Canine distemper is a highly contagious disease caused by the canine distemper virus. If untreated, distemper in dogs can cause fatal symptoms that can lead to death.
What is canine distemper?
Canine distemper is a viral disease that can affect all dog breeds. The distemper virus, however, is rampant in wild animals too. It can affect foxes, coyotes, and wolves. Ferrets, weasels, badgers, and skunks are vulnerable to the virus as well.
Most canine distemper cases often stem from raccoons. When raccoons with distemper raid your home for morsels, the droppings or saliva they leave behind may contain distemper virus. Any dog that touches these secretions will contract the virus.
Canine distemper transmission
Infected dogs transmit the canine distemper virus through body secretions. The virus can be aerosolized or passed through direct contact. Infected dogs can project infected droplets up to 20 feet.
The incubation period for the canine distemper virus is around 1 to 2 weeks. Yet, some dogs will take up to 5 weeks for the symptoms to show. Early signs of the disease include lethargy and fever before the second wave of symptoms.
Canine distemper symptoms
A common symptom of canine distemper is sluggishness. In the wild, raccoons will appear zombie-like and disoriented. In dogs, canine distemper also causes;
- A high fever (between 39˚C and 40˚C)
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Excessive coughing/ pneumonia
- Eye inflammation
- Nasal and ocular discharge (clear to greenish color)
When the canine distemper virus spreads, it can affect a dog’s neurological system. The dog will start experiencing muscle spasms and seizures. Mental incapacitation and loss of motor skills are common as well. Yet, other dogs will grow more sensitive to stimuli such as touch and pain. It is not uncommon for canine distemper to cause complete or partial paralysis in a dog.
Other complications include damage to the optic nerve. It leads to permanent blindness if untreated. Canine distemper can also trigger a condition called encephalomyelitis, characterized by inflammation in the brain and spine.
There are post-distemper symptoms to note. One of them is the hardening of the foot and nose pads. In puppies, the virus can destroy teeth enamel leading to corroded teeth.
Diagnosing canine distemper
Canine distemper can be hard to diagnose because it shares symptoms with other diseases. Distemper is rampant in crowded shelters and often passes for the kennel cough. Diagnosis entails identifying traces of the virus in bodily fluids.
Diagnosing distemper in dogs involves;
- Blood tests
- Immunofluorescence assay
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
A blood test unveils distemper antibodies in a serum sample. It is necessary to take two serum samples in a two-week interval for accuracy. Blood tests are to assess a large number of exposed dogs in a shelter. Dogs that are 6-months old and do not show any symptoms of distemper can be adopted. It reduces the spread of infection.
Immunofluorescence assay (IFA)
An IFA test identifies distemper antibodies in urine samples, trans-tracheal washes, and conjunctival scrapes. If an infected dog has neurological symptoms, an IFA test can detect distemper in its cerebrospinal fluid. A vet will take urine, tracheal, conjunctival scrape sample from a sick dog after two to three weeks of infection. A cerebrospinal fluid sample is taken 60 days after the dog contracts the canine distemper virus.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
A polymerase chain reaction test detects the canine distemper virus in fecal and urine samples. This test is also handy in evaluating respiratory secretions. A PCR test works on an infected dog that was not recently vaccinated.
A necropsy test has the highest success rate for detecting canine distemper. It is the last resort when other complex tests, like PCR and IFA, do not show the virus. Necropsy tests are performed on dead dogs suspected to harbor the canine distemper virus. Organs such as the spleen, duodenum, or lymph node are tested for the virus. Testing other organs, as well, helps determine the spread of the virus.
Canine distemper treatment
Canine distemper can be hard to treat as it is to diagnose. Treatment addresses the symptoms and provides supportive care until the dog heals. Canine distemper treatment also prevents bacterial infections, promotes body fluid balance, and prevents the virus from affecting the neurological system.
A cocktail of antibiotics is necessary to keep bacterial infections at bay. Also, the vet will issue medication to reduce fever, pain, and convulsions associated with distemper. Parenteral nutrition may be necessary if a dog is too sick to feed on its own.
Canine distemper prevention
Prevention is the only way to protect your dog from the canine distemper virus. Puppies that are six to 8 weeks old can receive the canine distemper shot. It is necessary to keep the puppy away from high-risk areas, like parks and shelters, until they complete their vaccine shots. Vaccination continues until the puppy is five months old.
Treating canine distemper at home
If your dog is diagnosed with distemper, there are home care remedies that can help fight and reduce infection. Fortunately, these remedies are natural foods filled with antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial ingredients.
These home remedies reduce the effects of canine distemper symptoms. They also fortify your dog’s immune system to fight the virus. The distemper virus has no cure and remains in an infected dog for years. However, virus shedding reduces as the dog recuperates. Also, offer these homemade solutions to a vaccinated dog.
Veggies are not only a rich source of fiber, but they also carry antiviral ingredients to help fight the canine distemper virus. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and spinach are rich in virus-fighting ingredients.
Curcumin in turmeric has both anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Turmeric can be added to your dog’s meals or used as an ingredient in healthy doggy treats. Other healthy spices with antiviral properties include sage, ginger, cinnamon, dandelion, and Oregon grape. Green tea, colloidal silver, raw honey, and virgin coconut oil (unrefined) also help fight the canine distemper virus.
Distemper affects a dog’s gastrointestinal system causing him to vomit and diarrhea a lot. Water, with electrolytes, is lost from the body, which makes the dog weak. Extreme dehydration can lead to death.
Fortunately, you can maintain your dog’s electrolyte levels using a pet supplement like Bullyade. Bullyade is like Gatorade for dogs as it packs enough electrolytes to replenish those lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Also, Bullyade is rich in vitamins and minerals that fortify your dog’s immune system.
Add Bullyade pet supplement in your dog’s drinking water. It has a chicken or beef flavor that encourages your dog to drink. If the dog is too weak to drink, you can mix Bullyade with water and use it as an emergency homemade IV bag. Inject the IV fluid directly into the dog’s skin to replenish their electrolytes.