Risks and Prevention of Distemper in Dogs

Canine distemper, also referred to as CDV, is a highly contagious virus transmitted among dogs. It is caused by the paramyxovirus, which is closely related to the measles virus in people. Distemper is alarming because so many of the dog's internal structures are at risk. Distemper in dogs can multiply and affect the central nervous, respiratory and digestive systems simultaneously.

Dogs infected with distemper are susceptible to eye infections. These can lead to blindness if left untreated. Distemper in dogs also creates a hardening of the nose and foot pads. Finally, many dogs have damaged tooth enamel from distemper. Worst of all, this tragic illness is almost always fatal.

Symptoms of Distemper in Dogs

There are several symptoms of distemper in dogs. Some are early warning signs, while others are specific to the internal systems that may be affected. Intestinal and respiratory distemper symptoms are:

  • High fever, ranging from 103 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Poor appetite
  • Depression
  • Cough
  • Oozing, inflamed eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Pneumonia

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Central nervous system distemper symptoms are:

  • Seizures and muscle twitching
  • Loss of mental abilities
  • Poor motor skills
  • Full or partial paralysis
  • Sensitivity to touch

The first signs of distemper in dogs are a yellow-gray discharge from the nose and eyes. Dogs with canine distemper become extremely fatigued, develop a deep, dry cough and run a high fever. As the illness progresses, loss of appetite, dog vomiting and dog diarrhea begin. Convulsions are not uncommon as distemper makes its way through the central nervous system.

Treatment and Prevention of Distemper

Distemper symptoms are treated in a variety of ways. Researchers have not currently developed a cure for the illness, so easing the discomfort of symptoms is the best course of action. Dog owners can offer several supportive treatments that will soothe their pets:

  • Provide a clean, comfortable environment.
  • Protect the eyes and nose from congestive buildup.
  • Keep the dog hydrated.
  • Provide anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications if necessary.
  • Use antibiotics and bronchodilators if required.
  • Give anti-seizure medicine to ease convulsions.
  • Keep the dog as comfortable as possible.

It is always a good idea to sterilize surfaces a sick dog has touched. A solution of bleach and water is recommended for this purpose. Mix 1 part bleach to 20 parts water. Dogs with distemper should also be quarantined so that other dogs do not become exposed to the illness. A veterinarian will be able to help determine when and if the dog is well enough to leave isolation.

The best way to prevent dogs from getting distemper is to give them distemper vaccines. Puppies will be vaccinated when they receive their first shots between 6 and 8 weeks. They should also get 2 booster shots by the time they are 16 weeks old. Older dogs need to receive distemper vaccines every year. Since there isn't a cure for this devastating illness, prevention is extremely important.