Distemper in the Dog

Distemper is one of the most well-known and feared infectious diseases in dogs. Read all about the transmission, symptoms, and treatment of distemper in dogs here.

Distemper is a contagious, feverish viral infectious disease that can hit young, old, and unvaccinated dogs particularly hard. In many cases, it ends fatally or with long-term consequences.

How Does a Dog Get Distemper?

Dogs infected with distemper excrete the pathogen, the canine distemper virus, with all excretions and secretions. If another dog comes into contact with the saliva, faeces or urine of the sick animal, it is infected. However, transmission can not only take place through oral, direct contact, but also through mere inhalation of the virus.

What happens if a dog is infected?

If a dog has ingested the canine distemper virus, it gets into the lymphatic tissue of the throat or into the lymph nodes and multiplies there. After three to four days, the pathogens are released into the blood. If the dog does not produce enough antibodies, the virus is quickly spread throughout the body and reaches the dog’s respiratory, digestive and urogenital tracts as well as the skin, glands and finally the central nervous system.

Symptoms of distemper

Depending on the dog’s immune system, a distemper infection can be harmless or life-threatening. Young dogs between three and six months old, old, sick and unvaccinated dogs are particularly at risk.

After an incubation period of three to seven days, infected dogs show the first symptoms. The signs of illness then begin very quickly with a high fever, hair loss, loss of appetite and exhaustion through to inability to move and apathy.

Depending on which organs are affected and whether there is also a secondary infection, dogs can show other symptoms. These include:

  • intestinal form (gastrointestinal tract affected): vomiting, diarrhea
  • Respiratory form (breathing apparatus affected): sneezing, coughing, eye/nasal discharge, shortness of breath, conjunctivitis, pneumonia
  • Neurological form (nervous system affected): spasms, muscle tremors, head tilt, disturbance of the central nervous system
  • Cutaneous form (skin affected): skin inflammation, hyperkeratosis (excessive keratinization of the skin, for example on the pads of the feet or the nose)
  • These forms can occur individually, together or one after the other. The neurological form is one of the most dreaded forms because it can cause brain damage leading to mental changes, tremors, paralysis, seizures and balance problems. Meningitis can also occur.

Dental problems in distemper

If a puppy gets infected with distemper before the change of teeth, the formation of the tooth enamel will be affected. This malformation is called “distemper teeth”.

Diagnosis and prognosis in distemper

If you have any suspicious symptoms, take your dog to the vet immediately. He will examine the dog thoroughly. The distemper virus can usually be diagnosed through the medical history in conjunction with a swab of the mucous membranes or a blood test.

It is difficult to make a prognosis because distemper is different for every dog. However, it can be said that the chances of recovery are the worst for the neurological and cutaneous forms of distemper.

Treatment: Can distemper be cured?

Treatment of distemper aims to relieve symptoms and prevent further infection. These so-called secondary infections can occur because the dog’s immune system is weakened by distemper. They usually worsen the condition of the dog and should therefore be prevented. This is often done with antibiotics.

The symptomatic treatment depends entirely on the respective symptoms of the dog. For example, medicines for coughing, vomiting or diarrhea as well as vitamin preparations to strengthen the immune system are possible. Dogs with distemper usually need to be hospitalized.

There is therefore no direct cure for distemper, but dogs can recover with symptomatic treatment and prevention of secondary infection.

Late effects of distemper in dogs

Dogs that have survived a distemper infection and recovered can still suffer from the effects of the virus. Late effects can be, for example:

  • Impairment of the gastrointestinal tract, heart or lungs
  • Damage to the eyes (in extreme cases, blindness is also possible)
  • Twitches (distemper tick), motor disorders
  • epileptic seizures

Vaccinate dog against distemper

The only effective way to counteract distemper is vaccination. The distemper vaccination is one of the five most important vaccinations for dogs. The basic immunization should take place in the eighth week of life, followed by the booster vaccination in the twelfth to sixteenth week. The vaccination protection must be refreshed annually.

You can also make sure that your dog does not ingest carrion and excrement, does not drink from puddles, and does not sniff around in the undergrowth unsupervised. This can be particularly important for puppies, old and sick dogs. Vaccination is the only effective way to prevent distemper.

Already knew? Other animals such as cats, foxes, bears, seals, and martens can also get distemper.

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