover from the disease are often left with persistent nervous muscle twitches (chorea) and recurrent seizures.


Are there other diseases causing similar signs?

There are many diseases that cause diarrhea and vomiting, several that cause similar respiratory and neurological signs, but few diseases that cause all of these at the same time.


What is the treatment?

As with most viral infections, there is no specific treatment. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, but do help in controlling the secondary bacterial infections that often occur with distemper. The treatment for distemper is aimed at helping reduce the signs and symptoms. This is accomplished with hospitalization providing rest and intensive nursing care, intravenous fluid therapy and symptomatic treatment for the vomiting, diarrhea, cough, etc.


How can I prevent my dog from becoming infected?

Fortunately we have highly effective vaccines to use. These are given to puppies along with other routine vaccines. Although in the majority of dogs the protection from initial vaccination may last more than a year, annual vaccinations are recommended because some dogs may be at higher risk for contracting the disease.


How common is distemper?

Canine distemper is seen worldwide but because of the widespread use of successful vaccines, it is much less common than it was in the 1970’s. The virus may persist in recovered carrier dogs and in wildlife such as skunks and raccoons.  Recently, local officials have reported an increase in the number of potentially infected wildlife in our area.  For this reason it is essential to continue annual vaccinations to prevent the spread of the distemper virus.


For additional information or concerns regarding your pet and the distemper virus, please contact our veterinary hospital at 979-266-7080.