Canine distemper is a very contagious and deadly disease caused by a virus. The virus is spread through the air or by direct contact with another sick animal. It invades the tonsils and lymph nodes first, and then spreads to the respiratory, urinary, digestive, and nervous systems. Dogs and ferrets as well as certain species of wildlife, such as raccoons, wolves, foxes, and skunks, are at risk.
Although there is no cure for distemper, the most important fact to remember is that it is preventable through vaccination. For dogs that have developed clinical signs of distemper, the prognosis is very guarded depending on the immune response and severity of symptoms. Dogs that develop neurological signs are the least likely to recover.
Early symptoms of canine distemper include:
If your pet is sick, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and take a detailed history of your pet, including vaccination status. Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend bloodwork and chest xrays.
Unfortunately, only supportive care can be offered once a dog becomes infected and develops clinical sign; this may include hospitalization with fluid therapy, antibiotics, and other treatments.
If symptoms are severe, many dogs are not able to recover. Even those dogs that appear to make a full recovery may develop fatal neurological signs of the disease later in life.
This virus can be prevented through vaccination!