Though the name itself might not be scary, canine distemper is perhaps one of the most frightening terms that a pet owner can hear. This condition is not only very contagious as it can certainly be spread easily any time you are around dogs, but it’s also one that’s likely to be fatal for your dog. Fortunately, canine distemper is also a condition that can be totally prevented as long as you are able to get your dog vaccinated.
What is Canine Distemper?
Canine distemper is a contagious viral illness that does not currently have a cure. Related to measles, it’s a disease that can absolutely spread like wildfire between dogs of all ages. If your dog hasn’t been vaccinated, he or she is definitely at risk of getting this disease— which some some pet insurance plans fortunately covers.
Symptoms of Canine Distemper
Distemper is a disease that’s incredibly hard to catch spreading because it has more than one infection vector. Not only does it spread through the air, but it also spreads by contact with other animals. It tends to first his the dog’s lymph nodes or tonsils before moving on to hit everything from your dog’s gastrointestinal system to his or her nervous system. As such, this is a condition that can have many symptoms, the earliest of which include:
- Lack of appetite
- Red eyes
- High fever
- Water discharge
As the disease progresses, though, your dog may suffer from issues as serious as seizures, hysteria, and paralysis. Canine distemper is best known, however, for causing your dog’s footpads to thicken – an issue that has led it to be called hard pad disease.
Given that there is no cure for this condition, death will inevitably follow somewhere between two to five weeks after your dog has been infected if he or she isn’t treated.
Treatment for Canine Distemper Virus
The hardest thing to admit about canine distemper is that there is simply no cure. You can and should get your dog the DHPP vaccine, which will protect him or her from a variety of diseases and that is one hundred percent effective in preventing distemper. Unfortunately, a dog who already has distemper will not benefit from getting the vaccine.
The treatment plan for a dog with distemper is to simply alleviate his or her symptoms as best as possible. This usually means fluids for a dog who isn’t eating, medication for a dog who is having seizures, or even antibiotics for a dog who gets related infections. In most cases, though, these treatments are really in place to ensure that the dog is as comfortable as possible until he or she recovers on his or her own or passes away.
What to Do if Your Dog has Distemper
The only way that your dog can possibly survive distemper is to get him or her to a vet as soon as possible. As dire as this diagnosis is, it’s one that isn’t always fatal – but it is one that’s going to kill your dog if you are not able to get him or her help in time.
The lack of a cure for distemper means that distemper treatment is all about helping your dog deal with the various symptoms that he or she might have.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are the symptoms of distemper in dogs?
The symptoms of distemper in dogs actually vary by quite a bit. Early on, most of the symptoms can easily be mistaken for other illnesses. Vomiting and diarrhea, for example, are both commonly seen in dogs who have distemper, as are lethargy and loss of appetite. The most well-known symptom is probably the hardening of a dog’s footpads, which has led this disease to be called hard pad disease.
As the distemper progresses, the symptoms become more severe. Dogs with distemper can become hysterical or might have seizures. In the end, though, the vast majority of dogs who contract the disease and who don’t get treatment do pass away. The more support you can get from your vet, the better.
Note that vets are very divided about whether euthanasia is a proper choice when a dog has distemper. It’s generally down to the severity of the symptoms and the condition of the dog, but it’s also a personal choice that has to be made by every dog owner. Though it can be hard to watch your dog suffer, it’s even harder knowing that you may not know whether your dog can pull through with the right kind of support.
2. What is the cause of distemper?
The cause of distemper is an easily-spread disease called the paramyxovirus virus. This virus spreads through a host of vectors, including infected bodily fluids, respiratory droplets, and even dirty food and water bowls. Canine distemper is an incredibly infectious disease that tends to be spread more easily when dogs are in close quarters, so most reputable kennels will require that a dog has his or her distemper vaccine before the kennel will accept responsibility for the pet.
3. Can a dog recover from distemper?
Can a dog recover? Yes, but certainly not on his or her own. The big problem with distemper is that there is no cure, so any treatment that occurs has to essentially be limited to keeping the dog’s symptoms from killing him or her until such a point as the virus has run its course. The dog’s health before contracting distemper definitely has a role to play here, but so too do the symptoms that he or she contracts. It’s probably safest to say that trying to treat a distemper at home is probably not going to be effective while doing so under a vet’s supervision is very much not a guaranteed proposition.
4. Is distemper contagious to humans?
Perhaps the best news for dog owners is that their dogs cannot pass distemper on to them. This simply isn’t a condition that has jumped the species barrier, so you don’t have to be too worried about getting sick just because your dog is sick. With this said, many dogs are prone to secondary infections when they have distemper so you will want to be very careful handling your dog if he or she is bleeding or has any kind of open sores. It’s always better to be safe than to be sorry in those cases, so make sure that you wash your hands after you handle your dog.