Distemper in dogs is caused by a virus that affects most organs in the animals' bodies. The effects touch the brain, intestines, skin, eyes, and lungs, and it is fatal in at least half of all cases.
Sometimes distemper even affects the dog's immune system and nervous system.
Canine distemper is also a very contagious disease that is spread through the air, especially by dogs that are coughing. Distemper can also be spread through bodily fluids like urine.
Because distemper affects so many different parts of the body, the symptoms are quite varied.
Usually the early symptoms include discharge from the eyes and nose, dog diarrhea, coughing, vomiting, seizures, and fever.
Some dogs even develop pneumonia, although it is possible for dogs with very mild cases of distemper to appear as if they only have a cough or a cold.
The problem with distemper is that it tends to spread rapidly through kennels, and it can be extremely deadly.
Puppies between the ages of three and six months old are especially susceptible to distemper, although adult dogs can get it too. It is also possible for puppies to catch distemper while they are still in the womb if the mother dog is exposed to distemper while she is pregnant.
Veterinarians usually diagnose distemper in dogs with a blood or urine test, although it is also possible to do an autopsy on the dog after death to confirm that distemper was the cause of the dog's death.
Also veterinarians do look closely at the dog's pads to check for thickening that is caused by distemper.
There is no cure for distemper, and one of the most important things to remember about canine distemper is that vaccination is the very first line of defence.
Distemper vaccinations are usually part of a dog's normal shots received from the veterinarian each year, and they are usually among the first shots given to puppies.
Most veterinarians recommend that puppies begin receiving shots for distemper at the age of six weeks. The puppies then receive booster shots about every two or three weeks until the puppy is about four months old. After that, the dog should receive further boosters once per year.
In many cases, dogs that come down with distemper will have to be euthanized, although this is not true of all dogs that catch the disease.
Distemper in dogs does take anywhere from one to three months to be completely gone, so dog owners whose pets come down with canine distemper should be extra watchful for several months after their dog is diagnosed, even after he begins to get a lot better.
If a dog does happen to catch distemper, then veterinarians will do everything they can to help the dog survive. Usually treatment involves constant IV fluids because distemper can cause dehydration. Some dogs may also be given anti-seizure medications if they begin having seizures.
One interesting fact about distemper is the fact that the virus closely resembles the human measles virus.
Because of this fact, veterinarians used to give dogs the measles vaccine to protect them against it, although that practice is fading quickly.
The bottom line about distemper is that vaccination is the only way to know your dog is truly safe.
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