How To Treat Canine Distemper

Golden retriever puppy vaccination

The Canine Distemper virus is responsible for causing Canine Distemper, which is a dog virus that is contagious to other dogs and is preventable but not curable. This virus is usually fatal to the dog who contracts it because it affects the dog's respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems.

Canine Distemper is highly contagious among dogs, especially younger dogs. Infection occurs by breathing in airborne particles that contain the Canine Distemper virus and through contact with infected bodily fluids, including food and water contaminated with these fluids.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper are listed below. However, note that sometimes a brief fever and mild depression may be the only signs of Canine Distemper at its onset.

  1. Fever
  2. No appetite
  3. Eye inflammation
  4. Runny nose
  5. Watering eyes
  6. Lethargy
  7. Depression
  8. Diarrhea
  9. Coughing
  10. Rapid breathing
  11. Vomiting
  12. Enamel hypoplasia
    • In puppies, the quick erosion of unenameled teeth
  13. Hyperkeratosis
    • Footpads and nose harden

Infection with the Canine Distemper virus can be hard to diagnose with certainty. In diagnosing your dog with Canine Distemper, your veterinarian will analyze the following:

  1. Vaccination history
  2. Physical exam to observe clinical symptoms
  3. Drawn blood for blood tests
    • Veterinarian looks for certain cells indicative of the presence of Canine Distemper virus
    • Veterinarian looks for Canine Distemper viral antigens by using proteins containing fluorescent chemicals capable of binding to the antigens, making them visible
    • Veterinarian looks for Canine Distemper virus's genetic material by performing a polymerase chain reaction
  4. Drawn cerebrospinal fluid
    • Veterinarian looks for Canine Distemper virus antibodies
    • Veterinarian looks for elevated levels of specific proteins and cells indicative of Canine Distemper Virus

Following a diagnosis of Canine Distemper by your veterinarian, treatment will include the following:

  1. Clean, warm environment that has no drafts
  2. Hygiene that includes keeping the eyes and nose clean of discharge
  3. Medications
    • Anti-nausea
    • Anti-vomiting
    • Anti-diarrheal
    • Antibiotics
    • Anticonvulsants
    • Bronchodilators
  4. Restoration of enamel to the teeth of puppies
  5. Hydration

Prognosis for Canine Distemper

  1. Incurable
    • Once a dog has contracted the Canine Distemper virus, he will always carry the virus
  2. Usually fatal
    • Most dogs die between the second week and twelfth week of treatment
    • Dogs suffering from quickly spreading, severe neurological complications are usually humanely euthanized
  3. If your dog survives Canine Distemper
    • Chronic or fatal central nervous system conditions may occur
  4. Dogs with less serious case of Canine Distemper
    • Have a chance of recovery
    • May have symptoms for several months

Prevention of Canine Distemper

  1. Vaccinate
    • Yearly for prevention
    • Within 4 days of exposure (Note that the vaccination is not likely to be effective in preventing the disease when it is given after infection occurs.)
  2. Isolated infected dog
    • To prevent spreading the disease to other family dogs
  3. Care for area contaminated by infected dog
    • Clean using bleach and water solution
    • Isolate area from other dogs for at least one month

Canine Distemper is easily prevented with a simple yearly vaccination. This prevention can save a dog owner and his dog undue pain and heartache.


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