Canine distemper

Canine distemper

Canine distemper is a feared dog disease that can prove fatal. It is a viral disease caused by a member of the virus genus Morbillivirus. This virus can not only attack members of the familiy Canidae (dogs, wolves, foxes, coyotes, dingoes, jackals and lycaons), but Mustelidae (weasels), Mustelidae (skunks), and Procyonidae (raccoons) as well. It might also be capable of infecting certain members of the cat family Felidae, but has not been seen in domestic cats. Feline distemper, a disease affecting domestic cats, is caused by a different virus.

Canine distemper transmission

The canine distemper virus (CDV) is highly contagious and spread through the air. It can also be spread via infected bodily fluids, and is sometimes spread through water and food that has been contaminated with such fluids. The incubation time is normally 14-18 days, but can be as short as 3-6 days.  

Canine distemper symptoms in dogs

The canine distemper virus (CDV) targets lymphoid, epithelial and nervous tissue cells, and can therefore cause a long row of symptoms. This disease is fairly often the cause of encephalitis with demyelination, interstitial pneumonia, and hyperkeratosis of the foot pads of the dog. By attacking the lymphoid, the virus weakens the immune system of the dog and makes it prone to a wide range of secondary infections. These are a few examples of symptoms that can be caused by canine distemper:

Discharge from the nose
Dullness of the eye
Redness of the eye
Tooth enamel hypoplasia
Thickened footpads
Loss of appetite
Loss of energy
Weight loss  

Canine distemper diagnosis

If the symptoms are not enough to make a clear diagnosis, the veterinarian can search for the virus in the dog's conjunctival cells to obtain a definitive diagnosis.

Canine distemper prevention

The best way of preventing canine distemper is to have your dog vaccinated. There exists a selection of vaccines that will protect dogs as well as other animals, including domestic ferrets, from canine distemper and having your pet vaccinated is strongly recommended. In many countries, it is even mandatory. Keep in mind that there is no specific treatment for canine distemper once your dog is infected; the vet can only milder the symptoms and treat secondary infections, and a lot of dogs die from canine distemper each year. It is important to have a qualified veterinarian select the vaccine for you, because if you get a vaccine type that is not approved for use on dogs it can make your dog ill instead of protecting it.

When a dog or any other animal develops canine distemper, it should be quarantined. In many countries, not quarantining your dog will be illegal.

Disinfectants and detergents will kill the canine distemper virus, and so will drying out. This virus cannot survive more than a few hours at room temperature (20-25° C). It can however survive for several weeks outdoors where the temperature is slightly above freezing.

Canine distemper treatment

There is no specific cure for canine distemper and the vet can only focus on trying to milder the symptoms in your dog and preventing dehydration. Infected dogs are normally given intravenous fluids and nutritional supplements. The vet can also use antibiotics to treat secondary infections. Even when provided with qualified vet care, many dogs die from canine distemper

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