Canine distemper is a contagious and serious viral illness that affects dogs and certain species of wildlife, including raccoons, wolves, foxes, and skunks. The virus, which is spread through the air and direct contact with infected animals, initially attacks a dog's tonsils and lymph nodes before attacking the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems.
Symptoms of distemper can be diverse and mimic other illnesses. They can include:
Fever: Typically, fever spikes occur a few days after exposure, followed by a second round of fever a few days later along with other symptoms.
Nasal and Eye Discharge: Discharge from the nose and eyes is common early in the disease.
Coughing: Canine distemper often affects the respiratory system, leading to coughing, difficulty breathing, and other respiratory issues.
Vomiting and Diarrhea: The virus can also affect the gastrointestinal system, causing symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.
Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss: Infected dogs often lose their appetite and start to lose weight.
Neurological Signs: As the disease progresses, it may start to affect the nervous system, leading to symptoms such as circling, head tilt, muscle twitches, seizures, and paralysis.
Unfortunately, there's no specific cure for canine distemper. Treatment primarily involves managing symptoms and preventing secondary infections, so it's largely supportive. This can involve hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, and other interventions.
Prevention is critical with canine distemper. Puppies usually receive a series of vaccinations for distemper along with their other puppy shots, and regular booster shots are needed throughout a dog's life. Avoiding exposure to infected animals is also important.
Even with aggressive treatment, canine distemper is often fatal, and animals that do survive can be left with permanent, serious health problems due to brain damage and nerve damage. As such, vaccination is of paramount importance to protect dogs from this dangerous disease.