Vaccinate, before it is too latePublished 2:49pm Monday, October 18, 2010
He was standing in the road. Cars dodging him. Finally, a good Samaritan stopped and picked him up. He was a sweet pup, maybe 12 weeks old or so. Grateful for the help, but just a little off.
The folks that picked him up were willing to keep him, if he could be fixed. Unfortunately that was not to be. This puppy with no name had canine distemper.
Canine distemper is a highly contagious, serious disease. The virus attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system of dogs, wild canids, raccoons, skunks, ferrets and sea lions. It is extremely dangerous in puppies.
Outbreaks are serious. We have not seen a lot of canine distemper in the past decade. It does occur in the wild population and is a major reason why we do not treat raccoons. Unvaccinated dogs and puppies that come in contact with wild animals or infected dogs are at risk from the airborne virus.
The first sign of distemper infection is often an eye discharge. After that they can run a fever, have a snotty nose or cough. Infected animals often have lethargy, diminished appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.
Later in the course of the disease, the virus can invade the nervous system. This may show up as twitching, seizures, partial or complete paralysis. If the dog does not die in these stages, the footpads and nose may harden. The old-timers used to call this hardpad disease. Even dogs that do not die may have permanent damage to the nervous system. From the AVMA: “Distemper is so serious and the signs so varied that any sick dog should be taken to a veterinarian for an examination and diagnosis.”
Veterinarians use the clinical appearance and laboratory tests to diagnose distemper. There is no specific drug to kill the virus in infected dogs. Treatment is mostly to treat the symptoms and prevent secondary problems and infections. Treatment often doesn’t work. Any sick dog is a tremendous risk to other dogs and should be kept separated.
Since treatment is not very effective, it is important to vaccinate. From the AVMA: “Vaccination and avoiding contact with infected animals are key elements of canine distemper prevention.”
Puppies are very susceptible to infection. Mother’s immunity may block initial vaccine protection and a series of vaccinations should be given. Until this series is completed, it is best to avoid any potential sources of infection, like pet stores, dog parks, wild animals, puppy classes, doggy daycare and grooming. Any reputable establishment or training program will reduce exposure risk by requiring vaccinations and health exams and, of course, cleanliness and isolation of sick puppies and dogs.
Adult dogs need to have an up to date vaccine also. A colleague suggested that the lack of adult dog vaccinations may be why we are seeing a resurgence in distemper. Ask your veterinarian about a recommended program for your dog kid.
Mr. Never-to-be-named came in with the characteristic twitching of the mouth and head that is often called chewing gum seizures.
Before we could do anything, he went into a full grand mal seizure. Further investigation let us know that an entire litter had been euthanized for distemper a few days ago. At animal control’s request and in his best interest, this puppy was permanently put to sleep.
Although, I know it was in his best interest, I liked the decade without distemper better. Please, get your dogs vaccinated, before it is too late.
Dr. WIXSOM owns and practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. More info at www.Guardian Animal.com or 606 928-6566.