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Canine Distemper: Deadly Disease

A few decades ago, distemper was the leading cause of death in dogs. Today the disease is not an issue for many animal lovers. A mistake? Again and again, unvaccinated animals fall ill and die of the dangerous virus disease. What you should know about distemper.

Canine Distemper Infection

The canine distemper virus from the paramyxovirus family causes distemper. It is closely related to the measles virus. Distemper is harmless to humans.

Dogs and other animals can become infected through contact with urine, feces, saliva, nasal and eye secretions.

Martens, raccoons, and foxes, for example, can contract distemper and spread the disease. In addition, the virus survives outside of the virus carrier for a few days. That is why it can be infected via shared bowls, but also via the shoes of dog owners. Young dogs up to the age of six months are at great risk.

Distemper Symptoms

The first symptoms of distemper include some classic signs of a viral disease. These include apathy and fatigue. The dog may eat less or not at all, develop a fever and discharge from the eyes and nose. Warning – this discharge is highly contagious! In many cases, the fever rises quickly in distemper. After the first symptoms, the distemper can develop very differently. Depending on which area of the body it spreads, we differentiate between the following forms:

  • In intestinal distemper, inflammation occurs in the digestive tract. That is why symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea – sometimes bloody – occur.
  • The experts speak of distemper when the virus infection spreads through the nose and throat and affects the bronchi and lungs. Affected animals suffer from coughing and shortness of breath.
  • The deadliest form of distemper is nerve distemper. This affects the nerves and the brain. The animals suffer from severe symptoms such as tremors, uncontrolled twitching, cramps, paralysis, and balance disorders.

Prognosis and Therapy: Treat Distemper

The treatment varies depending on the affected areas of the body. The sooner an animal with suspected distemper is treated by the vet, the more likely it is that it will survive. The vet cannot cure distemper, but they can relieve the symptoms of the disease. Antibiotics prevent secondary bacterial infections. Cough suppressants and expectorants make it easier for the dog to breathe, and infusions can stabilize the fluid balance.

Sad but true: Severe neurological symptoms are often a cause for euthanasia.

Around half of all dogs infected and diseased with the distemper virus die from it. Especially when the disease has reached the brain, the chances of survival diminish. If dogs survive the nerve distemper, they often maintain a nervous tick. Many puppies suffering from distemper while changing their teeth have defects in their tooth enamel. Experts speak of the typical “distemper dentition”. Some older dogs develop inflammation of the brain with neurological symptoms as a long-term consequence of distemper. Even years after the distemper has survived, these can lead to an animal having to be euthanized.

Vaccination Against Distemper: That’s Why It’s So Important!

Until around 50 years ago, distemper regularly killed hundreds of dogs. But in the 1960s an effective vaccine came on the market.

Today every dog owner can protect his animal from dangerous disease without much effort: with regular vaccinations.

It takes place via a basic immunization in puppy age. A refresher takes place after about a year, then every three years. Unfortunately, not all dog owners follow veterinarians’ recommendations.

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