Canine Distemper (Hondesiekte)
The disease, caused by a Paramyxovirus is highly contagious and potentially lethal. It causes severe illness in dogs by attacking multiple body systems, resulting in a widespread infection that is difficult to treat.
How Is Canine Distemper Spread?
The virus is spread through the air and by direct or indirect (i.e. utensils, bedding) contact with an infected animal or through the placenta. The virus does not survive long in the environment and can be destroyed by most disinfectants. Distemper-infected dogs can shed the virus for up to several months, putting dogs around them at risk.
What Are the Symptoms of Canine Distemper?
Distemper dogs experience a wide range of symptoms depending on how advanced the disease is in their bodies.
- Clear nasal discharge
- Yellow/green eye discharge
If a dog infected with distemper survives the acute stage of the illness, he may also develop hyperkeratosis (hardening) of the paw pads and nose, which gives distemper the nickname “hard pad disease.” This is painful and uncomfortable.
Some dogs develop neurological signs as the disease progresses and attacks the central nervous system.
- Head tilt
- Partial or full paralysis
- Nystagmus (repetitive eye movements)
- Muscle twitching
- Convulsions with increased salivation and chewing motions
Treatment of Canine Distemper
There is no cure for canine distemper. Veterinarians diagnose distemper through a combination of clinical signs and diagnostic tests. Once diagnosed, care is purely supportive. Treatment focuses on minimizing diarrhoea, vomiting, neurological symptoms and dehydration, and to prevent secondary infections. Most vets recommend that dogs be hospitalized and separated from other dogs to prevent the spread of infection.
The survival rate and length of infection depend on the strain of the virus and on the strength of the dog’s immune system. Some cases resolve as quickly as 10 days. Other cases may exhibit neurological symptoms for weeks and even months afterward.
Preventing Canine Distemper
- Make sure your puppy gets the full series of distemper vaccinations and that distemper vaccinations are kept up-to-date throughout your dog’s life.
- Immediate isolation of infected animals.
- Be careful socializing your puppy or unvaccinated dog, especially in areas where dogs congregate, like dog parks, classes, and doggy daycare.
- By following these steps, you can keep your dog safe from distemper. If you have more questions about distemper in dogs, talk to your veterinarian, and call your vet immediately if you suspect your dog might be showing symptoms of distemper.