The Dangers of Distemper
Those of you that follow SlimDoggy know of our dog Tino and if you’ve read Tino’s Tale of Tails you would know the story of his rescue and the fact that he had distemper when we first got him. He was one of the lucky ones, his brother Bernie who we also rescued wasn’t so lucky and he died from the disease. We knew the odds weren’t great since the disease has about a 50% mortality.
Distemper is a highly contagious virus spread through the respiratory system. The virus is shed by infectious dogs in all bodily secretions, so any contact with infected animals is potentially dangerous. Distemper is the leading cause of infectious disease death in dogs. It also strikes raccoons, wolves, foxes, skunks as well as the common house pet, the ferret.
Early vaccinations will prevent puppies from contracting the disease, but if not immunized or without the full course of treatment, they are left vulnerable. We believe that Tino & Bernie were abandoned at an early age and were probably not vaccinated. They lived in open wilderness area rampant with coyotes, racoons and other wildlife, so it’s no surprise they contracted distemper.
The vet immediately recognized distemper’s initial signs in Tino & Bernie – lethargy and a runny discharge from the eyes and nose. Their fever was also high – over 103. The typical course of the disease after the initial fever is to spike a 2nd fever accompanied by the discharge which eventually turns thick and mucusy. They may also develop pus filled sores on the stomach, nausea, diarrhea and a dry hacking cough.
The symptoms may abate and return over time as the disease runs it’s course. Eventually, in severe cases it attacks the gastrointestinal & nervous systems of the dog and the dog may develop seizures and die.
There is no cure for distemper although dogs with it should be seen by a veterinarian and treated with antibiotics to prevent other bacterial infections from taking hold. They may also be feed intravenously and given fluids. The course of the disease is 4-6 weeks, if the dog survives.
There is a certain strain of distemper that causes the dogs to develop “hard pads” a thickening of the skin on their feet and/or their noses.
We rescued Tino & Bernie in the initial stages of the disease and they followed the text book progression pretty closely. We monitored them closely, taking their temperature, applying eye drops and nose drops daily, just trying to treat their symptoms and keep them comfortable. They spent a couple of nights at the vets getting fluids through IV, but then took a turn for the better and we were allowed to bring them home. There were good days and bad days. Some days Tino wouldn’t eat and some he was starving and ate voraciously. Bernie was always much stronger than Tino and we thought for sure if either of them made it, it would be him, but that was not the case. During their 5th week with us, Bernie took a turn for the worse and started having mini-seizures. We knew that was a sure sign the disease had hit his brain. Even though we had never given a thought to euthanization, we knew Bernie was beyond recovery at that point.
Surprisingly, shortly after Bernie left us, Tino began to improve and made a full recovery with no ill effects other than a slight hard pad thickening effect on his nose. He went on to live another 13 years with us and died peacefully from old age under his favorite tree in our backyard.
Distemper may be uncommon due to advancements in vaccinations, but it can still happen. Puppies are especially vulnerable, so it’s imperative to keep them away from possible sources of the disease until fully immunized. The following resources provide additional advice on keeping your dog safe.
I’m joining BlogPaws in celebrating Pet Health Awareness Month. The Hop will be running all month long.