If you are a dog owner, canine distemper should be one of your greatest fears. Canine distemper is a viral disease, which is contagious and has no known cure. Non-immunized older dogs and young unvaccinated puppies (in the age range of 3-6 months) are more likely to be victims of this dreaded disease. The disease is dispersed through contact with infected body fluids, and water and food contaminated with these fluids.
The symptoms of the disease include high fever, watery discharge from the eyes and the nose, dehydration, excessive salivation and reddened eyes. In some cases vomiting, coughing and diarrhoea are also observed. The dog becomes lethargic and easily tires. Fever recedes within 3-4 days and again returns around the 12th day and lasts for about a week. The disease progresses as the virus starts attacking the nervous system of the dog which would leave the dog suffering from seizures, paralysis and attacks of hysteria. Incontinence is also seen when the nervous system is affected. A thickening of the footpads is also seen in some dogs and hence the disease is sometimes also called as “hard pad disease”. The vet would base his diagnosis on biochemical and urine analysis tests.
With no specific treatments available for canine distemper, the vet would start a series of treatments aimed at controlling the symptoms of the disease. These would include intravenous fluid therapy to control dehydration brought about by diarrhoea, infections are controlled by antibiotics while fits and seizures are controlled by the use of phenobarbitals and potassium bromide. Chances of recovery from canine distemper depend upon the strain of virus and the strength of the immune system of the dog. Full recovery is possible and such dogs do not act as a reservoir or disperser of the virus. Such dogs however may be susceptible to seizures for a couple of months after recovery.
The occurrence of the disease has dramatically come down with the introduction of vaccines. The presence of a large number of strays, which are not vaccinated help the virus spread. To make matters worse, pet owners do not follow proper vaccination schedules. The correct procedure is for puppies to be vaccinated between six to eight weeks of age and then to be given booster shots every two weeks until they are 16 weeks of age. The problem arises when pet owners fail to have these booster shots given to the puppies and thus make them susceptible to the disease. Vaccinations themselves rarely cause the disease and this occurs when vaccines meant for a particular animal are used for another.
Prevention is achieved by strictly following the vaccination schedule. The infected dog may be isolated and kept in quarantine and other dogs should not be allowed to come in contact with the infected dog and its utensils. Newborn puppies should be accorded special protection from exposure, as at that age they are most vulnerable to the disease.