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Distemper in dogs: symptoms and treatment


Your dog’s health is paramount. That is why if you have a dog or you are thinking of getting one, you should know the different canine diseases that can affect it to know how to prevent them and not get a good scare. One of these diseases is distemper in dogs, also known as Distemper. This disease is no joke, as it is a very dangerous and extremely contagious virus that causes high mortality.

In our mini breed dog kennel in Las Almenas this is a disease that we have to be very vigilant about, as it mainly affects puppies, although it also occurs in elderly or adult dogs that have not been vaccinated.

Fortunately, distemper in dogs can be prevented by vaccination, as there is a specific vaccine to prevent the development of the virus.

If you want to know what is distemper in dogs, what are its symptoms and effects or how it is diagnosed and treated, keep reading this complete article that we have prepared from Las Almenas.



What is distemper in dogs?

Canine distemper, as we have already advanced, is a very dangerous virus, since it affects the nervous, respiratory and digestive systems, in addition to the optic nerves and can cause the death of the animal or leave it with sequelae.

Regarding the transmission of distemper in dogs, it is important to take into account that this virus is released through the dog’s body secretions, including water and food consumed. The contagion generally occurs by inhalation of the viral particles found in the environment in the form of an aerosol. In other words, a sick dog can be contagious even in open spaces.

However, do not fear for your health or that of your family because distemper in dogs does not spread to people, although it can occur among other animals.


Vaccinations for puppies

Annual vaccination of dogs protects against canine distemper virus, although it is not 100% effective. So if you follow the vaccination schedule, it is unlikely that your dog will suffer from distemper disease.

The most prone to contract this virus are puppies between 6 and 12 weeks of life because the mother’s milk, in this period, no longer contains so many antibodies. Also dogs with a weak immune system due to other pathologies or malnutrition are more susceptible to get sick, despite being vaccinated.

However, there is also a high percentage of dogs that are infected by the distemper virus, but do not show any signs or symptoms. This is because they are healthy, well-fed dogs, whose immune system has more defenses.

The first vaccine against distemper in dogs should be administered after weaning. At Las Almenas we do not give any puppy until it has been vaccinated so that when it moves to its new home and is exposed to other dogs, it is already protected. Generally this first distemper vaccination in dogs is given at five to six weeks of age, using a trivalent distemper-measles-parainfluenza vaccine.

The reason for administering the distemper vaccine in dogs with the measles vaccine is that the two viruses are very similar and complement each other, making it more effective in prevention.

An annual revaccination is now recommended to make sure your dog does not contract distemper.



What are the symptoms of canine distemper?

The distemper virus in dogs is an immunosuppressive virus. This means that it attacks the dog’s immune system. This is why the disease can take different forms, as well as producing secondary infections and complications.

The virus especially attacks brain and skin cells, as well as connective tissue, the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and the gastrointestinal tract.

In general, 3 to 6 days after infection is when you can start to see the first symptoms of distemper in dogs. Therefore, you should pay attention to certain signs that are not normal in your dog and consult your veterinarian in case of doubt.

-Transient fever and anorexia.

These are the first symptoms you may notice. On the one hand, your dog will have a poor appetite accompanied by fever that may exceed 39 ºC. This fever peak will disappear. Be careful because you may think that the dog is already healthy, but it does not have to be so.

-Nasal and ocular discharge.

After the dog seems to be well, the fever appears again, this time accompanied by a watery or pus-filled nasal discharge and ocular discharge, i.e. conjunctivitis. You may notice that the dog is very tired and unwilling to play or go out.

-Vomiting and diarrhea.

Next, gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea will appear.

-Respiratory problems.

Along with gastrointestinal problems, distemper in dogs also causes shortness of breath, coughing and other secondary and opportunistic bacterial infections that attack in the face of a weakened immune system.

-Skin lesions.

It is possible that due to the distemper virus in dogs appear red lesions on the skin, known as pustular dermatitis.

Hyperkeratosis may occur on the plantar pads or nasal epithelium, which is a form of distemper in dogs that produces a thick, hardened coating on the nose and also calluses on the paw pads.

-Neurological problems.

With the evolution of the disease, two or three weeks after the contagion of the distemper virus in dogs, you may begin to notice some neurological signs in your dog. This is the case of involuntary muscle contractions or convulsions (similar to epileptic seizures), salivation or drooling, jaw movements, head tilt and even paralysis of some areas of his body.


How can I tell if my dog has distemper?

The symptoms we have discussed are not always noticeable when distemper is contracted in dogs. There are some characteristic symptoms of the disease that are also present in other pathologies. And there are also cases in which the most characteristic symptoms do not appear until the disease has already advanced.

Therefore, if in doubt, you should visit your veterinarian to evaluate your dog and do a check-up and tests to see if he has contracted this disease. To make an accurate diagnosis, it will be necessary to perform specific tests to confirm the presence of the distemper virus in dogs.


What is the treatment for distemper in dogs?

There is no treatment to cure the disease and eliminate the virus once it has occurred. What your veterinarian can do is try to prevent secondary bacterial infections, although this has no effect on the distemper virus in dogs.  Broad-spectrum antibiotics will be necessary for this.

In addition to antibiotics, treatment of distemper in dogs is completed with intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, medication to prevent vomiting and diarrhea, and anticonvulsants and sedatives to control seizures and pain.

In the most severe cases, the veterinarian will assess the possible hospitalization of the dog in order to administer intravenous fluids and drugs and keep him under surveillance.

As for the sequelae of canine distemper, it is important to know that dogs that survive may have some permanent complications, usually related to the nervous system, such as seizures or problems to move and control the movement of their paws.


The importance of acting as soon as possible

As you can see, the speed with which you go to the vet will be decisive in the results of the treatment. But also the success of the treatment will depend on the virulence of the contracted strain, the age of the dog, if its immune response against the virus is fast and effective, and above all, if it is up to date with its vaccination.

From Las Almenas we want to insist on the importance of going to the vet if you have any doubt about your dog’s health. Only the veterinarian has the power to prescribe treatments and make diagnoses.

However, if you want to leave us a comment, we invite you to write at the end of this article or through our profiles on Facebook, Instagram or our Las Almenas YouTube channel.

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