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Protect your dog from deadly distemper

Protect your dog from deadly distemper

by Susan Wyatt


Posted on April 18, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 9 at 4:12 PM

King County Animal Control officials announced Friday morning they suspect that distemper is to blame for a large increase in sick raccoons. They urged to keep their dog bowls inside and make sure their dogs are up to date on their distemper shots.

Dr. Cary Waterhouse of Lake Union Veterinary Clinic says while distemper CAN be treated, the prognosis is pretty lousy.  Fifty percent developing signs will die, and nearly 100 percent with neurologic signs will never recover.

Dr. waterhouse offers the following tips:
• Canine distemper is a viral disease. Transmission is through airborne/droplet exposure via nasal and oral secretions (coughing, sneezing, drinking water sources).
• The virus spreads through the bloodstream to lymph nodes, usually infecting all lymphatic tissue within 1 week.  It then spreads to lining of the GI, respiratory, and urinary tracts, and to the nervous system.
• Fever in an infected animal may be noted for 1-2 days.
• Without sufficient immune response (unvaccinated dogs), infected dogs will die 2-4 weeks after infection.
• Dogs, foxes, raccoons, skunks, ferrets seem to be infected.  House cats are immune, but outbreaks have been reported in large cats (zoos in California).

What to look for:
• Fever 3-6 days after infection, usually passes unnoticed
• Second fever episode several days after the 1st, usually associated with eye + nose discharge, depression, loss of appetite.
• Secondary bacterial infection in the respiratory and GI tract usually follows.
• In the nervous system (depending on the strain of the virus), seizures, depression, incoordination, tremors can be seen.

What to do:
• VACCINATE. Nearly 100% effective in preventing disease. Puppies should be vaccinated every 3-4 weeks starting at 6 weeks of age and continuing to 16 weeks of age.  An annual booster, then boosters every 3 years are recommended.  Your veterinarian can also check distemper virus antibody levels to see if a booster vaccine is needed (this is controversial, talk with your veterinarian!).  Since this virus cannot be controlled with any of the antiviral drugs available, cure is 100% dependant on the patient's immune system (hence the importance of vaccination!).  Veterinarians can support the pet and administer medications to clear the secondary (bacterial) infections, but nothing has been shown effective to rid a dog of the virus. 
• Seek veterinary advice immediately if you notice signs of distemper virus.
• Do not allow dogs and raccoons to share water sources, bowls, food, etc. 
• Unfortunately, mortality in dogs showing signs of this disease is about 50%.  Once neurologic signs become evident, most will never recover.
• Finally, dogs that appear to recover from the non-neurologic form of the disease may develop fatal neurologic signs later.