Canine distemper is a serious disease that attacks the immune system, brain, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, skin and mucous membranes. The disease is similar to measles in humans. It is highly contagious and often fatal. It is the leading cause of infectious death in canines.
Canine distemper primarily strikes puppies between 6 and 12 weeks of age who have not been vaccinated. Therefore, vaccinating your puppy with the distemper shot is the main form of prevention. You can even do the vaccination yourself. There are pet supply stores online that can sell you the vaccine, such as Doctors Foster and Smith and Pets Truly.
After a puppy has been exposed to the distemper virus, it will typically begin to show signs of the disease within nine days. In mild cases, symptoms may not be present. Here are some of the most common symptoms of canine distemper:
- Gooey eyes
- Discharge from nose
- Chronic coughing that turns into pneumonia
- Jerky movements
Stages of canine distemper
Canine distemper occurs in several stages. The first stage is when the symptoms start to appear. The dog may have a fever of 103-105 degrees. There may be discharge coming from the eyes and nose. The dog may also lack appetite and energy. This stage is often mistaken for a cold.
Several days later, the discharge will become yellow and thick. The dog may develop pus blisters and a dry cough. The dog may also have frequent bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration.
In the next week or so, the dog will appear to recover and then get worse, as this is the point the dog is developing respiratory and gastrointestinal problems from the distemper virus.
The next stage occurs at 2-3 weeks after the symptoms first appeared. At this time, the brain has become inflamed, causing convulsions, seizures and constant jerking movements in the dog. The dog may also make chewing movements.
Canine distemper is highly infectious, so if you have other dogs, you may want to board them elsewhere while you are treating the infected dog. The distemper virus can be transmitted by coughing, and it is also shed through the nasal discharge, urine and defecation.
The distemper virus is fast-acting. It enters through the dog’s nose or mouth and starts replicating right away. After one day, the virus has attacked the dog’s lymph nodes. By day 6, the virus has attacked various organs, including the spleen, small intestine, stomach and liver. This is the point at which a fever starts to develop.
By the eighth day, the dog is fighting off the virus. How well this is accomplished depends on the dog’s immunity and whether the owner has caught the disease in time to start antibiotic treatment right away. This is a critical window of opportunity for the dog owner.
Even after the virus has been treated and removed from the organs, it can still hide out in the nervous system and skin. Because of this, symptoms such as seizures can possibly occur long after the virus has gone.
The prognosis depends on several factors, such as the strength of the distemper strain, the dog’s level of immunity, the age of the dog, whether or not it was vaccinated, and the dog owner’s ability to seek treatment quickly. Treatment, such as antibiotics, can be helpful if the disease is caught in time. Many forms of treatment are effective at treating the symptoms but not the disease itself. However, without treatment, canine distemper will likely be fatal.