Canine distemper virus causes a devastating disease in dogs that have not been protected by vaccination. This virus can attack the body in three ways. First, it attacks the upper and lower respiratory systems causing coughing, discharge from the eyes and nose, and often times pneumonia. Second, the virus can attack the gastrointestinal system leading to lack of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Finally, the virus can attack the central nervous system leading to ataxia (difficulty walking), seizures, and paralysis. Frequently, these pets may exhibit minor seizures that involve the muscles of the face or legs which lead to the description of “chewing gum” seizures or “muscular ticks”.

Canine distemper virus is highly contagious to other dogs as well as ferrets. The virus is present in the secretions of the mouth and nose as well as in the feces, urine, and vomitus. The most common roots of infection are by inhaling the virus or by licking a contaminated surface. There is usually a delay of 2-10 days from the time of contamination to the sign of clinical symptoms. Sometimes, the respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms may be very mild and then weeks later the pet may develop neurologic symptoms.

Diagnosis for Pets in Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana and the Inland Empire

The diagnosis of canine distemper virus is a difficult task. The test that we have available cannot always determine if the dog has active canine distemper virus or not. Typically, we submit a test that checks for the presence of antibodies in the bloodstream of the pet that are directed against this virus. If antibodies are present, and the pet has not been vaccinated previously, then there’s a high probability that this pet has canine distemper virus. However, there is a period during the initial infection when antibodies may not be present even though the dog may be infected with the virus. In these cases, we may have to rely on the clinical symptoms and elimination of other possible causes through additional testing (including blood tests and x-rays) to determine that the pet has canine distemper virus.

Treatment available for Pets of Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana and the Inland Empire

There is no specific treatment to cure the dogs of canine distemper virus. We can offer help in supporting the dogs through the respiratory and gastrointestinal phases of the disease. This is usually done with a combination of intravenous fluids, injections, and oral drugs. Occasionally, we can help the neurological portion of this disease with the aid of anticonvulsant medications. Unfortunately, survival from this disease is very poor. Typically only 10 percent of pets contracting this disease will survive regardless of the types of therapy that are attempted. Those pets to do survive may have residual neurological deficits such as muscular switching, unstable gait, or intermittent seizure activity. Given the poor prognosis of this disease, often times euthanasia may have to be considered as a humane alternative to alleviate their suffering.

Prevention by Our Veterinarians and Pet Owners

Canine distemper virus is easily prevented through regular vaccination programs which should begin when puppies are six weeks of age, and are continued every three weeks until the puppies reach 16 weeks of age. Thereafter, yearly vaccination boosters are required to maintain the immunity. Puppies better in the middle of their vaccination sequence (less than 16 weeks of age) should be kept isolated from any potential infectious sites such as parks, streets, and other places where infected dogs may congregate. The reason for this is that we cannot be certain that the dog is protected until after 16 weeks of age.

Distemper virus can be eradicated from the environment using common disinfected its such as Lysol or diluted bleach (one ounce per quart). If you have an infected environment, it is best to keep young puppies or non-vaccinated pets away from that environment for a month or more after the diagnosis is made.